Does Yoga Help Your Nervous System?
The human body, including the mind, is a miracle of nature and the many component parts of the body each have incredible qualities. One of the most amazing is the body's nervous system, which we barely notice most of the time, even though it operates every second of every day throughout our lives and helps to control almost every function of our body.
Of course, as with any part of the human body, things can go wrong with our nervous system. This could be something minor like tingling in our fingers, a more serious issue such as severe nausea, or worst of all, a problem that will be life-changing such as the onset of Parkinson's disease.
Truth be told there are dozens of conditions or ailments which can occur within our bodies which are related to a problem with our nervous system.
What is Our Nervous System?
Obviously, this isn't medical school, so the answer is going to be a very simplistic one. In effect, our nervous system is like a massive communication network. That network is linked to every part of our body and the thousands of signals that travel along it every second of our existence, pass information that tells all our cells, organs, and bodily functions what they should be doing, as well as passing back feedback from them all.
Our nervous system actually consists of five distinct parts which are our brain, our spinal cord, the enteric nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, and our peripheral nerves. The autonomic nervous system is the one which we are going to focus on as it is this system that most influences many aspects of our daily life, such as moods, stress levels, and how relaxed we feel.
The Autonomic Nervous System
As we delve deeper into our nervous system, we discover that our autonomic nervous system actually consists of two parts. The first part is called the sympathetic nervous system, and this plays a huge role in how we react to danger and stress. It is the sympathetic system that is stimulated whenever we feel threatened and gives rise to a term which you may have heard of called 'fight or flight.'
Basically, the sympathetic nervous system is the one which floods our body with hormones, increases our heart rate, puts our muscles on high alert, so that we can either flee from, or fight, whatever the threat may be.
Obviously, this was a lot more applicable back in the days when we lived in caves, and we were at the mercy of many wild animals who saw humans as a tasty meal. Nowadays the dangers tend to be more mental than physical so when our sympathetic nervous system activates it can lead to problems like anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
Thankfully, and to balance the equation, the second part of our autonomic nervous, acts to counteract the first. It is called the parasympathetic nervous system and when it is stimulated it helps our muscles to relax, allows our heartbeat to slow and it also helps reduce our blood pressure. In effect, it acts to cancel out the reactions caused by the sympathetic system and helps the body reach a calmer state.
Using Yoga to Stimulate Your Parasympathetic Nervous System
If we were in equilibrium at all times both our autonomic nervous systems would work in equal measure, however, thanks to our hectic lifestyles and the stresses of modern-day living, the sympathetic system tends to dominate. We, therefore, need a means of stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system, and that is exactly what yoga can do. Even the simple act of controlling your breathing during a basic yoga pose can be enough to do this.
This highlights the fact that you do not necessarily need advanced yoga techniques, to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, nor do you even need to go to yoga classes. A home yoga program such as 'Yoga Burn Challenge' has over 12 hours of yoga instructions and techniques, many of which can help you calm your mind, slow your breathing and induce a state of relaxation. These are ideal for bringing your parasympathetic nervous system to the fore.
This puts the parts of your nervous system which most influence your levels of anxiety and stress on one side, and your feelings of relaxation and calmness on the other side, in balance. Nothing can eliminate stress or anxiety completely as these are part and parcel of our lives, but yoga can help keep them in check by stopping your nervous system from going out of kilter.
Using Yoga to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve plays a huge role in our well-being, both physically and mentally. It is a nerve that connects our brain to our enteric nervous system, and this is a system that helps control bodily functions that include blood flow, immune systems, gastrointestinal system, and reflexes. The vagus nerve also connects many of our major organs to the brain such as the stomach, heart, lungs, and liver, so you should by now be realizing that it is a vital part of our nervous system.
It gets better, as the vagus nerve has a great deal of influence on the balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. You'll recall we want these to be in natural rhythm with each other, so if we can ensure that the vagus nerve is operating efficiently, this is more likely to happen.
This where yoga can once again play a role, especially with those parts of yoga and yoga poses where you are breathing consciously. When you breathe consciously, and if you also make the sound 'Ohm,' which many yoga techniques promote, these both act as a stimulant to the vagus nerve.
If the vagus nerve is stimulated, it helps it to keep our autonomic nervous system healthy, as well as allowing it to regulate our heartbeat and improving our immunity to certain illnesses.
The great thing is that you can make a start to stimulating your vagus nerve as soon as today. A home study yoga program such as the 'Yoga Burn Challenge' is an excellent way to start your yoga activities and more importantly start to help your nervous system. It has 15 videos which have all been created by internationally certified yoga instructor, Zoe Bray-Cotton.
You can start with the foundation videos if you are new to yoga, and for those of you who are maybe more experienced, there are more advanced techniques. Best of all, you can follow the entire program at home, and at your own pace.