Have you heard about the nervous system and how yoga can have a positive effect on it? I am positive that you have already experienced some yogic techniques that left you speechless. So you know that self-regulation of the nervous system is your body essential function to keep you healthy. Let me share some wisdom into the mystery of the body system, so you know how yoga practice can assist you to regulate it.
WHAT IS THE NERVOUS SYSTEM?
A short answer from Wikipedia is: “The nervous system is a body system which sends signals around the body. It lets animals respond to what is around them. The central nervous system is the brain, the spinal cord, and nerves. It is present in almost all animals. It is there to process the input from the senses, and to coordinate movement.
THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM
it includes the brain and spinal cord + nervous network.. The peripheral nervous system includes all nerve tissue found outside the central nervous system, including nerves and ganglia (clusters of neuron cells).
WHAT IS THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM?
As the center of all is your brain, it overseeing all functions/ production. The autonomic nervous system is further subdivided into the sympathetic nervous system (the “fight-or-flight” branch), the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest-and-digest” branch), and the enteric nervous system (the gut branch).
THE PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEM is further divided into
Autonomic Nervous System
“The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. This system is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response.”
Somatic Nervous System
The somatic nervous system (SNS or voluntary nervous system) is the part of the peripheral nervous system associated with the voluntary control of body movements via skeletal muscles. The somatic nervous system consists of afferent nerves or sensory nerves, and efferent nerves or motor nerves.
The human nervous system is a wildly complicated and largely uncharted part of the body that transmits electrical and chemical energy to initiate movement, identify threats, perform digestion, regulate heart rate, execute respiration, create thought, and so much more.
It’s divided into two main branches, and contrary to what many believe, they are not the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems; rather, they are the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
WHAT IS THE SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM?
The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. This is the branch of the nervous system responsible for alerting the body to potential danger. This is why our sympathetic response is often analogous to the gas pedal of a car. When we put the pedal to the metal, we are propelled forward at full speed.
Unfortunately, our sympathetic nervous system has not caught up with the changes in our lifestyles. Our bodies cannot properly differentiate between the stress of a life-threatening situation and then, many people keep running their lives on “fight-or-flight” mode. Our bodies is not built up for ongoing run, so people under this life style can exhaust their bodies and lose all zest for life.
A balancing key is to know where to run and where to slow down because a ‘tiger is already in a cage!’
YOGA WISDOM have all what you need
More dynamic, faster-paced flows and longer (more challenging) holds stimulate the sympathetic response. When we jump back to chaturanga, we elevate our heart rate. When we stabilize in inversions, our blood is readily flowing to our skeletal muscles. When we balance in warrior III, invigorating neurotransmitters are released and energizing hormones are pumping through our veins. We also activate this aspect of our nervous system when we do vigorous forms of exercise, like running.
WHAT IS THE PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM?
THE PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM is often referred to as the “rest-and-digest” response. This part of the autonomic nervous system counters the sympathetic response. Often called the “brakes” of the nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system slows heart rate, stimulates digestion, decreases respiratory rate, moves blood flow away from extremities and back toward vital organs, releases soothing neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, and so on.
This system is often put on a pedestal in yoga practice because it helps us to relax our excessively stressed bodies and minds. We use practices like restorative yoga to specifically target it and move us into more relaxing states. But just because this division of the nervous system is typically glorified in the yoga world, doesn’t mean it is necessarily a more desirable place to be all the time.
Main focus of self-regulation is to be able to fluctuate between both the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems effortlessly.
Someone who is chronically “stuck” in the stress response would have poor heart rate variability, since their heart rate would probably be chronically elevated. On the other hand, someone who has a healthy balance in their autonomic nervous system would have high heart rate variability, since they can easily down – regulate their nervous system after a stressful situation.
We want to be able to react instantaneously to stress. But we also want to be able to easily calm down when the stress has passed. This is where yoga plays a significant role in your self-care.
TYPE OF YOGA AND NERVOUS SYSTEM
There are many different ways we can affect the autonomic nervous system through yoga. The following are just a select few ways that yoga can help to stimulate different parts of our autonomic nervous system.
As mentioned, exercise and dynamic styles of yoga—like Ashtanga, power, or vinyasa—can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. This is a healthy and normal response to vigorous movement that helps to strengthen immunity, improve respiratory function, increase cardiovascular health, and so much more.
Restorative or Yin yoga offers the opposite effect. As the name implies, restorative yoga is very soothing and relaxing for both the body and the mind. It helps to stimulate what is called the relaxation response and moves our nervous system into its parasympathetic mode, promoting calm, feelings of safety and comfort, healthy digestion, and more.
PRANAYAMA – Breath Work
Pranayama is a really quick and effective way to influence the autonomic nervous system. In fact, as mentioned above, we affect the autonomic nervous system with every single breath we take (heart rate variability).
Since a part of the VAGUS NERVE runs through the larynx and the respiratory diaphragm, breath also affects vagal tone. Vagal tone is the measure of activity in our vagus nerve. The vagus nerve has many parasympathetic fibers, so the more stimulation it gets, the more our parasympathetic nervous system activates.
Certain breathing techniques, such as lengthening our exhalation, are particularly associated with the parasympathetic system and can help move our body into its “rest-and-digest” response. Alternatively, emphasizing the inhale could have the opposite effect.
Bliss of Yoga — Savasana
Closing our practice in savasana can also impact our autonomic nervous system Because it encourages stillness and introspection, this pose can help to slow heart rate, respiration rate, and more, especially after a stimulating, dynamic practice. Despite its seeming simplicity, savasana is an extremely helpful practice for initiating a parasympathetic response and downregulating the nervous system.
Meditation is another practice that has down regulating effects and bring us to higher spiritual learning of who we are. As we move into a place of physical and mental stillness, we start to release chronically held tension and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Balance Is the Key to Our Yoga Practice and to Our Overall Health.
Everything within our bodies is constantly trying to work in congruence and harmony to achieve overall homeostasis.
A GOLDEN NUGGET TO REMEMBER:
The true marker of health is not which system is activated, but how effectively, and quickly we are able to transition between systems!
After all, we need both a gas pedal and a brake to move forward in life. We just need to be able to use the right tools at the right time so that we don’t run full speed ahead into a brick wall. And luckily, we have yoga GPS to navigate our life journeys.
What is your preferable yoga practice and how do you manage self-regulation between two polarities of life? Drop me a line. Thanks.
Written by Veronika Prielozna, MA. C-IAYT, RYT 500, IEHP who offers both: physical yoga practice and healing meditation programs to assist you with your self-regulating journey. Her Health & Wellness Consulting brings all elements to stimulate and soothe your nervous system.
Brain on Yoga