Addressing the needs of the Nervous System is the herbalist's first step in working with dis-ease.
We are cooking in a soup of trauma, denial, pain, confusion, anger, reckoning, and injustice-and POSSIBILITY.
I believe if we have some simple tools, and know the basics of how our Bodies respond to stress, we can be transformed, rather than swallowed by, intense times.
I want to offer a little window into the Nervous System, the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) to be exact, as well as some free dollars techniques for Nervous System care.
One of the important jobs of the ANS is to prioritize the distribution of resources throughout the body. These resources are in our blood, literally.
We don’t have enough blood in our bodies to flush every organ, every system, all the time, so it gets directed to the places it is the most needed.
The ANS decides where blood goes based on the messages it receives about stress and rest.
Firstly, to define stress:
Stress can stem from the obvious places: fear, danger, disease, threats of violence, trauma, oppression. It can also come from exercise, ecstasy, and intense positive emotion.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is composed of two parts: the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.
Sympathetic Nervous System, famous for the fight, flight or freeze response, is about protection. Sympathetic NS aids us, it calls us to action, focuses our minds and strength for our safety.
The Sympathetic System dilates the pupils, gets the heart pumping, engages your muscles, stimulates glucose (for energy) and inhibits other functions having to do with digestion and procreation.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System is about growth. The Parasympathetic NS is in charge of the processes of rest, regeneration, digestion and eroticism.
The Parasympathetic NS constricts pupils, slows the heartbeat, stimulates digestion, and stimulates blood flow to our reproductive organs.
Health is when these systems are in dynamic balance, with the emphasis on coming home to the parasympathetic.
American culture is Sympathetic NS dominant. It glorifies action, worth centered on accomplishment, and power over.
We are products of this cultural pressure, and live in a milieu of varying degrees of trauma via our institutions, our ancestry, our families, our childhoods and our day to day lives. In addition, to greater or lesser degrees, we are regularly exposed to man made toxins in our environment, our food and our water.
On the body level, stress IS the chronic dis-ease.
We’ve habituated the activation of a survival response that is detrimental to our health. When the Sympathetic NS is working overtime, we cannot thrive.
Sympathetic NS Dominance can look like:
Trouble sleeping, falling asleep, staying asleep
Reproductive organ dysfunction
Stress eating (this an unconscious way to try and engage the parasympathetic NS by kicking in the digestive system)
Tips for getting to that Parasympathetic Place:
It takes about 20 minutes to get into a Parasympathetic state, it takes a second to get into a Sympathetic state.
Time is critical to take for yourself.
The exhale is under the PNS domain. A series of elongated exhalations engages our PNS.
Running warm water over your hands engages the PNS, so wash those hands with even more purpose.
Broaden your view. Practice soft focus vision, looking out into your entire field of vision, especially your periphery. This engages the PNS. One helluva metaphor.
Touching your lips engages your PNS. Kiss for inner peace.
Touch your skin, or receive touch. The cells of the Nervous System and the skin developed together in utero, and they never forgot each other. When you touch, rub and massage, your skin, you engage the PNS. This is radicle (as in coming back to the root) Self Care.
Fake it until you make it. Consciously breathe into your belly, relax your jaw, relax your muscles, acting like the body at rest engages the PNS.
Feel yourself. Really see what you’re seeing, really hear what you’re hearing, feel your clothes on your skin, notice the smells you smell, taste what you eat. Landing in the sensations of your body engages the PNS.
When we come into a Parasympathetic state, we are receptive, we can listen to ourselves and others, we can access our deepest creativity, we can see our work. We can respond, rather than react, to our circumstances. We can build courage and stamina to Grow.