Stress is a chronic issue in the US, with over 55% of Americans experiencing stress during the day. Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, and in this chronic state of 'flight or fight,' you can experience many negative impacts on your health and well-being. So, how can you stimulate your parasympathetic system to counteract this?
Your sympathetic system helps you survive; however, nowadays, there are countless everyday stressors that activate it. Without methods such as parasympathetic meditation, you can experience a variety of mental and physical effects, such as anxiety and heart-rate acceleration.
The good news is that specific meditation techniques can help you return to your center and maintain your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Read on to learn how meditation benefits the parasympathetic system.
What Is the Parasympathetic System?
Your parasympathetic system is a network of nerves in your autonomic nervous system that help you relax and stay healthy, such as aiding digestion and managing blood pressure. It is also called 'rest and digest' compared to the 'fight or flight' sympathetic system.
It also helps balance your sympathetic nervous system, allowing you to switch off when you need to be on high alert so your body does not have to be put under strain.
Importance of the Parasympathetic System
The parasympathetic nervous system is essential in managing your stress response, using the vagus nerve to downregulate the body, helping it relax.
During stress, your body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to think or act quickly. But when stress is chronic, stress hormones are not regulated, and the parasympathetic system cannot activate.
So, it is essential to care for the system for various reasons:
- Supports self-care
- Allows a feeling of being grounded and centered
- Maintains mental well-being
- Aids physical health
The parasympathetic nervous system helps you come back to being, not doing. No matter what is happening in the external world, it is possible to activate the parasympathetic system. It is essential to learn tools to stimulate this to manage stress and stay well.
One of the best ways to improve the parasympathetic system function is through mindfulness and meditation. So, how does meditation stimulate the parasympathetic system?
Meditation can impact your brain in multiple ways, which is why there are so many benefits. Here are several ways it can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Slow Heart Rate, Release Tension and Regulate Breathing
Meditation and mindfulness can help you focus on the breath, pause, and release tension in the body. This allows for your body's stress response to lighten and slow down. Your heart rate becomes more regulated, allowing bodily functions to respond more efficiently.
Pause Your 'Monkey Mind'
Focusing on the present moment and your breath provides detachment from any thought patterns. This also helps reduce stress in the body. The 'monkey mind' refers to the restless mind, the default mode network (DMN).
Meditation can help you step out of the DMN and focus on the present moment. This reduces the chance of stressful thought-triggers and allows you to be fully present.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
By focusing on the present moment and detaching from thoughts, you can reach a deep state of relaxation. Your mind becomes more focused, stopping your emotions, coloring your perception, and allowing you to feel grounded once more.
A study found meditation to be as effective as a popular pharmaceutical option, which impacts its impact on the brain. When there is less stress and anxiety, the parasympathetic system can function optimally.
Switch off the Sympathetic Nervous System
One of the main issues with chronic stress is that the parasympathetic system doesn't activate. Meditation helps deactivate the sympathetic nervous system, signaling to your body that it is time to rest. This allows the natural feedback loop of the parasympathetic system to activate once more.
Parasympathetic Meditation Techniques
So, how can you begin to stimulate your parasympathetic system? All types of meditation can help. However, several tools can help you on your journey:
- Meditation in nature
- Guided breathwork meditation
- Meditation apps such as Calm meditation
- Incorporating mindfulness prompts into your morning routine
- Meditation tools to stay comfortable
Meditation does not begin and end in the lotus position. There are many ways to meditate, including meditation in nature.
Spending time in nature is another way to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Practice a walking meditation, seated outdoor meditation, or mindfulness outdoors.
Using a guided class, you can also combine the benefits of breathwork and meditation. There are many different applications out there to help you meditate. This includes the calm meditation app.
Incorporating mindfulness techniques could involve:
- Making mundane tasks more mindful
Mindfulness is about being fully present and focused on what you are doing. So, practicing this while brushing your teeth or making breakfast can do wonders for your parasympathetic system!
Being comfortable while meditating also helps stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. If you are not comfortable, you may remain in a high alert state and struggle to reach relaxation.
There are a variety of tools that can help you stay comfortable while meditating. For example, you can invest in a portable meditation chair, which you can even take in nature for meditation. These specialty meditation chairs are designed to reduce discomfort during your meditation, so you can reach the 'rest and digest' state as soon as possible.
There are also other meditation tools that can help you stay comfortable. These include meditation benches and support blocks to find your best meditation position.
Stimulate Your Parasympathetic System
Various techniques can help you stimulate your 'rest and digest system,' including spending time in nature, yoga, prayer, breathwork, and spending time with animals. However, parasympathetic meditation is an accessible and effective way to reduce stress.Find the right meditation techniques and tools that suit your needs. There are a variety of options out there to find what works for you. If you want meditation aids to stay comfortable and calm, contact Ungloo to learn more about our products.