Do you ever have the feeling that the program in charge of the automatic functions in your body has a bug in it? Does your heart race for no reason? Is your digestion off kilter? Do you have trouble sleeping? It can sometimes be tricky to get to the bottom of these deep-seated issues, but there may be a way to begin debugging your software.
The autonomic nervous system
First we must understand a little bit more about our nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that is in charge of all of the automatic functions mentioned above, and many more. It is located in the brain stem and spinal cord.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic portion is sometimes thought of as the “fight or flight” system, but I like to simply think about it as the more active, quick response portion of the autonomic system. The parasympathetic portion can be thought of as the “rest and digest” system.
In our busy, fast-paced world, we spend a lot of time stimulating our sympathetic nervous system. This takes us out of the much-needed parasympathetic state, where we can rest and recover our energy. If we don’t rest enough, we are bugging our system unintentionally.
The cranial nerves help us perceive the world…friend or foe?
The twelve cranial nerves, originating mostly in the brain stem, are involved in many important functions, including bringing information from the sensory organs (the eyes, ears, nose and tongue) to the brain; autonomic functions such as breathing, digestion and heart rate; and controlling muscles and reflexes.
We perceive the world through our senses and cranial nerves. The cranial nerves’ programming makes them always alert to danger. An incoming danger signal is viewed as a threat, and reflexes are triggered to save our life.
If our nervous system thinks we are in danger, we can’t sleep, we can’t digest, and it feels like our heart is going to jump out of our chest. When our nervous system is in balance, the reflexes are ready, but not engaged. If we are caught in sympathetic mode or trauma, the reflexes are locked on, and we feel we are always in a state of danger.
Things that can cause us to be locked in sympathetic mode
There are many experiences during a normal lifetime that can get us stuck in sympathetic mode. Sometimes it happens at the very beginning, during birth. A C-section birth or the use of Pitocin can cause stress to the infant’s nervous system. Not being breast-fed or a premature birth can also be a cause of stress. Stress this early on can interrupt normal autonomic functioning and development. The ramifications can be life-long.
Later in life, things like surgeries, car accidents, injuries, trauma, and orthodontic work can cause disruptions in our nervous system, leaving us with high anxiety, unable to sleep, disrupted digestion, dizziness, visual disturbances, tight muscles and fascia, inability to swallow, shortness of breath, inability to learn and focus. And the list goes on.
What to do?
A great place to start is with the breath.
I recently attended a seminar with Lois Laney, the founder of Restorative Breathing. We studied her breathing technique and learned, among other approaches, a dynamic functional cranial nerve assessment to wake up and balance the cranial nerves. Each technique is designed to bring about and restore optimal autonomic nervous system function.
Check out Laney’s introductory video on how to breathe.
Once you get the basic breathing down, add humming and swallowing. Inhale silently. As you exhale, hum. At the end of your exhale, swallow. Then repeat. The humming and swallowing bring you into parasympathetic mode and stabilize your cranial nerves.
If you’ve been in the office recently, you’ve probably experienced several other unusual tactics to balance the nervous system. If you haven’t been in, you’ll have to come in and see for yourself 😉 These are all very simple, yet powerful, treatments. It takes a minimum of 90 to 120 days to reprogram the nervous system, so it does require dedication. Are you ready to debug your software and change your life?