We’re all familiar with the body’s response to stress: the heart begins to race, the pupils dilate, and the muscles contract. These responses occur because the body is preparing for either a battle or for retreat; what is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. This automatic reaction is a part of the sympathetic nervous system and functions to keep us safe from predators or physical threats. While we don’t necessarily need this biological feature to stay safe from predators in the wild any longer, the body still reacts to modern day stresses in the same way. This includes everyday pressures such as public speaking, work deadlines, phones ringing, or feeling uncertain in our relationships. With the pressures we face on the daily, it’s becoming increasingly important that we counteract the fight or flight response. Doing so is important because when this response is activated too often it can lead to adrenal fatigue, heart disease, and can deplete you organs of vital energy – not good news.
“With the pressures we face on the daily, it’s becoming increasingly important that we counteract the fight or flight response.”
The good news is that we have a whole other system that counter-acts our fight or flight response – the parasympathetic nervous system – what some refer to as the “rest and digest” response. Turning on this system neutralizes the body after stress – the heart rate drops, the pupils constrict, and the muscles relax. In rest and digest mode the body begins to repair itself, energy becomes conserved, and even your digestion improves. You can activate rest and digest mode by engaging in activities that sooth you, like reading a book, getting a massage, or going for a long walk. But, if you want to fast track it a bit, yoga Nidra might be what you’re looking for.
Nidra is a type of yoga gaining momentum in the West because it’s so effective at counter-acting the damages of stress. Practicing Nidra brings you into a state of mind that falls somewhere between being asleep and awake, and switches the nervous system into that delicious “rest and digest” state. It’s commonly practiced in shavasana (which is a resting pose referred to as ‘corpse pose’ – you get the picture), and combines body scanning, deep breathing, and often a visualization component. While you can check with your local yoga studios for offerings, one of the beauties of Nidra is that it can be practiced at home and on demand, as there are no confusing poses or sweating involved. There are many resources available online through iTunes or YouTube, just be sure to test a few out to find a guide that you enjoy listening to and whose routine works for you. So, get your rest and digest on and improve your health with this little gem, Namaste!