Your body is equipped with a powerful healing tool at your disposal every single moment of your life. This tool isn’t the food you eat, the beverages you consume or the type of movement you engage in. While these are critical aspects to your overall wellbeing, there is one tool residing within you that can alter the state of your health in a moment’s notice – and it’s something you can control! I’m talking about your autonomic nervous system—the part of your nervous system which helps adapt, respond to stress, and return to homeostasis. Simply put, your parasympathetic nervous system holds the keys to your health.
The autonomic nervous system is balanced between two opposing systems, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Both systems are involuntary which means they act upon our subconscious brain – or independent of conscious thought. These actions include our heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and breathing. We don’t have to think about making these work, they do it on their own via the innate intelligence of our body.
However, the SNS and PNS have very different effects on your body. The sympathetic nervous system is associated with the fight or flight response which results in releasing cortisol (stress chemicals) throughout the bloodstream in a stressful or threatening event. In this state, blood pressure rises, blood sugar rises, digestion slows down, heart rate increases, fertility drops and more. The parasympathetic is associated with relaxation, digestion, and regeneration. The PNS is where your body is able to fully heal. Ideally, our bodies are meant to bounce back and forth between these two systems, with the majority of the time being in a state of restfulness to facilitate regeneration and health. Unfortunately, chronic stress and unresolved trauma interfere with the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic functions, leading to chronic symptoms and dis-eases.
Unfortunately, healing cannot happen in a chronic state of overwhelm and stress. Creating a balance between chaos and rest is a matter of finding a healthy relationship with your inner and external environment. Practicing how to learn to relax your vigilance and soften into stillness can be done through restorative techniques such as mindfulness. According to Mindful.org, Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it.
Mindfulness can come in many forms including:
- Breathing exercises
- Guided relaxation exercises
- Yoga Nidra
- Restorative Yoga
- Qi Gong
- Tai Chi
- Walking Meditations
- Short pauses and rest breaks in every day life
Mindfulness practices connect us with our body and allows us to see the present moment as it is without judgment and opens our curiosity. This doesn’t only benefit our mental wellbeing, but our physical wellbeing as well. Recent studies have shown those who engage in mindfulness have:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Slower heart rates
- Increase respiratory sinus arrhythmia
- Increased focus and attention
- Decrease in cognitive decline
- Increased number of T-Cells or T- Cell activity (boosting the immune system)
- Faster wound healing
- Decreased C-Reactive Protein (an inflammatory marker)
- Reduced pain
- And more!
Mindfulness and restorative practices are invaluable for helping us create balance between our SNS and PNS to allow for deep healing within the nervous system and cells. While it seems like mindfulness begins in the head, it actually begins and ends in the body. Without this foundation, optimal health can only get so far and often leads to long term plateaus on the healing journey. Activating your parasympathetic nervous system through mindfulness is one of the best gifts you can give your mind, body and spirit on your healing journey.
This blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or
to be prescriptive for anyone.
Always be sure to work with your healthcare practitioner before implementing new recommendations