Body Sense

SPRING | 2020

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Page 7 of 16—your resource for all things bodywork 7 There is a part of our nervous system that hasn't evolved far from our ancestors called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Its purpose is for primal survival, equipping our mind/body to react to danger. When we are charged to respond to a stressor or danger, we are flooded with stress hormones. Our digestion shuts down, and we increase blood and oxygen to the heart, brain, and lungs to flee. Blood pressure rises and breathing becomes shallow. This is called the sympathetic part of the ANS, commonly known as the fight-or-flight response. Feeding the fear loop stimulates the fight-or-flight response and is known to suppress the immune system. Stress over time can begin shutting down other systems of the body. Thankfully, there is another part to the ANS called the parasympathetic system, known as the rest-and-digest response. The largest cranial nerve of the body, the vagus nerve, innervates from the brain stem to the chest and abdomen. When we stimulate the vagus nerve, we tap into the rest-and-digest response. The heart rate decreases, blood pressure normalizes, breathing is deeper, stress hormones are reduced, and happy hormone production is initiated (promoting sleep, focus, and happier emotions). There are simple methods and lifestyle choices we can make to support our own immunity. We can consciously pull ourselves out of a state of reaction, take back our own power, and ask ourselves what our mind/body needs in this moment to support rest-and-digest. 1. BREATHE Place your hands on your lower abdomen and your chest. Take in a deep breath from the belly, expanding the belly and bringing oxygen up to the lungs. Leave a little bit of room to the top of the lungs from the inhale. As you exhale, send the breath all the way down into the belly, contracting the belly. This action expands the diaphragm. The act of breathing deeply and expanding the diaphragm massages the vagus nerve. To help pace the breathing and create a state of calm, count to 3 equally on each inhale and each exhale. If you can exhale slightly longer than your inhale, even better. This also sends a message through the vagus nerve that everything is OK here. We have enough oxygen. 2. MEDITATE The mind is the repository of all experience. It takes in an experience, establishes an emotion around it, analyzes it, and then projects it to the world. Meditation helps us cultivate self-awareness and gives us the space to break the cycle of conditioned thinking and make different choices. Plus, it's an opportunity for you to observe your breath, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions rather than become them. Meditation helps us to recognize these experiences from an objective point of view, helping us to let go of fear and clear space to focus on positive thoughts. Take one minute each day and you'll begin to witness the benefit of connecting within. 3. EXERCISE Decide what movement it is that you like to do. Instead of focusing on the reps and miles of your activity, focus on moving playfully and with joy. The American Heart Association recommends getting 2.5–3 hours per week (30 minutes per day) of moderate- intensity aerobic activity, preferably throughout the week. Choose an activity that makes you feel joy. If Technology has certainly put us in touch with important information on preventive measures for spreading the COVID-19 virus, such as washing our hands and avoiding contact with those who are sick. However, much of the information is ignoring an essential part to staying healthy—boosting our immune system.

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