Autonomic Nervous System – Parasympathetic and Sympathetic

In helping to understand healing principles within the body, we need to understand the two basic states of the autonomic nervous system.  These states are survival mode or a time of rest and repair.  Survival mode is often referred to as the fight or flight system and is known as the sympathetic nervous system.  On the other hand, the more calm and relaxed rest and repair mode is the parasympathetic system.

When we are operating in survival mode (autonomic nervous system), fear is the predominant force.  To understand this better, I’ll paraphrase and borrow a scenario from Peter Levine’s book, Waking The Tiger.  In this example, consider you are out in the African wilderness and are being hunted by a tiger.  Your body is on full alert with increased muscle tension so you can run or move in a moment’s notice.  Your breathing will be more rapid, your heart rate will be increased as your body prepares for that threat that is lurking.  Your eyes and brain are focused on the tiger that is hunting you and not much else.  Digestion, analytical ability, sleep and memory among other things are slowed down as they are not critical to running or evading the tiger.

On the other hand, let’s say you are sitting in a very quiet and peaceful place surrounded by ocean wave sounds and lying in a hammock.  At this point, your body has no need for increased muscle tension or a rapid heart rate.  Your body should be able to go into the rest and repair mode (parasympathetic nervous system).  When your body is operating under the parasympathetic nervous system, it is then that you can optimally digest food and allow your mind to ponder various thoughts and creativity.  Sleep comes natural and any healing your body needs would be taking place at this time.

The problem in our society is that we tend to operate from the sympathetic nervous system in survival mode as if we are running from the tiger.  By living in stressful lives and not learning how to listen to our body, we fail to give ourselves that parasympathetic state of rest and repair.  The tiger may not be chasing us at this moment, but our body is so revved up that it seems to be.

If we do not release stress and trauma in our body, it will take up residence within our cells, tissues and brain.  Our body absorbs a great deal of stress and experiences in our life, but often because of how painful and frightening they are, we tend to live our life as if they don’t exist.  While it is easier to dissociate from these experiences and stress, unless we work to release these things, it will get our attention at some point.  Whether it is through a health condition, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, conversion disorder or a variety of other scenarios, trauma and stress without release is a disaster waiting to happen.

Fortunately, there is an innate healing system built into our body that allows our nervous system to operate at peak efficiency.  While it is a process of waking up and uncovering all that we have hidden in ourselves, we can get to the point where there is balance in our body, our mind, and our life.  Through healing and release, we can increase the Neuroplasticity of our nervous system so our autonomic nervous system is operating in a state of optimal efficiency.  We will not get there by continuing down the path that we have lived all the years of our life. It takes awareness and waking up to evolve and free our body from running away from the tiger.

By Don Shetterly, LMT
December 27, 2017
Mind Body Thoughts Blog

Reprinted by permission from the Mind Body Thoughts Blog

Back to Articles of Interest