A Delicate Dance: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Systems

It seems most of us go through bouts of “negative thinking”.

As a health coach, I am particularly aware of the state of mind of my client. I also focus on my own state of mind and as a side hobby I take photos of nature and special moments to connect with my relaxed state such as this picture of my friend’s farm.

This causes us frustration by constantly feeling like we can’t get out of patterns of negative emotions with the usual suspect such as anger, sadness, loneliness, fear, guilt, shame and more. It is well recorded that emotions, stress and negative thinking can have a significant impact on our wellness and health. Therefore, it is so important to consider a holistic (body and mind) approach to healing..

Food can be used as medicine, as well as mind-body techniques that bring you back into balance.

In short, it is the dance for balance between the sympathetic (fight and flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) systems. And, once again, we tend to overthink this.

I have been focusing on achievable ways to include techniques in my life that will trigger the rest and digest system more. Some of these seem so simple that it may sound ridiculous or a bit woo-woo! But hey, the old saying of “nothing to lose” applies…

First of all, I am making a conscious effort to apply mindfulness to my day. You know, like stop and smell the roses kind of situation. When you mindfully smell something you like (lavender/geranium/patchouli essential oils, basil leaves or a sprig of rosemary) it transports you to a pleasant plane. Why not do that several times a day?

Secondly, we have the power to deploy our breath in many meaningful ways to relax the mind. Optimise the trapped times in traffic by doing a box breath. Inhale for five counts, hold for five counts, exhale for five counts, hold for five counts. Who said you have to be a yogi?

In the third place, we can apply our taste buds more effectively by engaging in our meals in a mindful way. Just decide to eat the first 5 bites really slowly, chewing the food optimally and really enjoy the flavours. A meal enjoyed in this respectful way definitely deploys the rest and relaxation response.

Number four in my bag of tools, applies to sensory techniques. Nothing like a short barefoot walk on the grass or a lovely massage if it is doable for you! I am also a fan of a 5 minute dry skin brush early morning.

Before we focus on the more “exotic” techniques and coming in at number five is the value of deliberately expressing positive emotion. Yes, the gratitude journal made famous by Oprah is still a winner to help me refocus on what is really important and remains part of my morning routine. Oh, and how exquisite is a good bout of laughter? Keep the videos of those belly-laughing babies and silly cats on standby.

What most people don’t realise is that negative thinking and negative emotional patterns are actually hardwired into the brain, in one of the most ancient parts of it such as the brain stem. The tried and tested methods of meditation (www.headspace.com) and yoga deserve their place in the old faithful hall.
I have also experimented with a few “out there” techniques over the past few months.

Recently I have engaged with a therapist (www.markkahn.co.za) that uses the body’s tremor response (TRE® method) to release stress and a whole new world opened for me. This is kind of on the weird side but I am already reaping the benefits.

Another technique that seems to affect the primitive part of the brain that holds us back is EFT also known as Tapping which is reported to literally rewire the neuropathways of the brain according to New York Times bestselling author, Nick Ortner (www.thetappingsolution.com). You can find videos online that will take you through a simple-yet-powerful tapping process to enhance positive feelings and be more energised.

I had a delightful Chakradance ® session (www.chakradance.com) which is freestyle dancing based on your inner freedom. Truly relaxing!

And last but not least, coffee with my bestie just works a charm …