Building a strong and balanced nervous system with yoga

“rest and digest”

Neuropsychologist and meditation teacher Rick Hanson says the PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System) and the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System) are connected like a seesaw; when one goes up, the other one goes down. If your SNS constantly jumps into action throughout the day, your daily experiences will tend to create an imbalance. By activating the PNS in yoga you can strengthen its circuitry and bring balance to the seesaw.

To lean towards your rest and digest with Parasympathetic activation. I include a gentle breath-based moving yoga practice and slow, diaphragmatic breathing, to maintain balance. I also include deeply relaxing guided meditations in my Restorative yoga classes. When we are balancing things towards the PNS our body can rejuvenate itself. The blood pressure, the heart and breathing rates are reduced after a stressful event. This is great for our digestive, reproductive, endocrine and lymphatic systems. The body is better able to extract nutrients from the food you eat and more effectively eliminate toxins because of the increased blood circulation.

People who practice yoga learn to be aware of and respond differently to stress-inducing thoughts and experiences so that the nervous system leans towards PNS.

Not all yoga is relaxing. Intense active yoga sessions can actually activate the SNS. Research has demonstrated that more vigorous practices followed by relaxation leads to much deeper relaxation than practicing relaxation alone. A well-rounded yoga practice often has a element of stronger breath and closes with relaxation or meditation.