Stop the Noise: The Yin & Yang of Your Body’s Nervous System
I write a lot about meditation and finding your authentic self. My blogs tend to have a similar theme: sit in silence, breathe and be who you are. It sounds simple enough; turn off the electronic devices and tell your partner to handle life for ten minutes while you take time to recharge.
Putting aside that most of you aren’t convinced that you can actually find ten minutes in the day to be by yourselves, there is something bigger that dissuades people from this practice. It seems that our nervous systems have become so attune to the constant input of noise, data, drama and activity, that we actually find it uncomfortable – both physically and mentally – to sit in silence. Think about it – are you able to enjoy a day or even an hour or so spent in complete silence? No music playing in the background, no tv, no cellphones calls or texts…just complete silence. If the answer is no, then read on.
There is actually a medically based explanation for the state of awkward uneasiness that is experienced by so many in our culture. It results from an overload of our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – the part that is responsible for the “flight or fight” response. Our over caffeinated, over sugared, sleep deprived, always connected and always “on” lifestyles have resulted in on overload of the SNS – a condition which, by the way, is responsible for many of the autoimmune and inflammatory diseases so prevalent today.
The flight or fight response triggered by the SNS results in a release of cortisol and adrenaline in the body – that’s the rush that you feel when startled or suddenly excited. But, because we are basically always “on” our bodies are constantly experiencing that rush – so much so that we don’t even feel it anymore. The physical result that adrenaline and cortisol are continuously being pumped into our bodies, resulting in a diminished immune system and inflammation throughout the body. The mental and emotional toll this takes results in difficult relationships, a sense of unfulfillment, and depression or dysthemia (chronic, low level depression). When we have sufficient downtime – time spent in quiet – the quiet yin to the SNS’s active yang has a chance to do its work and correct these conditions.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is our “rest and restore” internal balance system. The PNS is responsible for slowing our breathing, lowering our blood pressure, digesting our food and in general giving us a break from it all. But, when constantly competing with the SNS and not given the proper environment to do its work, the PNS begins to cry for help. The despair of a poorly functioning PNS appears as mood swings, unremitting life drama, sleep disturbances, a poorly functioning immune system and anxiety, to name just a few symptoms.
Some have said that the constant cortisol adrenaline rush we have subjected ourselves to has become addictive – our bodies have become so accustomed to the constant influx of these hormones that they act like a drug. We actually go through withdrawal symptoms when we don’t have it – thus the uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting in silence.
At this juncture you have a choice. You can continue life as usual – headaches, feeling overwhelmed, emotional, moody, possibly physically sick, living drama after drama and longing for something different – or you can sit through the withdrawal process and find the something different. If you are currently a caffeine, television and cellphone addict, the process of letting go will not necessarily feel good at first, but the longstanding rewards will.
There is no magic bullet here. You have to take the steps to make this happen. I suggest starting with ten minutes of uninterrupted silence each day; this practice will lead you to the next step. You may want to try a “news fast” in which you refrain from watching or listening to world or local news for two weeks. Maybe you’ll be courageous enough to try a television fast for two weeks. I did, and I never turned on my tv again. (If that scares you it probably means that you should try it.)
Here’s the thing: you can’t undertake a process like this and expect your life to look the same afterwards. That’s the whole point. If you want to feel better, look better and have a happier life, it means that the things that are holding you back from that will have to change or go away. In order for peace to be present, the noise has to stop.
It all begins with a few minutes of silence each day. The choice is yours.
Warm Water Wishes,
-Director of Guest Experience Programming
Glen Ivy Hot Springs