The leading cause of disease in our modern day lives is undeniably stress. Occasionally stress is placed upon us; however, more commonly, we impose stress on our own selves. Whether stress is actual or perceived, our bodies process stress the exact same way that our ancestors did. When our ancestors would be stressed, their nervous systems would switch into Fight or Flight, also know as Sympathetic activity. This scenario would increase our likelihood to escape danger by increasing heart rate, breathing, and special senses while diminishing digestion. When the threat would disappear, the nervous system would switch out of Sympathetic into Parasympathetic. This would reverse all the above actions. For our ancestors, threats were occasional and not often; therefore, Fight or Flight actions would be infrequent. That is a good thing since prolonged Fight or Flight is difficult for all our bodies. When Sympathetic activity is deactivated, the body heals and regenerates. Now in 2019, our threats no longer include running from a saber-toothed tiger, instead we work too much, sleep too little, drink alcohol or caffeine, eat poorly, engage in constant news and social media, etc. Our nervous systems recognize all of this as stress and kick into overdrive. Long term sympathetic activity can lead to heart disease, hypertension, digestive disturbances (constipation, irritable bowel, reflux), poor breathing, increased acidity, diabetes and hormonal imbalances.
So how do we try to shift the scales and allow our bodies to ease out of sympathetic hyperactivity?
Your vagus nerve is an important member of the parasympathetic team. It innervates most of your internal organs. When the vagus nerve is activated, your heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, respiration deepens, and digestion reengages.
There are a few simple exercises that help to improve vagal tone (activity).
- Humming vibrates the larynx (voice box). The vagus nerve sends fibers to and from the larynx. By vibrating the vocal folds, it stimulates the vagus nerve and encourages more activity through all its pathways.
- Sing loud. This activates the laryngeal vagus fibers in the same way. It is no surprise that we feel so good when we are rocking out in our cars!
- Deep exhalation. Deep exhales stimulate the vagal fibers that line the chest and abdominal walls.
Earthing is an exercise that encourages physical contact of our feet to the ground, dirt, sand or grass. Our feet have thousands of nerve endings that relate to the parasympathetic nervous system. We spend most of our hours wearing shoes, with rubber soles on concrete. This lessens stimulation to the soles of the feet and limits our energetic connection with the Earth. Walk barefoot as much as possible. Not only will it stimulate the soles and connect us to Mother Earth, it strengthens our arches and can improve natural immunity.
Get a CranioSacral Therapy Session
CranioSacral therapy is sublime at lessening tension within and upon the nervous system. This puts the system at ease and encourages deep relaxation. Over time, it can help to break old stress habits and reeducate the body. Contact Michigan Associates of Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine for an appointment.