Breathing Prompt – Letting Your PNS Win

So, it’s likely right now that many of us may be noticing our Nervous Systems trying to kick into (and stay in) Fight or Flight mode. And it makes sense; the Sympathetic Nervous system is our set of self-defense responses that are wired to rev up when we’re stressed, especially against things that are sudden, unfamiliar, threatening and out of our control.

A classic example is say, like, a Saber-toothed Tiger (#tigerking on the mind) starts running full-speed toward you; you either fight because you think you should take on a saber-toothed tiger, or you flea. The Sympathetic Nervous System induces the physiological changes you need in order to defend yourself: an accelerated heartbeat, adrenaline [and noradrenaline] rush, sweat, dilated pupils, blood sent to the muscles of the arms and legs for fighting/fleeting, goosebumps to make ourselves seem a bit larger, etc.

Biology, dude. 

COVID-19 pushes all the same mental buttons as the tiger might: it’s threatening, sudden, unfamiliar and out of our control. Our sympathetic nervous systems are sending us those self-defense mechanisms, which quite often have the effect of keeping us in a state of high stress. It’s important to recognize that you can still be stimulating the chemical stress response even while motionless, on the couch, at home. And unlike the tiger situation, COVID-19 is ongoing and we do not know what might be next; which is exactly why this situation calls for our Parasympathetic Nervous System to be just as, if not more, dominant.

What goes up must come down. 

The Parasympathetic Nervous System has the opposite effect: Rest and Digest. Netflix and Chill. When the PNS (say that ten times fast) is activated (there so many dirty jokes here but they’re low-hanging fruit) (get it? Ok I’m done), blood pressure and heart rate decrease, digestion and circulation resume normal activity; basically, we chill out. 

A diagram from HealthyHappyYou.com displaying the differences between the PNS and SNS.

So, we must make attempts to stabilize the severe load of our stress and find a balance. This means developing regular, consistent practices that help keep the physiological-effects of prolonged stress on our bodies low.

Below is a breathing and relaxation technique that I’ve created. I have found this exercise extremely helpful before bedtime and at any time really, to relax me, bring me into the present, and help facilitate a somewhat more stable experience throughout this bizarre period we are experiencing.

Other things that I find helpful include:

  • Dancing
  • Journaling
  • Getting fresh air and sunlight
  • Going for a walk, capturing the light in my camera
  • Cuddling my cat
  • Reading a book (not the news!)
  • FaceTiming a friend
  • Moving my body
  • Writing down things I am grateful for
  • Making jewelry, drawing, painting
  • Cleaning

And the list goes on! What do you do to activate your Netflix & Chill, and find peace?

AG Wellness Meditation Prompt

Start by finding a comfortable seat; there really aren’t rules here other than get comfortable, but I do like to be sitting upright rather than laying down so I don’t fall asleep and to sort of give myself physical space to really breathe fully. I’ll prop myself up a little bit so my hips are higher than my knees and my body is relaxed so there’s not much effort I need to put forth into keeping myself upright.

Whenever you’re ready, let your eyes come to a close. Let your shoulders drop down away from your ears. Breathe, without changing your breath; just observing. Release any tension in your forehead, in the space between your eyes and your cheekbones, in your jaw; your throat… let your elbows hang and your belly relax. Feel the surface beneath you fully supporting you here. Surrender completely to it. Right now, all you have to do is breathe.

Anytime we notice our mind wandering and attaching to thoughts; just come back to that breath. Save the attention you pay to those thoughts for later. Right now, just allow yourself to be still, and with the flow of each inhale and exhale.

When you come to your next exhale, let it out fully, until it feels like there’s no air left. Blow it all out. Then slowly, inhale… 2…3….4…. all the way to the very tippy top of the breath; filling the lungs completely, the belly completely, the chest; hold it here…  exhale, 4…3…2…1. Inhale. Imagine your breath filling the space within you, cleansing you of any energy you just don’t need right now. Softly letting go. Soften.

Breathe in, 2…3….4…. hold; breathe out…4….3….2….1. Breathe in…2…3…4…hold; breathe out….4…3…2…1. Repeat this for as long as you’d like. Continue breathing at a controlled pace, matching the length of your exhale to the length of your inhale, and letting the natural rhythm of your breath guide where your mind goes. If anything comes up – any thoughts that you find yourself grasping – just gently let them go and come back to the breath. That’s all you need right now. 

Keeping your eyes closed, just bring one hand and place it on your heart, and the other hand to your belly. Notice the rise of your belly, the rise of the chest; the fall of the belly, the fall of the chest. Notice the synchrony between the wave of your breath and that wave of movement. That gentle wave, rising and falling; breathing and letting go; simply flowing, just as it is. No judgement. You may continue this for as long as you’d like.

Note that the visual field may be very strong and bright; and when you’re ready, slowly flutter the eyes open.

Now, take your hands and place them both over your eyes, keeping them closed… take them down to the back of your neck and massage the back of your neck… go down your shoulders and arms, place them over your heart and send loving energy inward, so you can radiate it outward… down to your solarplexus, your belly, your hips; massage the hips and low back; all the way down your legs to your feet. Carrying that energy through your entire body; top to bottom. Allow your hands to drop back down and rest on your thighs. Take one more deep, cleansing breath in through your nose… and out slowly through your mouth. Hold onto this energy that you’ve created yourself throughout the day, week, life.

Love and Health to all!