nothing sympathetic about this

hey there yogis…

sorry to leave you high and dry last week.  i had one of those weeks where i didn’t feel like i had time  to return phone calls, let alone update my blog.   our household was buzzing with preparations for a my husband jeremy’s art opening, a music gig, preparations for going into the studio to record my next album,  my parents 40th wedding anniversary celebration and my usual full work week.  it seemed that everyone else i saw last week was in the middle of  a similar level of “busy.”

so, how’s a yogi to cope?

it’s good to start with the obvious… a healthy balanced diet of regular meals, full nights of rest, cardiovascular exercise, yoga or qigong in the morning.  also, for me, writing things down in the form of a ‘to-do list’  helps.  these lists satisfy some deep part of my being that understands the world through organized story.  on any given day you  can find 2 to 3 lists on the back of envelopes or other scrap paper, with stars and cross outs.

but the real secret?

(ready for this one? you may not believe me…)

DOING NOTHING.

seriously nothing.  not the’ nothing’ that involves slouching on a couch and  watching high-definition images flash by you on a screen… or the ‘nothing’ that includes staying up until 1:00 am browsing friends of friends facebook pages or wikipedia articles… or even the ‘nothing’ of taking a stroll after dinner.

not that these things are bad (okay, maybe snooping thru your friends of friends facebook pages is a little sketchy), but they aren’t really ‘nothing’.

the kind of ‘nothing’ i mean is this:

for 5-20 minutes a day, preferably mid-afternoon or early evening, lay in a comfortable supported pose on the floor (i’ll explain more later), cover your eyes (and ears if possible), turn off your phone and other possible sound makers,  and just be.  if your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath.  if you notice sounds, let them pass thru you without judgement or involvement.  it may help to set a timer, so that you know you won’t miss your next appointment, and/or,  so that you actually stay there for at least five minutes.  if you are in a noisy, distracting environment, you may find it helpful to put on unstimulating, quiet music, or listen to a guided meditation. (i enjoy  the meditation podcast, a free series on itunes)

this is not really a ‘nap’ or even a ‘power nap’… it’s a ‘yoga nap’ … more commonly known as a ‘restorative yoga practice.”  although you may fall asleep (this is a clear sign of exhaustion), the idea is to fall into a deep state of relaxation – or ‘yogic sleep,’ where you are awake and aware, but fully undisturbed and at peace.

at the end, i’ll explain a little more of what’s happening physiologically during this ‘yogic sleep,’ … but first – here’s a couple of basic poses to try:

supported shavasana (corpse pose)

supported shavasana (corpse pose): lie on the floor face up.  that’s all you really need to do… but, if possible, lie over a mat or blanket, place a folded blanket underneath your head, a rolled up blanket, bolster or couch cushion underneath your knees, folded towels to support the hands/wrists, an eye cover (eye pillow or scarf) to keep out light, and a blanket covering the whole body. you should feel warm, supported and comfortable.

legs up the wall (viparita karani)

legs up the wall (vipartia karani): find a wall.  put your legs up it.  again, that’s all you need to do… but, if you are able, even better to place a folded blanket under your head (not too high – keep your head basically level with your torso), place a rolled up blanket or bolster underneath your lower back, so that your tailbone is just barely hanging off of the  bolster (unless that’s painful on your lower back, then scoot the tailbone a little further away from the wall), cover your eyes, support your hands/wrists with folded towels, and tie your legs together at your thighs with a strap or tie.  get as close to the wall as you can, without feeling a lot of stretch in your legs.  if you feel a lot of stretch, back away from the wall a bit. active stretch, although normally a good thing, is stimulating and will prevent you from fully dropping into relaxation.


now… here’s a little of the science…. there are two branches to our nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

the sympathetic nervous system is our ‘flight or fight’ response.  it’s turned on in an instant by outside stimulation or  stimulating food and drugs such as caffeine, ginseng, spicy foods, etc.  evolutionarily speaking, this was what kept us from getting mauled by tigers and whatnot.  in our more tamed, modern lifestyle, it’s what allows us to respond to danger, use of reflexes quickly, and focus intently.  the problem is, our nervous system doesn’t know the difference between on oncoming semi truck that we need to swerve away from and the latte we just drank or the car chase we are watching in the movie.  all of these things cause the sympathetic nervous system to turn on, stress hormones to be released and blood to move out towards our limbs (preparing us for action) – and away from the internal organs that rule digestion, reproductive health and just about every other vital function.   repeated studies show that stress is the leading cause of illness.

then there’s the parasympathetic.

this is the ‘relaxation response’.  for most people, it takes an average of 5-15 minutes to kick in.  it is triggered when the body perceives no threats.  it sends out messages to the body for proper digestion, elimination, hormonal balance, muscle relaxation, emotional stability, etc.  basically it’s what keeps our vital organs thriving and live in balance.

30 minutes of deep relaxation (in meditation, restorative yoga or the like, where the parasympathetic nervous system is in full force) is equal to four hours of deep sleep.  who doesn’t want four more hours of sleep?

i’ll share more about restorative yoga, including guided practices and other poses, in the future.  but for today, i urge you to take this challenge:

for the next seven days, commit do doing nothing (the yogic ‘nothing’) every day for at least 5 minutes.  i suspect you will end up getting more of the ‘everything’ of your life done if you do.

if you are up to the challenge, i encourage you to comment back about your experience.

happy rest!

5 thoughts on “nothing sympathetic about this

  1. What do you know, I just had “one of those weeks” too! Very timely post…I like the idea of being intentional about this for a week. (Yet I’m not saying I’ll do it. Hmmmm….)

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