What Your Heart and Vagus Nerve Say to Each Other


What an absolutely eye opening and fascinating conversation I was privileged to have today with Dr Rollin McCraty who is the Executive Vice President and Director of Research at the HeartMath Institute. He has written hundreds of papers on heart health, our emotions, the neurophysiology of the heart and brain, and what we can do to help ourselves be healthier both physically and emotionally.

Easy- How the heart and brain connect: We used to be told that a steady heart rate was a sign of good health, when in true fact it is quite opposite. We are now talking about Heart Rate Variability (HRV), where a resilient person’s heart rate changes with each beat. This is actually an easy sign of excellent health that measures the variation of time and space between the heart beats. They are small, but they are there and definitely measurable.

Beta blockers are a commonly used medication that forces the heart to slow down. They are often given to people on the aging scale to slow down the heart and keep it at a steady speed. While, I always wondered if it inhibited this heathy heart rate variability I found that they do not, and in fact this can be a very good thing. They are designed to block the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)  from speeding up the heart rate.This could be a good thing for people who do not need to jump and run away from attacking lions and tigers. Still, I would rather go about it other more natural ways. But, now I can worry less about my own mother and other people I know. We will, however, talk about blood pressure in another post.

Therefore, Beta Blockers act by lowering the heart rate, which in turn creates more time between heart beats. Therefore, there is more time for variation to occur.  As we know, variation is a good thing in life. It can give you your zest and good health.

Diagram of Vagal Nerve and its branches.

Still, I’d rather go the route that ‘Mother Nature’ offers us… You’ll hear how we can use TTOUCH Heart Hugs to help create balance and more vagal functioning.  I believe Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement® can create this, too. Some day, we will create a small study measuring this. But, for now, just ask anyone how they feel before and after a Feldenkrais lesson. Other simple things like meditation and breathing in through your nose and slowly out your mouth can help you to get this beautiful state of heart rate variability. Thank you HeartMath!

The real neural anatomy shows there are thousands of nerve fibers that make up the Vagus nerve. Most of the nerve fibers conduct upward along the nerve branches to the brain. This amazing grouping of nerves function from a bottom-up system, rather than a top-down system like what it used to be thought of.

Two Types of Fibers: There are mylenated fibers that run very fast. Those are all the vagal branches that are from the head to the whole chest region.  And unmylenated fibers that are everything below the diaphragm and those transmit info more slowly.

Today, we are going to focus on the vagal branches that are connected  from your brain to your heart and visa versa: It is so fascinating because of the way it is very involved in our health and well-being. This is the Heart-Brain connection, Dr Drew Harper. (12:22). It is called the Intrinsic Cardiac Nervous system. The heart is literally anatomically wired so that it can be called a functional brain. Dr Rollin talks about this in more detail in the video (13min). Hence, my heart always remembers, ah! Can I just say here how I remember so clearly how my mother’s heart literally broke when my father died when that never needed to happen. The medical profession didn’t understand and instead tried to put her on heart medications.       Be still my heart, take time to breathe and remember your perfection.

Remember, everything is designed to work together and all systems function together, nothing is separate, we all rely on each other to achieve this great goal of superb health. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic and yet, we also need our sympathetic nervous system to work well, too, along with the Brain-Intrinsic Cardiac Nervous System, like we spoke about above. They are designed to all work together to create our overall wellness.

So, Heart Rate Variability, (HRV) is a good measure of healthy aging. Keeping this variability going is clearly shown to be measurable in the state of our health. Breathe. Smile. Breathe some more.

Why slow our heart rate: The vagus nerve allows us to slow our heart rate down and to inhibit ourselves both physically and mentally. Think about this in regard to our way of responding to events around us in life. High heart rate, less inhibition, and oopsies out of our mouthes, etc. It’s not like our societies aren’t riddled with these poor choice options in behaviors. Just turn on the news. Low vagal tone? Low heart-rate variability? Low health and mental choice making? This makes for more excellent conversation.

This HRV communicates all the way to the frontal cortex of higher level thinking. The vagal nerve as you learned is completely implicated in this and if it is not functioning at its best, can show in problems with  frontal cortex thinking and its connections all the way through the old middle parts of the brain that are very reactive, and down to the brain stem and to the heart as we are talking about. You’ve heard me talk about the vagal nerve and what happens in the belly connecting up to the brain. Here we are talking about the vagal nerve connecting from the heart to the brain and back to the heart in a healthy fluid manner. This is all spoken about around the (17min) mark. A healthy vagus nerve slows the heart rate and helps us to engage with our world around us.

The HeartMath Institute uses breath called heart-focused breathing. Slowly breathe in five seconds and exhale five seconds out to shift us into an optimal state. This goes to the old part of the brain to help us regain a calm state. It’s so simple and easy. I like that.

Someone, please remind me of this the next time I am in an argument with my lawyer husband. One can only hope that living in a life with argumentative people or in a society filled with media and tweets designed to get us up in a scruff, that we can simply remember to breathe in and out in this nice slow and thoughtful way, taking the time each day in many different ways that it will help us regain our health, wellness and dream for happiness.

Come join me in resetting our nerves in our heart for great health and joy. Send it globally. You can do it!

Always with sincerity and exhales,

Elinor Silverstein













  1. Hi there
    I found this (fascinating ) subject very hard to hear. Your summary was very helpful but I wonder if there is a transcript? Thanks, Ros B

  2. I have what has been called in Europe as Roemheld Syndrome though none of my doctors believe it exists. I was wondering if you might know of some researchers who are studying the vagus nerve and its spectrum of symptoms?

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