Have you heard about Fight or Flight mode? Many people today live with an overactive sympathetic nervous system, in a constant state of imminent threat. In a time when we don’t have to worry about where our food comes from, or whether a tiger is chasing us, we expend a lot of our vital energy physiologically protecting ourselves from these dangers. This is unnecessary and costly to our health. The strain of stress causes a flood of hormones into our system, which has the cascading effect of increasing the heart rate, sweat production and sending blood to the muscles so that they may be on high alert. In our fast-paced society it is natural to experience this prolonged stress state. This, in turn, impacts organ systems, causing disruption to sleep cycles, strain on the blood vessels, increased blood pressure and more.
So, what can we do about it?
Rest and Digest, of course! The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system that is in charge of maintaining balance or homeostasis. It functionally lowers the heart rate, relaxes the muscles and improves digestive function. So how can we access this vital counterbalance function and live an overall healthier life?
By learning to RELAX.
There are many ways to teach ourselves how to relax, and one of the easiest is to do a body scan meditation. Simply by bringing our awareness to each body part we are able to see what’s there, and release the tension. One technique is to work your way through the body from head to toe or toe to head, and imagine turning on the lights in each part. Yet another is to imagine a warm viscous liquid filling the body slowly, bit by bit. Some like to tense each muscle group, then relax. Feel heaviness sinking you into the earth beneath. See below for a basic body scan meditation you can use.
- Sit comfortably, feel grounded Sit with your spine straight or lie comfortably on a firm surface.
- Soften the physical body
- Notice the breath
- Bring awareness to the feet
- Feel a fine vibration, a tingling or warm sensation as it all the cells in the feet were vibrating with a sense of aliveness
- Send gratitude to the feet and allow the cells to come to stillness
- Feel the little toe sink toward the earth
- Travel up to the lower legs
- Notice a fine vibration there
- Send gratitude to the low legs
- Feel the muscles around the shins soften and sink toward the calves, which relax and melt toward the earth
- Notice the knees and thighs
- Feel a fine vibration there; a tingling sensation of awareness
- Gratitude to the thighs
- Feel the quadriceps sink toward the hamstrings as the hamstrings soften into the earth
- Bring your awareness to the lower abdomen and hips
- Experience a tingling or warm sensation as you send gratitude the lower abdominal organs and hips
- Gratitude brings softness to the low belly as it sinks into the hips, which relax and melt toward the glutes, which soften into the earth.
- VIII.Notice the core of the body
- Feel a fine vibration, a tingling or warm sensation as it all the cells in the torso were vibrating with a sense of aliveness
- Send gratitude for the healthy functioning of all the internal organs, which allows the cells to come to stillness
- The muscles of the belly relax into the muscles around the low spine, which relax and sink into the earth
- The muscles of the chest soften into the muscles around the upper spine, which sink toward the earth.
- Bring your awareness to the neck
- Experience a tingling or warm sensation in the neck.
- Scan the muscles of the neck, and as you send gratitude the throat and neck muscles sink toward the earth.
- Travel to the face
- Notice a fine vibration there
- Send gratitude to the all the sense organs.
- Feel the muscles around the mouth soften and sink, the tongue relaxes away from the roof of the mouth as the jaw unhinges
- The nose and cheeks sink
- The eyelids heavily blanket the eyes, which sink into their sockets and gently gaze upward toward the space between the eyebrows
- All tension in the forehead melts down the sides fo the face and into the earth
- Relax the scalp
- Shift awareness to the mind
- Notice the place inside the head where thoughts occur
- Feel the fine vibration there
- Thank the mind for its health and ability to think
- Allow gratitude to relax that place inside the mind
- Sink awareness to the place behind the thoughts
- Rest here