Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) - try saying that 10 times fast. Make you stressed out?? Sorry. Indulge me a little as I delve into what it is, why it is important and ways to tap into and improve it.
There are two sides to every coin. So as to not exclude both sides of the nervous system, I will introduce the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) as well. The entire coin is called the autonomic nervous system, with half the system activated in response to stress, while the other half is suppressed. We commonly refer to these two systems as the Flight or Fight (SNS) or the Rest and Digest (PSNS). The first half is the sympathetic nervous system which originates in the brain with projections that exit out of your spine and into nearly every organ in your body. It is activated under emergencies or what we think of as emergencies. The chemical. adrenaline is released when this systems kicks in. It is used to basically save your life.
The other half of the coin, the parasympathetic nervous system is however, there to promote calmness, growth, and energy storage. The heart rate is slowed, the processes to eliminate work better and the sphincter muscles relax. These two systems work together not in opposition even though they have different functions.
Why is it important to know this? Well, because we need balance within the right framework. Too much of anything can make us sick. The SNS is part of our genetic makeup for our species to survive. But since our hunting and gathering days are over and large predators are not out to eat us, we have found new things to worry us and keep us up at night. But we do not know how to shut them off. Enter the PSNS stage left. If all we had, was resting, our heart would never get its exercise and disease would set in.
What can we do to tap into our Rest and Digest and find homeostasis (balance and stability)? We have learned such practices as yoga, meditation, prayer, creative pursuits, etc. in our lifetime. All of these practices and many more not listed, elicit the Relaxation Response. Herbert Benson, M.D. is known as the Father of the Relaxation Response. The Relaxation Response is a scientifically proven change in the physiology of the body. This response causes the PSNS to jumpstart, lowering blood pressure, bringing blood flow to organs, providing for digestion to function better, increasing fertility and immunity.
Nurture yourself with your Restorative Yoga for when you need it most, it will be much more readily available to you at any time and at any point.
Props: bolster, 2-3 blankets, block, neck roll, eye pillow
Benefits: counteracts the slumped position of our posture from sitting, computer use, driving, everyday activities. Opens the chest to help breathe easier. Improves digestion, reduces fatigue and can lift your mood.
Just like a babbling brook with boulders (soft ones!), imagine your body like the soft rushing waters laying over those boulders, smooth, flowing. It will allow the natural curves of the body to be held up gently and the breath to flow.
On your mat, place the bolster will your knees will be, one blanket rolled up where the bra line is (base of scapula), a block for the feet or the heels can come to the floor and a neck roll for the cervical spine. Shoulders rest on the floor, arms to side with palms facing up. If ankles need support, use rolled-up blanket or dish towel. Eye pillows can lightly rest on eyes or even be used on forehead (useful for headaches) or even on shoulders (wherever you need to release tension). To begin with stay in pose for 10 minutes working up to 20 minutes. Great to use in savasana. Feel the heart open, the strain from holding yourself up all day evaporate.
Variations: Feeling cranky in the lumbar spine? Place blanket to fill the curves. Want to feel more grounded while still opening the heart? Place rolled up blanket against wall and soles of feet touching blanket. Need to feel cuddled? Swaddle your head in a blanket cradle.
Supported Forward Bound Angle Pose
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract, digestive and reproductive organs. Relaxes the back and releases tension in the neck.
Props: bolster, 3 blankets or blocks (firm cushions and pillows are always an option) and one extra blanket for warmth.
Place a double-fold blanket on floor, sit on edge of blanket and bring soles of your feet together in Baddhakonasana). Option to cross legs. Bolster goes between legs and add blankets to top of bolster as necessary as you lean over the bolster. Your neck should not drop down but be about level with the upper spine. Allow arms to drape down. Feel free to add support under arms and wherever else needed. Head is turned to a side. Stay for 5-10 minutes, alternating head with an inhale.
Adding cupped hands over the eyes. Rub hands together until they are warmed and energetic. Carefully lay cupped hands over the eyes and rest your forehead on fingers. Stay like this for about five minutes, absorbing the warmth, energy and giving your eyes their much needed rest from light and external stimuli.
Labels: Mountain Brook Pose, Relaxation Response, Supported Forward Fold