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  • Writer's pictureChloe Lee

Hypnosis and the Vagal Nerve: Your Natural Healers

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

By John Tjenos, NTP, Aston Patterning Practitioner & Chloe Lee, CMS-CHt, FIBH

The hallmark of the hypnotic state is parasympathetic activation, a complete relaxation of the nervous system that facilitates healing and regeneration on every level. Hypnosis triggers the parasympathetic activation of the vagal nerve, bringing feelings of peace and the potential for positive change. Taking a break from stress (sympathetic activation of the nervous system) during hypnosis opens the mind and body to new healing ideas and patterns. For more complete information about parasympathetic/vagal activation visit Neo Myalo | New Mind.

The vagal nerve begins at the base of the brain (the brain stem) and communicates with the body’s organs and musculature—the face, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, gall bladder, intestines, bladder, pancreas, and sex organs. The vagal nerve is the brain/body connection. *See footnote below

The vagal nerve delivers signals from the top down—from the brain stem at the base of the brain to the organs. It also functions from the bottom up; for every one signal the brain sends to the body, there are four signals from the body to the brain.

So, not only does the vagal nerve activate…

  • Digestion

  • Detoxification

  • Promotion of anti-inflammatory pathways

  • Regeneration of tissues

  • Increased sense of connection to others

  • Slowing an accelerated heart rate

  • Immune functions

  • Sexual arousal

…it also sends information from the organs to the brain about their needs.

For the brain to direct these functions, it becomes a relay station, calculating status reports from the organs to know how to proceed. The brain talks to and listens to the body through the conduit of the vagal nerve. The more the vagal nerve is used, the stronger it is. This is the secret to vagal nerve neuroplasticity.

The vagal nerve lets us know how we are, it makes adjustments in our systems and organs, and it brings us into balance.

We know we are in a vagal state when our breathing is relaxed and easy, the heart rate is slower, our peripheral vision allows the eyes to soften, and we have the ability to be attentive and receptive with others. This state is perfect for therapeutic hypnosis work because it facilitates collaboration between the client, therapist, and the client's inner wisdom. The noticeable signs of the hypnotic state are identical to the vagal state: increased salivation for digestion, easy slow breathing, relaxed heart rate, and focused attention.

The vagal system is always asking one question, “Do I feel safe?” The term “neuroception” is when our vagal system is evaluating the risk in the environment. It is an unconscious awareness of safety and danger. When we feel safe, we can access the vagal function. When we don’t feel safe, the vagal system is not accessible. This plays a profound part in whether we feel connected with others or see them as a risk, which affects our positive social behaviors like love, friendship, and comradery. The positive connection between an effective hypnotherapist and client will bring a greater positive response from the whole body during a hypnotherapy session.

*There are two parts of the vagal nerve. The dorsal branch is considered the older branch. The nerve tissue is unmyelinated, which means the signals are transmitted more slowly. The dorsal branch communicates with the organs from the diaphragm and below. The ventral branch, which is myelinated and whose signals are faster and more directed, evolved later, and it impacts body functions above the diaphragm. The ventral branch affects facial and eye muscles and it offers signals to others that we are attentive, present, and safe. This part of the vagal nerve is also impacted by social engagement (our relationship with others). For more on the importance of the vagal nerve divisions, see “The Polyvagal Theory” by Dr. Stephen W. Porges.

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