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Rosary Exhales Hold Key to Health – Research Finds Vagus Nerve Most Calm in Praying Hail Marys

praying the rosary stimulates the vagus nerve to relax the body

This is fascinating to those of us who want to understand why something is good for us biologically and/or we love empowering others with evidence-based wellbeing strategies. It turns out that when we pray the Hail Mary with our long, slow exhales, we are actually breathing at the most ideal rate for calming our nervous system, major organs, heart rate and brain activity. Incredible! We finally have scientific evidence to show why we FEEL so grounded, relaxed and calmer when we pray the Rosary.

“Norcliffe-Kaufmann confirmed: “Vagal activity is highest, and heart rate lowest, when you’re exhaling.” She mentioned that the ideal, most calming way to breathe is six times a minute: five seconds in, five seconds out. She also noted that in the study that determined this rate, researchers found that this style of slow breathing is also what practitioners naturally lapse into during meditation with mantras, and during the Ave Maria prayer with rosaries. “Each time you do either the rosary prayer or a meditation mantra,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann said, “it naturally synchronizes your breathing at six times per minute.” 

“The vagus nerve is a squiggly, shaggy, branching nerve connecting most of the major organs between the brain and colon, like a system of roots or cables. It is the longest nerve in the body, and technically it comes as a pair of two vagus nerves, one for the right side of the body and one for the left. It’s called “vagus” because it wanders, like a vagrant, among the organs. The vagus nerve has been described as “largely responsible for the mind-body connection,” for its role as a mediator between thinking and feeling.

“Stimulating the vagus nerve to the heart has a really powerful effect on slowing the heart rate,” said Lucy Norcliffe-Kaufmann, associate professor of neurology at NYU-Langone. And this, specifically, is what relaxes us. The vagus nerve is basically listening to the way we breathe, and it sends the brain and the heart whatever message our breath indicates. Breathing slowly, for instance, reduces the oxygen demands of the heart muscle (the myocardium), and our heart rate drops.

The vagus nerve is essentially the queen of the parasympathetic nervous system — a.k.a. the “rest and digest,” or the “chill out” one — so the more we do things that “stimulate” or activate it, like deep breathing, the more we banish the effects of the sympathetic nervous system — a.k.a. the “fight or flight,” or the “do something!” stress-releasing adrenaline/cortisol one.

Put another way, “Your body senses your breathing and adapts its heart rate in response,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann told me. When we breathe in, she explained, the sensory nodes on our lungs (“lung stretch receptors”) send information up through the vagus nerve and into the brain, and when we breathe out, the brain sends information back down through the vagus nerve to slow down or speed up the heart. So when we breathe slowly, the heart slows, and we relax. Conversely, when we breathe quickly, our heart speeds up, and we feel amped, or anxious.

For the full article go to: https://www.thecut.com/amp/2019/05/i-now-suspect-the-vagus-nerve-is-the-key-to-well-being.html

For study that determined that the Rosary breathing enhances your heart health go to: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC61046/