Do you know how to hack your nervous system for healing? 🧠
Through that knowledge, I was able to shift from surviving a life of complex trauma into thriving and healing over 50 chronic health conditions in the process.
The tools and knowledge I gained are not something easily summarized in a blog post, which is why I offer 1:1 coaching and am releasing an online course that teaches the science and practical ways to integrate it into everyday life (where the healing part happens).
Strengthening the connection to the parasympathetic nervous system, our built-in healing system, is a major component of what I advocate. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do this!
Here are 10 quick ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and more on why that’s helpful.
Humming creates vibrations that massage the section of vagus nerve near your vocal chords. This stimulates your relaxation response and signals to your parasympathetic nervous system that you are safe.
Singing requires a level of controlled breathwork which can further support the parasympathetic nervous system. Your voice box (larynx) is connected to your vagus nerve. Like humming, singing naturally activates it.
Yawning is a built-in repair circuit which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and signals rest/digest processes for body. If it doesn’t come naturally, intentionally yawning can still exercise and strengthen this connection.
Hugs and cuddles, when we’re receptive to them, aid parasympathetic balance by activating acupressure points that release oxytocin (the love/bonding neurochemical). Deep pressure is detected by receptors in the brain and body that sends signals of safety to the autonomic nervous system.
Supportive meditations and visualizations can prompt the parasympathetic nervous system and relieve an active stress response. Mantras can be helpful for engaging a wandering mind and anchoring. Sourcing pleasant or calming visualizations can equally engage the parasympathetic nervous system as if the events were happening in reality.
Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with asanas (poses) that are held for longer periods of time than in other styles. The longer holds work to unwind the body’s deeper layers of fascia (as opposed to working with the muscles in more dynamic movements). As we work with these layers, we create the conditions to release deeply held tension in the body and mind. Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep/restorative yoga) relies on little to no movement in a reclined position to create a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, which is a deeper state of relaxation with awareness.
Breathwork can help support the parasympathetic nervous system. Generally the system is best supported through lengthening and deepening the exhale. The tendency with stress is to take short, shallow breaths, so shifting to long, deep breaths can also help shift the nervous system.
Massage and activating certain acupressure points in the body can switch the sympathetic dominant state over to the parasympathetic nervous system, releasing anti-inflammatory and restorative neurochemistry in the body.
Restorative hobbies, or activites that bring you peace or joy, can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The specific activitity or activities will vary based on individual interests and preferences, but the aspect of focus is on the feelings experienced from the activity. It’s an activitity that feels restorative and fulfilling to energy levels versus depleting or taxing. Engaging in creativity or play can be particularly of benefit to wellness and balance.
Gratitude supports circuitry to restorative chemistry (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins) and works with the parasympathetic nervous system to offset stress and create reslience.
The parasympathetic nervous system is our natural restoring system and manages the body’s rest, digest, growth and repair processes. In modern lifestyles and experiences, there is a tendency and societal push for production that can overshadow the need for restoration and create an energetic imbalance. As a result, the nervous system may maladapt to be more sympathetic dominant. The sympathetic nervous system prioritizes survival and vital functioning and downgrades parasympathetic processes. Under normal conditions, the parasympathetic nervous system would automatically turn on after a threat is resolves and activate the body’s relaxation response. However, when the sympathetic nervous system is chronically active due to habits, lifestyle, or toxic stress levels, the parasympathetic nervous system may be sidelined on its rest/digest/heal/grow processes.
This can show up as:
- Sleep issues and insomnia
- Digestive issues and food sensitivities
- Fatigue and post-exertional malaise
- Chronic inflammation and chronic pain
- Heart palpatations and/or elevated resting heart rate
- Hormonal imbalances and development of related disorders
- Anxiety and panic disorders
- Cognitive disturbances and brain fog
- Sensory sensitivities (light, sound, touch, taste, smell)
- Overactivity of the immune system and development or worsening of auto-immune conditions
One technique to assist in creating more balance for the body, is to use the mind to be more intentional about restorative practices to guide the shift into the parasympathetic nervous system, which does the healing.
I hope you’ve found this entry helpful! I would love to hear in the comments about other techniques you’ve used to support your parasympathetic nervous system.