5 Ways to Calm your Nervous System

Stephen Cope writes in his book The Wisdom of Yoga:

“The shape, look and feel of this world is actually a function of our own nervous system”.

This encapsulates my own experience so vividly. A couple of years ago my nervous system was headed for a breakdown and the look and feel of my world at that point matched this malfunction. At the lowest points in my struggles I was barely sleeping each night and experiencing strong muscle twitching and jerking in my limbs – surely a sign of my sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” part) being in overdrive. In Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga) such symptoms would constitute a “Vata Derangement” – in other words a whacked out nervous system! Both wings of our nervous system are necessary and important but in our fast-paced world we live mainly from the sympathetic wing - which is like the accelerator of our car – think about what would happen if you only used the accelerator of your car while driving - crashing likely!

Here are my tips for soothing your brain, spine and of course, in turn, your nerves – the central components of your nervous system. It’s time to start applying the brakes….

1) Do abdominal breathing / relaxation / meditation. Some people find it hard to sit in meditation. It took me many years of yoga postures before I finally sat for more than 10 minutes, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t sit! An alternative is laying on your back with your hands on your belly, breathing deeply and raising the belly with each breath. Don’t let your chest rise – it’s harder than it sounds. Abdominal breathing activates the soothing and calming parasympathetic wing of the nervous system. Making your exhale long and slow increases the benefits.

2) Eat “grounding” foods. The following foods are recommended for those with a “Vata Defect”!

Protein and omega 3 oils such as fish oil (or if you are vegetarian you can use a combination of flax oil and DHA from algae).

Avoid refined sugar and flour

Good quality dairy, eggs, nut and seed butters

Sesame oil and ghee added to cooked foods

Cooked vegetables (salads are to be avoided as they are too light but if you can’t resist in summer, use an oily dressing)

3) Do yoga poses that increase blood flow to the brain or involve a “chin lock”. These activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the brain. Poses in which you bend forward, invert or lay back over bolsters are beauties.

4) Cut stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Alcohol deprives the brain of oxygen – the buzz is the feeling of neurons drowning.

5) Get regular exercise and more sleep. Note, if you’re ill, stressed or working hard you need more sleep!

As Dr Robert Svoboda, a renowned Ayurvedic doctor says:

It is easiest to harmonise the body-mind-spirit complex by starting with the body….balance of the mind and spirit…comes more easily once the body has been made firm and healthy.”

A healthy nervous system = a healthy and happy you and a different world to enjoy!