The Nervous System

The nervous system is responsible for sending, receiving and processing nerve impulses throughout the body. At its simplest level, the nervous system is the communication network, and this network can be broken down into three basic elements: 'Sensation' (to gather information from our environment) Analysis (to decipher the sensory information being received) and 'Response' (to initiate a desired reaction).

Humans like animals have an incredibly complex nervous system, which regulates bodily functions and has allowed them to survive and evolve over millions of years, successfully responding to threats in the environment and in their bodies.

Part of this is the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which reacts and responds to threats in an automatic way and is governed by an 'old' reptilian part of the brain. Higher brain functions, like rational thought, evolved later, and are governed by 'newer' parts of the brain.

The ANS has branches including the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous system, due to the distinct roles of these systems the are often referred to as 'War and Peace'. It is normal to switch between the two systems, both are necessary to keep us alive and functioning. The fluctuation can look like this: you sit in a comfy chair with a cup of tea PSNS is activated. Then you hear a loud knock on the door, so you bolt upright - SNS takes over.

The relentless nature of modern life and technological stimuli encourages the SNS activation. Work deadlines, unpaid bills, crowded spaces, unfamiliar places can all trigger the same nervous system response as a mortal threat from a lion. And when you are in that state, you start perceiving even more threats, creating a vicious circle. What you lack are opportunities to release back into the PSNS.

If the SNS can't be switched off, it can lead to anxiety, hyper vigilance, insomnia, IBS, Muscle tightness and longer term mental and physical problems.

While the SNS prioritises immediate problem solving, the PSNS is more for reflection, a key component of humanness. Its is essential to health and wellbeing. It is the state needed for deep and reflective thought, connection to others, creativity, sexuality and digestion (literal and figurative). So learning how to switch from SNS to PSNS is an important skill and could be the subconscious reason people take up yoga or meditation.

Learning to shift your state from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic can have a profound effect on healing and wellbeing. Everything you do gets better with practice, so treat connection and activation of the PSNS as something to try, explore and cultivate throughout your life, for greater ease, less stress and better connection to life's pleasurable experiences.

Making time through each day to down regulate your system is perhaps one of the most accessible and important actions you can do for physical and mental health and wellbeing.

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