Let’s talk about the nervous system. It may not seem too relevant + definitely not sexy. But you need it in order to function + today you're going to learn how much control you have over it + how it influences pretty much everything from breathing to digesting to metabolism to feeling wired + tired.
The nervous system is constantly receiving + sending messages. It’s kind of like a loop. You’re busy trying to cook dinner, manage the kids, find a babysitter for tomorrow night, answer a few more emails + you still have an hour before your husband will be home.
Your nervous system is getting the message that things are getting dangerous + you need a jolt to get you through. Specifically the sympathetic nervous system, fight or flight is amping up the cortisol production. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but your body doesn’t know the difference between the threat of a gun pointed at your head + your kid throwing a tantrum in the middle of Target. All it knows is you’re freaking out.
So it gets the message + responds.
Switching on the parasympathetic nervous system is like changing the station from death metal (fight or flight) to classical (rest + digest). I’ll make huge generalization here and say MOST people are spending more time listening to death metal than they are listening to classical.
It means we are flooding our systems with stimulation more often than not. The result is not a peaceful sleep at the end of the day, the result is burnout.
Unless we start to practice turning on the parasympathetic, classical station. Also known as rest + digest.
Think of fight or flight as sucking up all your energy while the rest + digest responds conserves + replenishes your energy.
We are going to focus on FEELING this system at work in your body. A simple way to do that is to let it help us REST + DIGEST.
The parasympathetic response regulates digestions, heart rate, breathing, blood pressure + more. But when the body is flooded with death metal chemicals + hormones the body can’t digest. It also will start storing fat + make you crave more sugar + carbs.
Many doctors are starting to agree with what holistic practitioners have been saying all along, which is many of the digestive distress + disorders they are seeing are caused by these high stress, low rest states our bodies are in.
To experience this phenomenon of letting your body do EXACTLY WHAT IT NEEDS TO DO you will activate your parasympathetic nervous system. You will change the station to classical, eat a meal, then chill out. You will activate your rest + digest mechanism + see how you feel.
Time to put on your [super cute] detective hat.
- So plan which meal you’ll practice this at - bonus if you can do it at each meal today.
- After you are through eating, you can clear you place but DON’T START CLEANING UP, get back to work, watch tv, get online, just chill.
- Find a comfortable seat either sitting up or slightly reclined (don’t lay flat, digestion needs the gravity). You can move from the table to the couch or another comfy chair.
- Rest your hands on your belly or in your lap
- For just a few minutes (5 would be great) close your eyes and just feel your belly fill + rise with each inhale + relax with each exhale.
The combination of slowing down, allowing your body to digest + breathing will switch on your parasympathetic nervous system.
The more you practice this while eating + after you will notice less bloating, indigestion, constipation + even better sleep. If you feel like death metal is the station you’re on most of the day, your body is craving moments like this.
Your body wants to be efficient + balanced but it can’t do that when you’re forcing it to go at top speeds all day. Let it rest + digest.
*This is an exercise to emphasize relaxation + it's effect on digestion. I am not recommending that you close your eyes + breathe while you're out to lunch with your boss or best friend, but then again, you might teach them something. Years ago I realized my entire body was tense while I was eating + I was eating really, really fast. My breathing was so shallow + the stress was subtle (not obvious at all on the outside) + my body did not know how to relax, I had to teach it.
Take your time with this. Everything here is a practice, it is a baby step. Take a deep breath before you pick up your fork, take a deep breath + put it down.
As we get older our stomach acid production could lower making it harder to digest certain foods, especially protein or combining grains + protein, leading to bloating + discomfort. Here a few natural helpers, but if that is a concern see a naturopath or functional medicine doctor to guide you. My understanding is that enzymes are a slippery slope as once you begin using them your body will completely stop producing them naturally making you dependent on them, but again this is a matter for someone specialized in this area.
Here are some digestive aids to increase stomach acid, the stuff that breaks down your food:
- Apple Cider Vinegar, raw, unfiltered - a capful before a meal, mixed with some water
- Digestive Bitters
- Water with the juice of 1/2 lemon
- Betaine HCL (I use the one with the herb fenugreek so there is no risk of stomach ache or excess acid)
Nothing to do, nowhere to be but right here taking care of me.