Countless factors affect the intricate internal network known as your body’s digestive system. The spices sprinkled on your food, the temperature of your H2O, and even the polyphenols lingering in your cup of tea all have a say in how well everything moves from your mouth to, well, you know. But there’s one digestive agent you probably haven’t even though about: sound.
According to Jarrod Byrne Mayer, a certified sonotherapist from Brooklyn Healing Arts, the sounds you hear before, during, and after a meal affect how well your body processes food for two major reasons. “On a physical level, the vagus nerve is the main competent of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees many different bodily processes, including digestion,” he says. “The vagus nerve directly connects the brain with the gut.”
The brain and the vagus nerve connect via the auricular vagal branch, which stimulates the nerves of the ear canal, tragus, and auricle. This creates what Mayer calls an “inner-atmosphere” where the nervous system interacts with outside noises in relaxing—or not-so-relaxing—ways. Research has even linked noise pollution with digestive spasms. “Simply stated, if you were to listen to a jackhammer, or something aggressive, it stimulates the vagus system. Meanwhile, calm nature sounds and relaxing music decreases inner-tension.” (I know. My mind is blown, too.)
The second reason audible stimulation may help or harm digestion enters into the realm of the woo woo. “The second capacity of sound working with digestion happens on a mental level,” says Mayer. “It’s dictated in traditional yogic philosophy that one’s physical digestion is a reflection of one’s mental state and one’s ability to digest emotions, relationships, and other complexities of the human experience. Sound helps to bubble the unconscious feelings to the surface to bring resolve, thus relating how we digest our food as a reflection of how we digest everything in our lives.”
While it’s important to note that no research has yet to be conducted on what sounds are beneficial to the digestive system, Mayer says it’s can’t hurt to make your dinner playlist something calming. (May I suggest George Winston? Dolly Parton? Enya?) “I will suggest, because everyone is different, that any sounds that create a holistic and harmonious feeling within will relax the vagus nerve and initiate a distressing signal which can ripple through the entire system,” says Mayer. Hear that?