Between slow diaphragmatic pranayama, meditation, and focused awareness,

yoga guides us away from our sympathetic nervous system and activates the

parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for “rest and digest”. The

more we come to our mats, the more we minimize the body’s tendency to activate

the sympathetic nervous system.


The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and sympathetic nervous system

(SNS) work together to help you cope with and respond to daily life.

For many people, daily life brings a myriad of stresses that activate the SNS. Loud

noises, flashing lights, frustrating thoughts, text messages and emails all activate

the sympathetic, or “fight or flight” mechanisms in your body.

The PNS and the SNS are connected like a seesaw; when one goes up, the other

one goes down. If your SNS constantly jumps into action throughout the day, your

daily experiences will tend to create an imbalance. By activating the PNS, yoga

strengthens its circuitry and brings balance to the seesaw.

Parasympathetic activation is the base state of the body, brain and mind. PNS

activation reduces blood pressure and slows the heart and breathing rates after a

stressful event. Additionally, blood flow is redirected to the digestive and

reproductive organs, and the endocrine and lymphatic system, those parts of your

body that aren’t needed in order to survive. This allows the body to extract nutrients

from the food you eat more efficiently, which helps to effectively eliminate toxins

because blood circulation increases. Yoga encourages us to pay attention to the

sensations in our bodies and our reactions to those sensations. This mindfulnessbased

practice teaches us to be aware of and respond differently to stress-inducing

thoughts and experiences so that the baseline of the PNS can be maintained.

Benefits of mindful-based stress reduction include: improved blood pressure and

lowered heart rate, reduced fight or flight stress response and an activation of the

rest and digest response, improved digestion, lessened inflammation, improved

immune system.