I go back and forth between states of fear/panic/hysteria and calm strength all day. One state strengthens, the other weakens. It takes conscious effort these days for me to get back to a parasympathetic state.
“The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that supplies the internal organs, including the blood vessels, stomach, intestine, liver, kidneys, bladder, genitals, lungs, pupils, heart, and sweat, salivary, and digestive glands.”
The autonomic nervous system has two main divisions:
- “Sympathetic “Fight or Flight” prepares the body for stressful or emergency situations—fight or flight; thus, the sympathetic division increases heart rate and the force of heart contractions, dilates the airways to make breathing easier, causes the body to release stored energy and increase muscular strength. This division also causes palms to sweat, pupils to dilate, and hair to stand on end. It slows body processes that are less important in emergencies, such as digestion and urination.“
- “Parasympathetic “Rest and Digest” -Generally, the parasympathetic division conserves and restores. It slows the heart rate and decreases blood pressure. It stimulates the digestive tract to process food and eliminate wastes. Energy from the processed food is used to restore and build tissues.” source
Recent research suggest that meditation is a powerful tool for cognitive health and I have been encouraging deep breathing and meditation practices with my clients and patients for years. A 2014 comprehensive review and meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins University investigated the effects of meditation programs on stress reduction. Beyond stress reduction, meditation has been shown in other studies to either increase the brain’s volume or slow the rate at which the brain loses volume due to normal aging or disease.
Evidence also suggest that the PNS plays an important role in regulating a diverse array of physiological functions, including; heart rate, hormone secretion, gastrointestinal peristalsis, digestion, inflammation, and immune function. And this is why I am focusing on getting back to – and remaining in – a parasympathetic state as much as possible.
There are many different types or styles of meditation, but one of the most accessible ways to change your state is via the breath.
One of the easiest is ‘box breathing’: (If you’re having any respiratory issues or this causes any discomfort, please contact your doc before proceeding).
- Exhale fully through the mouth
- Inhale through the nose to a count of four
- Hold for a count of four
- Exhale through the mouth for a count of four
- Hold your breath for the same count of four.
- This is one cycle. Start with four cycles, several times a day as needed to settle into a state of ease.
- Make the process more mindful: touch the tips of your thumbs to the tips of your index finger. Quiet your mind to feel your heartbeat where thumbs and fingers meet. Use your heartbeat to guide the counts of four.
More mindfulness practices to come each week in April – and be sure to follow along @goalfitmethod on instagram for a daily look at implementing strategies to reduce stress.