Even if you regularly practice yoga and meditation for stress management, sometimes a situation can feel so immediate or overwhelming that all of your intentions fly right out the window. But regularly training your parasympathetic (or relaxation) response can make you more resistant to some of life’s inevitable stressors.
The lesser-known parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the yin to the yang of the autonomic nervous system. Often referred to as the “rest and digest” response, the PNS is responsible for bodily functions when you are at rest, regulating digestion, and various metabolic processes. This built-in mechanism tones down the sympathetic nervous system and helps the body to relax and recover.
The holiday season, in particular, is when most could benefit by spending a little more time in parasympathetic mode. In training the body and brain with the following practices, keep in mind duration isn’t as important as consistency. The cumulative effects that come with frequent, steady training tone the body and mind, changing the way you perceive stressful situations. Be patient and kind with yourself, and trust in the simplicity of the practice.
Begin with diaphragmatic breathing: Slow diaphragmatic breathing is one of the easiest and quickest routes to the parasympathetic mode. And you can thank the very long vagus nerve, which meanders its way from the skull down the neck into the chest and abdomen, communicating to every organ in the body. Lucky for you, vibrations released with the breath act like a massage to the nerve. So simple belly breathing can switch on the parasympathetic response, making changes to your internal environment that can be felt almost instantly. Integrate calming exercise into your regimen: When you set yourself up to become still, you establish conditions for the body and mind to be at rest. When the body is completely at rest, it begins to restore order. Training in stillness on the mat prepares you to move through life more calmly. Through Yin, you learn how to be less reactionary and a better observer and listener. You feel more connected to your body and to the world so that when situations beyond your control arise, you find yourself staying grounded.