Balancing the nervous system is a vital component of practicing yoga. We often don’t consider its importance but as many of us live in a frantic and rather stressful way, yoga provides an all-important calming influence on this system which help us to reap many benefits.
How does the nervous system work?
The nervous system functions are dependent on tiny cells known as neurons. Motor neurons carry messages from the brain to the body and sensory neurons, collate information from the skin, eyes, ears, tongue and nose and send these to the brain. Each of these neurons communicate through complex, electrochemical processes and, they impact how we behave. They also affect how we think, how we learn and even how we move.
The autonomic nervous controls many aspects of the body that we do not even consider i.e. digestion, sweating and breathing. The sympathetic nervous system deals with stress and it is this that makes your heart start to beat so much faster when you feel fear or are under pressure. It gives the signal to the adrenal glands and these immediately produce adrenaline, and this is the hormone for fight or flight mode. The parasympathetic nervous system works to prepare your body for rest and has a direct correlation with the digestive system.
Is your nervous system over-active?
For many of us, our nervous systems seriously work overtime. The sympathetic nervous system is continuously tapped into the fight or flight mode and this is really unhealthy if stress is prolonged. After all, you know when you are under a great deal of pressure. You may feel tension headaches begin or, feel tired and irritable. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the increase of blood pressure, heart rate, tension in the muscles and rising cortisol levels. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for lowering the fight or flight mode and restoring balance.
So, when you consider that these two aspects work as a whole, balance is crucial. It affects the mind-body connection, and this means, is relevant to your emotional and physical health, and as a result, affects those times when your immune system fluctuates and plummets like a stone. In addition, it is connected to when you feel pain or just ‘out of sorts’.
So, to create balance and well-being for your overworked nervous system try these three amazing yoga poses:
Reclining bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Once you are in Bound Angle pose, on an exhalation, lower your torso back to the floor, supporting this movement with your hands. Lean on your forearms and you can free your hands so to spread the back of the pelvis. This helps to release the lower back. Now, move all the way to the floor and support your head. Use a blanket or bolster beneath your back if you wish to make this a restorative pose. Rotate the inner thighs. This means, press them from the sides of your torso. Try to visualize that the inner groin is sinking into the pelvis area. You are aiming to widen the back of the pelvis but narrowing the front.
Don’t try to push your knees down. Just relax in this position. The idea is that once your groin relaxes and drops down to the floor, your knees will too. Remain here for up to ten minutes. If you have an injury to the knees or groin, support these parts of the body with blankets under the thighs.
Tip: Cover your eyes, reduce electrical lighting and practice deep breathing while in the full posture.
This is a wonderful restorative pose for the nervous system, but it also improves circulation, stimulates the heart and abdominal organs. It opens up the hips, stretches the groin, thighs and knees. It’s useful for times of menstruation, for when life is stressful or if you feel the symptoms of depression.
Supported bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lie on the floor and use a small cushion or blanket under your neck if necessary. Now bend your knees, ensuring your feet are flat on the floor and the heels are as close to the buttocks as is possible. On an exhalation, press down through the feet and the arms, push your tail bone up as if towards the pubis. Firm the buttocks as you do this and lift them from the floor. Your inner feet and thighs must be parallel. Now place, your hands beneath your pelvis and try to extend through your arms. Alternatively, place a block under the buttocks/lower back. Place your arms at the side of your body. Keep your chin away just slightly from the sternum, to allow space. Try to broaden the shoulder blades. Remain in this position for up to one minute. When you release, do so on an exhalation.
Benefits include supporting the nervous system, it stimulates the abdominal organs. It boosts the thyroid gland, stretches the spine, neck and chest. Will help to relieve menstrual discomfort (support the body for this) and helps alleviate menopausal symptoms. Useful for relieving anxiety.
Supported child pose (Salamba Balanasana)
This is a wonderful calming pose and aids the nervous system so is worth practicing as it also releases muscular tension. Use blankets or a bolster on which to support your body. Assume the pose and rest your torso on the bolster, adjust your knees and feet as required. Try to broaden your collarbones. You may be surprised by how much tension you are carrying and so, let your body sink into this pose. Breathe deeply. Turn your head to one side and relax your arms on either side of the bolster. If you have knee problems, simply fold blankets beneath them so to take the pressure away from the joints. Keep the knees wide if you can as this aids the nervous system.
Close your eyes and also, check your jawline for tension, smooth the brow and make sure your hands are not clenched and holding onto tension. Surrender to this position. Finally, have the lights lowered or, candles flickering instead as this creates a soothing ambiance.
Yoga helps to heal and improve the whole body and there are postures to energize, invigorate or, like these that work on a restorative level. Whichever type of practice session you choose, commit to it fully. In conclusion, it is worth working on restorative yoga poses that have a soothing impact on your nervous system. You will combat the negative aspects of stress, calm the mind and feel so much better for a little nurturing.