Pranayama and the sympathetic nervous system

Exercise makes you feel great. A good long run can release endorphins and endocannabinoids into your bloodstream that relax you and make you feel happy for a good few hours. It’s addictive and it makes you a better person… for a few hours. But what about the stressful meeting you have to attend after a long workday, when there’s no time for a good long run, and your whole body goes into fight or flight mode. What to do? Yoga is what you do! A solid yoga practice develops the tools that help you recover from the flight and flight state that many of us in today’s crazy world find ourselves in on a regular basis.

When an important deadline is looming ahead or things just aren’t going right, your sympathetic nervous system kicks into action. This is your fight or flight response. Your breath gets shallow, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises, your muscles start converting glycogen to glucose and your body readies itself to throw its energy into solving the problem. This is great! A million years of evolution have readied us to take on any challenge that comes our way! Our bodies are perfectly adapted to rise to the challenges of modern life.

But our minds are another story. We’ve evolved an imagination. An imagination that helps us to send robots to Mars, tell great stories, and organize on a large scale. But our imagination also tells us stories of doom and gloom, quickly activating our fight or flight system in order to be prepared for the worst when there’s no challenge or threat around. And when this happens over and over again, the sympathetic nervous system comes into a chronic state of activation, creating havoc throughout the body which can eventually lead to disease.

And this is where a solid, everyday yoga practice can help. By incorporating breathing techniques into your day to day practice you can slow the rate of breathing and signal the brain to switch from your sympathetic nervous system to your parasympathetic system. This will slow down your heart rate, relax your muscles, lower your blood pressure and allow your body to recover. The perfect reason to further develop the mindful breathing in your yoga routine.


200hr, September 2017

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