Yoga For Nervous System Regulation
We are designed to move between sympathetic and parasympathetic states. The tools of yoga can help us flow with flexibility between these two states, promoting resiliency.
The sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) is essential for our survival. This system needs to get activated when we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. The brain is constantly scanning the environment for danger. Our senses (sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing) communicate information to the brain about a perceived threat. The brain interprets these messages as either safe or unsafe. If unsafe, a decision needs to be made. Would it be in our best interest to fight, run away or freeze? The sympathetic nervous system is not only useful in dangerous situations, it’s also helpful when playing sports. We need a little sympathetic activation, or spiciness as I like to call it, when engaging in certain activities. Where sympathetic activation becomes problematic is when it becomes chronic, or remains “on” with little or no parasympathetic activation to balance things out.
How do we get stuck in a sympathetic state? Well, there are many reasons. Chronic stress being one reason. The body may perceive danger when there is no real threat to your safety. Examples include: work stressors, environmental stressors, being around certain people, when boundaries are crossed, certain emotions that feel unsafe, chronic pain, past trauma, and so forth. The brain’s job is to protect and keep you safe no matter what. So even though there’s no real risk to your safety at the present moment, your brain doesn’t know that. It’s taking in whatever it is that you are experiencing through your senses. So if a colleague gives you a “dirty look,” or your boss communicates that he/she wants to speak with you later, your senses and past experiences will determine whether your brain perceives this as safe or unsafe. If unsafe, the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. This can lead to increased muscular tension, increased respiratory rate, increased heart rate, shallow breathing, clenched teeth, headaches, migraines, pain, pupil dilation, constricted blood vessels, changes to blood pressure, and so on. It’s important that we have tools and strategies at our disposal to help us elicit a relaxation response so that we are better able to handle the stresses of everyday life.
The tools of yoga can help us move with ease and flexibility between the fight-or-flight state and the rest-and-restore state. Yoga practices include yoga poses, stretches, somatic movements, breathwork, affirmations, self-touch, mantras, and more, to help you work through stuck thoughts, feelings and sensations felt in the body. A regular yoga practice communicates messages of safety to your mind and body. When the brain feels safe, we are able to tap into the relaxation response. We move from sympathetic activation to parasympathetic activation. You may feel more grounded, centered, relaxed, tired, open, calm, at ease and lighter following a yoga practice. You may even experience an emotional release during your practice. Allow that to happen. We need to feel in order to heal.
Bring about balance to your nervous system using the following free yoga practices.