Balance is Key
Updated: Nov 13
Remember the playground equipment called a seesaw? What a treat it was to find one of those as a child. It was an extra bonus if there was another child around to play on it with!
Why is that?
Of course, we all know what happens if one side is an adult and the other is a child, right? The imbalance is too much to function the way it was designed to work.
Now, let’s use that as a metaphor for our nervous systems. When our nervous system is out of balance with too much stress, it can not function the way it was designed to work either.
(Quick disclaimer… I am not a medical professional. This will be explained through the lens of a meditation and mindfulness practitioner 🙂.)
To boil this down very simply, each of our miraculous bodies contains a voluntary and an involuntary nervous system. The involuntary, or autonomic nervous system (ANS), is what regulates your physical response to stress.
It is divided into two parts:
Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – often referred to as fight or flight, think of it as the gas pedal – ready for action
Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – often referred to as rest and digest- think of it like a brake pedal – ready to relax
Another mnemonic device for that is S= Stress and P= Peace!
When we experience stress, our SNS is activated. This releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into the system, and triggers many responses to prepare our bodies for action. This is absolutely amazing, and serves us very well….if we are in danger.
Something that is less widely understood is that our bodies respond the same way to a perceived threat as it does to an actual threat. Think…horror films, news about traumatic world events, memories of an embarrassing moment, violent song lyrics, and on and on and on.
Circling back to the seesaw metaphor…. If we leave the our nervous system unbalanced after a stress response, it’s very much like an adult sitting on one side of the seesaw, expecting the child to be able to magically dismount with no assistance.
The great news is that our miraculous bodies are equipped with a natural balance to our SNS activation- the PNS response, or rest and digest response.
The tricky thing is that we have busy lives, and we don’t always give our nervous system the chance to switch into rest and digest mode naturally. This creates an imbalance in our nervous system (again, picture an adult on one side of the seesaw and a child on the other).
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to trigger the parasympathetic rest and digest response in the body. Sleep, meditation, and exercise and three of them. Tuning into your passions and participating in activities that bring you joy and relaxation are wonderful as well.
More specifically, through learning mindful living skills, you can acquire an entire tool box full of techniques and practices that guide your nervous system into balance.
Start by giving this one a try:
Five Senses Mindfulness Practice
This exercise can help calm your nervous system, train your attention, AND can be done anytime, anywhere in just a few moments.
All that is needed is to notice something you are experiencing with each of the five senses.
Here are the steps:
Notice five things you see.
Look around you and bring your attention to five things you can see. Pick something you don’t normally notice, like a shadow or a small crack in the concrete.
Notice four things you hear.
Take a moment to listen and note four things you hear. Perhaps you can hear the chirp of a bird, the hum of the refrigerator, or the faint sounds of traffic from a nearby road.
Notice three things you feel.
Bring awareness to three things you are currently feeling, like the texture of your clothes, the temperature of the air on your skin, or perhaps the smooth surface of a table you are resting your hands on.
Notice two things you smell.
Breathe in through your nose and bring your awareness to scents you smell. Perhaps you notice something you usually filter out, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant.
Notice one thing you taste.
Focus on one thing you can taste right now, at this moment. Perhaps you have a taste leftover from a snack or a drink. Or, you might have something nearby you can take a sip or bite of.
Keep in mind:
* If you are unable to achieve any of these steps, it’s ok. The simple act of searching for the items achieves the goal of becoming present with your senses.
* The 5 Senses Mindfulness Practice can bring you to a mindful state quickly. If you only have a moment or two, consider focusing on a single sense in that time. Or, consider noticing less things for each sense.
* It’s ok to make the practice your own!
Interested in more?
Check out my offerings on my website! www.inhaleexhaleconnect.com