In our culture of high output and high stress we tend to rely on our fight or flight system to keep us going. The nervous system, however, can also be the answer to help us destress.
This network has a mass of 4.5 pounds/2kg and accounts for 3% of our body weight. It works 24 hours a day, communicates at levels we barely understand, and is responsible for food to and waste removal from the brain. We do know that there is an endless balance between the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), “fight or flight”, and the Parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), “relaxation response”. These two systems act equal and opposite to each other and regulate our breathing, heart rate, circulation, hormones and digestion. Unfortunately, these systems overreact to daily stress. Given time this condition creates an imbalance that leads to stress related problems such as slow muscular recovery, injuries and irritability. As it is hard to turn off the stress response, we will override it by turning on the relaxation response. The relaxation response is stimulated when the respiratory system is even, smooth and relaxed. To obtain this effect, connect your breathing to your stretching. The respiratory system will then facilitate the balance of the nervous system.
When you combine breathing, moving and stretching to activate the relaxation response you must integrate the length, the movement and the quality of the respiratory system.
Length: Establish an even ratio of inhale to exhale while stretching. For example, inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of five. Include a two second pause between each inhale and each exhale.
Movement: The inhale should expand the chest and lengthen the major stress areas such as the mid-back and neck. During the inhale, the abdomen stays in and relaxed, which allows for full expansion of the ribs. The exhale starts at the lower abdomen. This area moves slowly back toward the spine, back farther then you think, with slight rotation of the pelvic girdle to lengthen the lower back.
Quality: Smooth and even, relaxed. Like a rubber band that is gently stretched to just the right length then slowly released.
The following set of stretches is a vehicle into the nervous system. To access the nervous system we combine rhythmic breathing with movement and stretching. The following routine allows you 15- 20 minutes to bring your nervous system back into balance. Remember it takes less then a couple of hours a day to stay fit. A concentrated effort in the right direction over a period of time can have a large impact.
- Interlace your hands behind your head, with fingers and elbows relaxed.
- As you exhale, bend your knees, relax your elbows toward your face and round forward.
- Stay in the down position and inhale into the ribs.
- When you exhale, keep the chin in toward your chest and roll up.
- Repeat 5 times, moving on the exhale and staying on the inhale.
- Finally, find a good position to stay for 5 – 10 breaths.
Lower Back Elongator
- Start on your hands and knees.
- Exhale as you lower your hips to your heels and your chest to your knees.
- On an inhale, move back to the first position.
- Continue to move back on the exhale and forward on the inhale.
- At some point stop with the hips back. Wait for 30 seconds. Use this position to expand the chest and ribs and to extend the length of the inhale.
Legs On Wall
- Lie on the floor, resting the weight of your legs on the wall.
- Hips should be close to the wall, yet stay comfortable.
- The lower back will be flat on the floor. The knees can be bent.
- Stay ten breaths.
Pure Hip on Wall
- Lie on your back with your hips near a wall.
- Place your right foot on the wall. Cross your left ankle over your right thight, just below the right knee. Let the right foot slide toward the floor until your feel a stretch in the left hip.
- Use your left hand to support your left knee.
- Maintain this position for 8 breaths.
- Next switch legs and repeat.
- The powerful hips are the center of movement and the end of the nervous system. Pure hip will stretch and relax this area. To be more effective notice the difference in the stretch at the end of the inhale and the end of the exhale.
- Lay face down with your hands under your shoulders and elbows on the floor.
- Inhale, lifting your chest off the ground while keeping your chin slightly in.
- Exhale, lower the torso down.
- Repeat six times.
Seated Forward Bend
- Sit on the floor with the sole of the feet together. The heels will move away from the hips.
- Slowly round the head toward the chest.
- Find a place to wait, and then extend the length of the inhale and the exhale.
Approach this set of stretches with the focus on your breathing mechanics, the direct path to balancing the nervous system. Experience the benefits of adding capacity to the lungs, harmony to the circulatory system and peace to your heart. Stay strong, feel good and race and train forever.