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Finding Inner Balance: The Link Between Nervous System Regulation and Yoga


In our fast-paced modern world, stress and anxiety have become almost synonymous with daily life. Our bodies and minds are in a constant state of alertness, perpetuating a cycle that can have detrimental effects on our overall well-being. Nervous system regulation is a key factor in overall well-being, and especially for supporting optimal hormone health. Through a powerful combination of asana (movement), pranayama (breath control) and mindfulness, yoga is an amazing tool for regulating the nervous system, offering a pathway to finding inner balance and harmony.


Understanding the Nervous System


Before delving the ways in which your yoga practice can impact the state of your nervous system, let's take a moment to understand the nervous system and its role in our well-being. The nervous system comprises two primary branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). I like to think of it as the sympathetic nervous system being in ‘sympathy’ with our bodies, trying to provide support in times of danger or stress.

The Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for the "fight or flight" response, activating during times of stress or danger.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System is often referred to as the "rest and digest" system, promoting relaxation, healing, and restoration.

To achieve optimal hormone health and balance in body and mind, we ideally want to have a balance between the two. However, due to the type of lifestyles we tend to lead with long time spent sat at desks, high amounts of stress in daily life, exposure to toxins, and many more factors, a lot of us are spending more time stuck in ‘fight or flight mode’, which can lead to a host of health issues and wreak havoc on the endocrine system.


The Impact of Yoga on the Nervous System


Activation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System:


Many yoga practices emphasise slow, controlled breathing patterns. Deep and conscious breathing triggers the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, and extended exhalations have been shown to promote a calming effect on the body and mind.



Reduced Stress Hormones:


Practicing yoga can lead to a reduction in the production of stress hormones such as cortisol. As stress levels decrease, the body's fight-or-flight response is toned down, allowing the PNS to dominate and promote relaxation. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a prime example of the intricate link between hormones and the nervous system. This axis regulates the body's response to stress and stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Chronic stress can disrupt this delicate balance, affecting both hormone levels and nervous system functioning.


Mind-Body Connection:


Yoga encourages mindfulness, directing our attention to the present moment. This practice of returning inwards fosters a stronger mind-body connection, ultimately leading to better regulation of the nervous system.


Enhanced Heart Rate Variability:


Heart rate variability (HRV) is an indicator of the body's ability to adapt to stress. Yoga has been shown to improve HRV, suggesting improved nervous system flexibility and resilience in the face of life's challenges. If you use a wearable tracking device such as an Oura ring or Apple Watch, you may notice that your HRV levels may become sub-optimal during times of stress or illness. I wear a Oura ring and track my HRV and have found that the more consistent I am with my stress management practices such as yoga, meditation and mindful movement, the more ’optimal’ my HRV levels become.


Final thoughts


In a world where constant stimulation and stress can impact our every day lives, the practice of yoga offers a sanctuary of calmness and self-awareness. Yoga has a significant impact on nervous system regulation, promoting the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. By engaging in yoga, we also empower ourselves to navigate life's challenges with grace and resilience, fostering a state of inner harmony that extends beyond the mat. As you step onto your yoga mat, remember that each pose, each breath, and each moment of stillness is a step toward regulating your nervous system and finding balance in body and mind.


Namaste x

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