But what about the responses we have which are more subconscious; which our minds cannot so easily control?
That’s what we’re focusing on in today’s session – our final for Wellbeing September.
We’re looking at our bodies’ natural response to a stimulus – our nervous system response – and, in particular, how we can create an organic balance which promotes wellness in the body and mind.
Without getting too deep into the anatomical nitty-gritty, we’ve learned that our autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls our involuntary, unconscious functions. It keeps our oxygen pumping and blood running while we’re asleep and ensures our muscles have enough of both as required when we’re awake.
The ANS has two branches: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (SNS and PNS). Think of it a little like a see-saw, with the SNS on one side providing the speed and energy to thwart danger or fuel our exercises (‘fight or flight’), while on the other side the PNS controls rest, recovery and digestion (‘rest and digest’).
(If you’d like to learn more about how our autonomic nervous system works to create, here’s a great article which breaks it down.)
While these systems may appear like polar opposites, they are actually complementary; both always on, both crucial to survival, with a balance between them like yin and yang. When we encounter things like stress, anxiety, inflammation from poor nutrition and a lack of sleep, our body’s see-saw teeters towards SNS, and removes our chance for mental and physical recovery. It’s a cycle that can become hard to break.
Being centred, positive and self-aware allows us to remove the distractions of fear and anxiety, so we’re able to rationally respond to situations rather than irrationally react to them. And the key to this balance starts with removing worry and replacing it with positive thoughts. Because, as Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu once put it:
Watch your thoughts, as they become words.
Watch your words, as they become actions.
Watch your actions, as they become habits.
Watch your habits, as they become character.
Watch your character, as it becomes your destiny.
In other words, positive thoughts lead to positive words, which lead to positive actions, which lead to positive habits, which lead to a positive character – and, ultimately, a positive destiny.
Here are a few things we’ve learned about this month which we can each do to restore our internal and unconscious balance in such an unpredictable year:
- Reduce Stress where possible, and focus on the positives: We’ve touched on this a few times this month (like here), but our wellbeing depends largely on removing or reducing whatever stressors we can control, and reducing our reactions to those we can’t.
- Practice more yoga: We’ve been feeling the benefits of our weekly yoga sessions at UEC! For more details, see here.
- Focus on good nutrition: Avoiding sugary foods and stimulants, and focusing instead on healthy eating habits (like these), has an enormous effect on physical and mental health.
- Meditation and breathing techniques: This helps us practice mindfulness and gratitude, and removes negative mind-chatter. It slows our breathing, increases our PNS response and promotes physical and mental recovery.
- Get a massage: Proven to restore nervous system balance, massage both stimulates and relaxes muscles, promoting recovery and stress relief. Plus, who really needs another excuse to get a massage from time to time?!
Well, that’s a wrap for Wellbeing September. It’s been an eventful, insightful four weeks with a tonne of lessons learned, and we end the month feeling grateful, centred, stretched-out (thanks, yoga!) and ready to tackle whatever the rest of 2020 throws our way.