Here’s an important thing to know about the human nervous system:
Everybody has one. Including you.
Everything you experience is a product of your nervous system. It processes every stimulus, filters it and presents it to you. There is nothing that you feel, do or think, conscious or subconscious, that is unaffected by the nervous system.
Many yoga practices impact the nervous system. Pranayama can stimulate, balance or calm, depending on which type of breathing you choose to practice. Rhythmic movement and repetition, key parts of many active yoga classes, regulate the nervous system. Weight-bearing postures (think warriors, plank, etc.) give deep pressure input into your joints, which then cue your nervous system to become more calm.
Intentional, quiet rest is especially potent for nervous system health. Savasana, corpse pose, is probably the resting posture that yoga students are most familiar with. There are also restorative yoga poses: deeply soothing, passive poses that are done while lying down on blankets and bolsters.
Restorative yoga practice is as slow-moving as cold honey, the body resting in each pose for 10-20 minutes. Lingering like this gives the nervous system time to reset itself, to move out of the wound-up and chronically stressed out mode (fight-flight-freeze response) into a space where you feel soothed, grounded and rested (relaxation response, aka rest-and-digest).
To be a healthy, vital human you need a nervous system that can smoothly fluctuate between different types of activation. One that responds efficiently and appropriately to stressors, and also lets go and comes back to the resting state, a balanced and calm state, when the stressor has ended. The problem for most of us modern humans is we feel like our stressors never end. And the nervous system gets stuck in a state of high alert, negatively impacting our well-being. Chronic stress puts us at higher risk for many diseases, and exacerbates the symptoms of chronic physical and mental health conditions.
To unwind chronic stress via restorative yoga practice, to intentionally and patiently rest the body and mind, is one of the most powerful things we can do for our physical health and mental sanity.
I’ll be leading a two-hour restorative yoga practice on December 8, at Yoga Bhoga. I hope you’ll join me for this potent self-care practice.