By Nathalie Keiller:
According to Ayurveda, calming and soothing the nervous system is a requirement for the maintenance and balancing of one’s health. There are numerous time-tested strategies to reset the ability of our nervous system to better ‘rest and digest’. You will find seven of them that I practice and recommend at the end of this article.
Stress of all kinds can have a negative impact on one’s health. When the nervous system is overwhelmed or under excess stress, a healthy body is able to adapt and compensate but only for short periods of time. Excessive stress, which seems the lot for many of us in today’s culture, can easily overwhelm, breakdown and prematurely age the body.
According to Ayurveda, the nervous system is governed by vata, which is made up of air and ether. As both air and ether are light, dry, quick and moving, they have qualities similar to the nervous system. Too much cold, too much movement or too much stress will aggravate vata and strain the nervous system. Interestingly, the seat of vata is in the large intestine.
New research has found that the large intestine is the home of trillions of beneficial bacteria that make up the microbiome. These bacteria comprise about 90% of the cells in the human body. When under stress, whether it is mental, emotional or physical, the microbes in the intestinal tract sense and react, sending emergency alarm messages to the central nervous system, to the brain, which then sends messages to every cell of the body.
Understanding the mechanisms of stress from an ayurvedic perspective allows us to use effective strategies to soothe and calm the nervous system. Many of these ancient methods are incredibly simple, amazingly effective and acknowledged by science.
For example, meditation, yoga and breathing exercises or even a hike in the woods can be perceived as a calming trigger by the intestinal microbiology, which will deliver a message of peace and calm to the brain, central nervous system and, ultimately, every cell of the body.
Engaging in these rejuvenative practices which calm the nervous system and support the health of the intestinal tract and its microbiology are proven practices in Ayurveda.
Studies suggest that a strong digestive ability delivers nutrients to the small and large intestines, enhancing the proliferation of healthy, beneficial microbes that support immunity, neurotransmitter manufacturing and direct messaging to the brain regarding the state of emergency, or lack thereof.
7 Strategies to Calm and Soothe your Mind and Nervous System
Meditation has been shown in numerous studies to rebuild, support, and strengthen the nervous system. Research has shown that meditation can increase the length of the telomeres (the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes) in the body, which are linked to optimal health and longevity.
One of the most effective way to exercise is the practise of the Sun Salutation with a combination of deep nasal breathing in conjunction with a series of flexion and extension yoga postures that support the body’s flexibility and strength.
This combination has been found to support the flow of the cerebral spinal fluid, which both lubricates and washes the brain and central nervous system. Aging is associated with a 50% reduction in production and flow of cerebrospinal fluid in otherwise healthy individuals.
#3. Nature Therapy
According to Ayurveda, getting outside and being in nature increases ojas in the body. Ojas is the substance in the body that is believed to be responsible for vitality, immunity, and a radiant and glowing complexion.
It is hard to ignore the peace and calm that exists in the natural world. Many people use nature, a hike in the woods, running, camping, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or backpacking as sources of exercise, but they are also excellent for peace of mind.
#4. Daily Massage
Studies show that when you give yourself a massage with attention, give someone else a massage, or hug, touch or care for another in a loving way, the longevity and health-promoting hormone, oxytocin, is released.
Ayurveda suggests giving yourself a daily oil massage, which can be done either before or during a shower. The oil is traditionally blended with herbs which act as a natural food supply for the microbes that live on your skin.
#5. Seasonal Foods
A new science interested in circadian rhythms has discovered that the microbes in the soil change from one season to the next. These microbes are attracted to certain plants which grow in each season. Warmer, heavier, high-protein and high-fat foods are harvested in the winter. These heavier foods are naturally balancing and supportive for the central nervous system at this time.
Eating seasonal foods is a very logical dietary strategy, and understanding the value of seasonal foods motivates us to reconnect to nature, a fundamental in Ayurveda. Warming, high-protein, and high-fat foods are the perfect antidote to the cold, dryness and nervous system over-stimulation that occurs during winter.
#6: Eating Relaxed
According to Ayurveda, how, when and what you eat all play a role in supporting the nervous system and the ability to stay calm. Eating in a relaxed manner activates the calming and soothing parasympathetic nervous system, while eating on the run or under stress activates the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system.
Make it a point to plan ahead for meals so that you have enough time to relax, dine and enjoy the process of eating your food. This is best done without distractions such as TV, smartphones, reading or driving. Calming music or conversation is best.
#7. Sleep – Early To Bed, Early To Rise
As part of re-connecting ourselves to the natural circadian rhythms, getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night is key for the rejuvenation and detox of the nervous system; which happens while we sleep! New science is also suggesting that it matters when we get to sleep. According to Ayurveda the best quality of sleep happens between 10PM and 2AM, it is hence recommended to get to bed before or around 10PM.
If you’d like to learn more and deepen your knowledge about Ayurveda, apply its principles into your daily life, improve your eating habits, and implement other strategies for optimal health, consider studying with me. My next 30-hour program is on April 15-19 at Semperviva’s Sea Studio.
Nathalie (natk.ca) has been a meditator for more than 25 years and teaching Deep Meditation since 2005. Her own meditation practice inspired her to share the experience of inner peace and led her to deepen her studies. She was transmitted the knowledge to teach this meditation technique after 500 hours of training between 2001 and 2005. Believing that continuous learning requires a commitment to teaching, she is enjoying the path under the guidance of her principal teacher formally trained by a great master. Her passion for learning and sharing the depths of meditation is the core engine of her life and vocation.
Also, she has been integrating the principles of Ayurveda to her life since 1999, the same year she started to teach yoga. Recently, in 2013, she received certification as an Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant and is now facilitating courses about Ayurveda and Self-Care, as well as offering counselling.