Do you feel like you’re always rushing?

Modern life can be extremely stressful & as a result many of us are living in a constant state of rush or feeling like we’re “on edge”. Our behaviour is reactive & our fuses are short. In a biological sense we are living in our “fight or flight” or sympathetic nervous system response.

I’ll break it down in simplified terms (this topic goes a lot deeper and there’s some exciting new research about other alternative nervous system states but for now I’ll stick with this):

Nervous System

Your body’s way of communicating its actions and sensory information between the brain, spinal cord, and major organs through a network of neurons & cells.

Image depicting new neural connections being made

Our human nervous system has two key responses:

1. Parasympathetic (Rest & Digest)

Broadly speaking, when we feel safe i.e. there is no imminent danger around our body stimulates the parasympathetic nerves to begin processes like digestion and conserve energy for when we might need it. It’s essential for our bodies day-to-day function in particular if we need recovery (from a tough training session) or we’ve been exposed to stress.

2. Sympathetic (Fight or Flight)

The fight or flight response however is triggered by danger or stress. It’s our body’s protective mode to spring to action when a tiger is chasing us or when we have to have a tricky conversation at work. Our heart rate increases, we release glucose + it optimises the body to react to something happening imminently. It places all “unnecessary” processes like muscle repair & digestion on the back burner.

Why do we need to regulate our Nervous System?

Both nervous system states are totally necessary to healthy living. We need stress, but the problem comes when we start to live in extended periods of Sympathetic (fight or flight) activation.

This can lead to trouble sleeping, feeling wired, susceptible to illness and burn out.

How do I know if i’m in fight or flight for long periods?

You can see it in action, if you’ve had a hard day at work, do you come home and snap at a family member? Or, when you’re stressed and you catch your belt loop on the door and it’s the most annoying thing that you’ve ever experienced?

When we are living in that space of chronic stress, our nervous system is primed for reaction but what falls by the wayside is a sense of peace, calm, and healing. I’m so keen to share this kind of thing because once you start to notice it within your own life, you can begin to make some changes.

The Vagus Nerve

To understand how our Parasympathetic Nervous System works it is integral to recognise the Vagus Nerve. The Vagus Nerve is the main physical component of the Parasympathetic Nervous System. It is the longest cranial nerve in the human body and takes its name from the Latin for “wandering”. It wanders throughout your whole body making connections from the body to brain and vice versa.

The Vagus Nerve helps to coordinate your nervous system response. E.g. when you are no longer in danger.

For those of us that could use some help with slowing down & living more in our parasympathetic (rest & digest) state, here are some ways to help:

1. Deep Breathing

The Vagus Nerve runs through the esophageal hiatus of the diaphragm which is our main respiratory muscle. So any movement of the diaphragm stimulates the vagus nerve which in turn stimulates the parasympathetic response.

The key is to breathe into your whole respiratory apparatus not just the chest. Shallow, chest breathing is connected to the stress response as there is little to no integration of the diaphragm and therefore Vagus Nerve.

2. Humming or singing

There’s another Vagus Nerve connection in your voice box. Even a short practice of Bhramari (humming bee breath), chanting OM or singing along to a tune in the car will help you down-regulate your nervous system.

3. Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a slow, passive practice that taps into the connective tissues of the body. The emphasis is to release any muscle contraction or action within the body. This creates a feeling of safety, relaxation and establishes the habit of stillness that is so crucial to combat the go-go-go mode of the Sympathetic Nervous System. Your nervous system is not stuck, due to the amazing concept of neuroplasticity we can change our habits and behaviours at a neural level.

Practice Yin Yoga with me on demand or this Sunday 26th March at my Spring Yin Workshop.

4. Nature

Overstimulation is a classic way to send your nervous system in overdrive. Our access to infinite modes of technology and information means that it can be easily overwhelming. I often catch myself with the radio on, tapping away at an email on my computer and then picking up my phone to reply to a message… Imagine the sheer increase in information in that scenario compared to our ancestors that lived in caves….

Getting out in nature gives us a break from the overstimulation of modern life.