I went to a restorative yoga class this morning at Kali Yuga Yoga in Nashville and was reminded of all the goodness that consciously slowing down can bring to your life. Sometimes I lay my mat down in a class like this and I think to myself “Shit. What have I done?” It’s not always easy for me to be quiet and gentle with myself.
I have made it a habit to be constantly busy in order to distract myself from any potential unwanted thoughts. I am an expert of multitasking and problem solving. Perhaps you can relate, in which case you know, it is utterly exhausting. To be fair, these traits are what made me a baller employee in the past but generally speaking, they are not conducive to my overall quality of life. Our minds and bodies are not made to be “on” 24/7. Especially during the winter, a season where things are slowing down all around us. I’ve decided to take the hint this year.
An Incredibly Brief Explanation
Our Nervous System is both fascinating and evil. If you’ve got 12 minutes and a strong sense of curiosity, here’s a video that explains it better than I can. If not, carry on my friends..
The autonomic nervous system is made up of two branches:
*The sympathetic nervous system is the branch that is responsible for us Freaking the F out. More commonly known as our “fight or flight” response.
*The parasympathetic nervous system is the branch that controls the body’s Chill the F Out functions. Also commonly refered to as our “rest and digest” system.
Those Sympathetic functions would be hugely beneficial if we had to flee from a sabertooth tiger.. Unfortunately, as modern humans, our stress has become less of the start-stop variety and more of a chronic occurrence. This is super unfortunate news for people of all walks of 21st century life. Anyone who experiences long term stress from something like school, work or family life is effected. Include yourself if somehow you’ve avoid those things but you happen to love watching scary movies. It becomes difficult for the body to maintain homeostasis in these prolonged periods of stress. Keep in mind, our brains cannot differentiate from real or imagined stress. Bummer, I know.
So what happens in our bodies when we are having a sympathtic nervous system response?
“The body speeds up, tenses up and become more alert. Functions that are not essential for survival are shut down” (from Diffen.com).
- increase in the rate and constriction of the heart
- dilation of bronchial tubes in the lungs and pupils in the eyes
- contraction of muscles
- release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland
- conversion of glycogen to glucose to provide energy for the muscles.
- shut down of processes not critical for survival
- decrease in saliva production: the stomach does not move for digestion, nor does it release digestive secretions.
- decrease in urinary output
So, How can we activate the parasympathetic nervous system to restore the body to a state of calm?
- Get More Sleep: Is this one super obvious? Hell yes, because it’s incredibly important. Sleep helps our bodies function at their optimal level. Make it nonnegotiable to get a full nights sleep (whatever that means for you). See what happens to your mood.
- Take a Bath: Add some epsom salts to increase your magnesium (nature’s chill pill) and calming essential oils such as lavender or wild orange.
- Spend Time in Nature: The sights and sounds you experience in nature shift your nervous system into a more relaxed state.
- Journal: In my experience night-time journaling can sometimes become a list of things that didn’t go well during the day so I actually find it best to do this first in the morning. Think of it as a cathartic word vomit of inspiration. Put all that shit down on paper and get on with your lovely day.
- Yoga: Practice, practice, practice. There are countless studies on how yoga benefits both the mind and body. Don’t forget to focus on breathing
- Pranayama: Consider this; any emotion you feel- its first effect is on your breath. Then your mind and body. Never underestimate the power of breath. YogaJournal has some good resources for beginners.
- Meditation: Guided meditations are amazing for people just starting out. And yep, you guessed it. There’s an app for that. My favorite is Calm
- Exercise: In case it’s not obvious, the best kind is the kind that you enjoy because you will actually do it. Say hello to some feel good chemicals and more restful sleep.
- Massage Therapy: Yes, as a massage therapist I am bias..
Here’s some of the Effects of Relaxation on Your Nervous System (Yogi Ashokananda‘s list from The Power of Relaxation)
- Slow heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Release endorphins and serotonin
- Reduce stress
- Increase positive emotions
- Return to normal bodily functions that have been inhibited by muscle tension (digestion, elimination of waste and production of white blood cells)
- Slowing down and deepening breathing, so more oxygen reaches the cells of the body
Each one of us has a different mind and a different body. Individually, these change from year to year, season to season, and day-to-day. From one moment to the next. Remaining in a stressed state takes a toll on our bodies often leading to colds, flus or worse. Making relaxation a priority will help you sleep better. It will reduce your risk of physical illness and improve your mood.
Give yourself permission to get some well deserved rest.
All the best,