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.
PNS vs. SNS
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