Friday, March 9, 2012

Parasympathetic Nervous System: Balancing Yin and Yang

(picture from An Apple a Day by Amy Merrick)

 This week has been a lovely one in San Francisco for wearing shorts, and drnking ice tea. Instead of having time to play and bask in the sun, I'm getting ready for finals. Finals can be a stressful time for anyone, even at a holistic medicine school! So, this would be a good time to remind myself, and share with you all, the value of finding time in our busy schedules to "rest and digest" aka activate our parasympathetic nervous systems.
If you're not sure what I'm taking about (to keep it short and not sound too much like a biology lecture), our nervous system functions in either one of two states; in the sympathetic or parasympathetic. In the sympathetic state our bodies are in a "fight or flight" response, that is, ready and willing to react to stressors in our life. The parasympathetic system is active when we are completely relaxed, and our body can therefore "rest and digest".
In our task-based society, especially if you live in the middle of a bustling city, our sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive, or in Chinese medicine we would say, "too much yang, not enough yin". In order to create balance within, we need to take the time to engender a calm and relaxed state everyday. This is especially important if you know there is something going on in your life that creates more stress that normal.
Therefore, lets talk about the best ways to relax and get on parasympathetic time (things that we'll ACTUALLY do).

1. Schedule time with friends.
Buddy-up on your activities. Have a few too many projects to do, or errands to run? Invite a friend along for the ride. When you have somebody to chat and laugh with, chances are you can preform your "duties" in a more relaxed manner.

2. Take a "no where to be" walk.
Explore your neighborhood, or take a nature stroll. Walk with no hurry or errand in mind, and see how you feel afterward!

3. Remember that hobby you had? Schedule a half-hour in your day to do it.
Doing the things that you love to do makes life more enjoyable, so make it a priority.

4. Listen to music that calms you.
It can be exciting to listen to music that revs you up, but put something softer in the mix. Think of an album that help you take a deep breath. I like Beach House, or Otis Redding.

5. Stop and -look at- the roses.
It has been shown that even just seeing pictures of nature puts us in a more relaxed state. That is one of the many reasons I love Amy Merrick's blog An Apple a Day. She is a gifted florist, among other things, and her blog features many of the bouquets she puts together.
Put a picture of Yosemite up in your office, or visit Amy's Blog when you need a minute to unwind during the workday.

6. Spend some time in candlelight at the end of your day.
Fake lights can keep us in an active state, unwind and light those pretty candles in your place. Try not to watch TV or the news while you're doing this. We can react to the stress your favorite TV character is under, or find unwanted anxiety from the daily news. 

What do you like to do to counter-act the daily stress in your life?

Have a happy, healthy weekend!