What role does our nervous system play in our overall happiness? Have you ever wondered why some people stay calm and relaxed in the face of stress while others snap – overreacting, breaking down, or saying things they later regret? You may be surprised to learn the answer.
What is the nervous system?
The nervous system is a combination of the brain, the spinal cord, and nerve endings throughout your body. It isn’t a single thing you can point to but rather a unified control system within the human body, influencing everything you say, do, and feel.
How does your nervous system work?
Each element of the central nervous system has a unique role:
- Your brain takes in messages from the outside world.
- Your spine acts as the messenger sending this information to and from your brain to your nerve endings.
- Your nerve endings close the loop by feeding information back to your brain, helping you act or react.
With a weak nervous system, the messages may get misinterpreted, and your reactions may be out of alignment with the situation. Someone accidentally cuts you off in traffic, and you take it personally, yelling and becoming aggressive. With a strong nervous system, the messages are sent and received accurately, and you behave in a balanced way. You get cut off in traffic, and you feel irritated but you know it can’t be personal. They don’t know you. You create some distance from the other car, and you continue on your way.
Is yours a paper cup or metal pot?
You can think of the nervous system as the container in which you experience your daily events. When your nervous system is weak, it is like having a thin paper cup as your container. Life events come in and quickly overflow the container, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted.
When your nervous system is strong, it is like having a thick metal pot as your container. The same life events occur, but now your container has space for them, so you feel more at ease. Having a strong nervous system is the foundation to becoming a balanced, calm person.
How does yoga build the nervous system?
The ancient yogis understood this dynamic, and yoga in general and Kundalini Yoga, in particular, are designed to strengthen the nervous system. Yoga means “union” and with its emphasis on spinal flexibility, focused breathwork, repetitive exercises, and stretching, yoga activates the very elements that make up your nervous system. The different parts of your body talk with each other, and when yoga begins to bring the elements together, the conversation changes. This is the magic of yoga and why a regular yoga practice will give you benefits well beyond physical conditioning. Yoga can change the way you experience life.
To clear up any misconceptions, being fit is not the same as having a strong nervous system. Before I came to yoga, I surfed, I did triathlons, and I ran regularly. I was fit and physically strong, and yet I overreacted to stress. I could run a 10-kilometer race or surf in the Pacific Ocean for two hours, but if I was running late for an appointment, I’d feel totally overwhelmed and overreact, snapping at the people around me.
But after several months of a regular Kundalini Yoga practice, that sense of overwhelm became less intense. I would feel irritated if I was running late, but I’d stay relaxed and composed. I didn’t overreact because I didn’t feel overwhelmed.
Many of the movements in yoga gently stretch the spinal cord and improve energy flow along the spine. This helps the messages from your brain flow to your nerve endings differently. Instead of activating the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze), your brain activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), resulting in feelings of wellness.
Through pranayama (yogic breathing), you can train your breath to become deeper, triggering a relaxation response. I tell my students to think of the breath as a muscle that needs to be exercised to stay strong. Yoga is like weight training for your breath.
Yogic exercises and pranayama also work to remove energetic imbalances in the body. When these imbalances are removed, energy flows more fully throughout the body, and old emotional and mental patterns can be dropped.
Your issues are in your tissues
There is a popular saying in many of the healing communities that “your issues are in your tissues,” and this has been scientifically proven. From work stress to trauma, from repressed anger to the aftermath of violence, the energy of emotion can “get stuck” in your body, creating imbalances and rigid mental and emotional patterns. If you’ve got old memories or unwanted thoughts that you can’t seem to let go of, strengthening your stress response may be one important step in your healing journey. Trauma or emotional wounding disrupts the body’s natural ebb and flow, but you can restore this rhythm and heal yourself.
This is the magic of yoga and how it leads many people to personal transformation. Not sure how to start? Try this video Building the Nervous System to Cleanse the Magnetic Field, specifically designed to build your nervous system.