You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails
Our nervous system has a connection to all structures in the body. Without a healthy working nervous system most bodily functions suffer, our performance in life situations and sport are hindered and recovery from injury is impacted.
The Nervous system
Part of our central nervous system, within our subconscious is a mechanism for handling stressful situations. This is called the Autonomic Nervous system. It branches into two parts; the Sympathetic NS (SNS) and Parasympathetic NS (PNS). The SNS stimulates the bodily functions preparing us for the “fight, flight or freeze” in life threatening situations. The PNS is the other branch that prepares us for “rest, digest and heal”. It’s the PNS that should be the primary driver of our physiology.
Using the mailman and dog as an example. Most canines are territorial and when unknown visitors arrive they become defensive, will bark and jump at the door. It’s ready to fight. When the postman leaves, the dog quickly forgets what happened and is able to fall asleep within minutes. It recognises the threat has gone and can immediately relax.
Consider yourself in the same situation, feeling threatened of an intruder. You might shout at them to leave or prepare to engage with them. When the person retreats could you relax straight away or will you be on edge for hours or even days?
The SNS is important but only has a purpose for the short term, to allow us to deal with threatening situations. Unfortunately with hectic lives, our brain interprets these physical and mental stresses as life threatening, which frequently triggers the SNS on a daily basis. Constantly stimulating SNS can lead to chronic issues…
- Sleep disorder
- Non-working muscular tension
- Adaptation failure
- Cognitive dysfunction
The brain struggles to identify physical stress’ and imagined stress’. Anxiety of an electricity bill, job cuts at work or relationship issues will fire up the SNS.
Throughout exercise/sport our PNS and SNS working in balance. Depending on particular stressors like speed, distance, duration, the SNS may start to have a greater influence. It’s important to get into our PNS state for improved decision making, better oxygen delivery and for achieving optimal recovery.
Ways of Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System
The PNS is the system we should be using most frequently . Therefore finding methods of staying in this state even when put under perceived levels of stress are important.
1. Breathing Mechanics
The way we breath has a deep connection to the autonomic nervous system. Shallow, apical breathing has a direct link to our SNS. But taking Deep diaphragmatic breaths stimulates the PNS. Using breathing exercises daily can help train you into a more relaxed state. Methods such as….
Wim Hof Method
2. Meditation Practices
Through channeling your thoughts and breathing, meditation can help induce a state of relaxation. Following this 5-10 minutes daily can help improve many different functions. Easy to use apps for this are…
3. Muscle relaxation
Using methods like meditation or yoga are ways of achieving muscle relaxation. Having massages and soaking in a hot bath also offers a way of relaxing muscles. The release of tight muscles indirectly sends signals to the brain to activate the PNS and switch off the SNS.