Seasonal Insights by Sarah Giordano
It’s fall, there is a chill in the air, the days are getting darker, pumpkin flavor has overtaken every marketplace and the allure of change emboldens us to let go and breath fresh life. Fall is a time to allow ourselves to receive the bounty of the season and also move on from what has served us in the past.
This season we are exploring the mind. Our miraculously engineered bodies are run by our nervous system. Our actions, thoughts and emotions all play a role in shaping the nervous system for longevity. Let us discover ways to balance the workload of our nervous system and bring peace of mind. In this issue you will find:
Inner-workings of the Nervous System
Promoting Longevity of the Mind
Recipe: Herbal Tea
The Nervous System
Our nervous system can be described as the command center of our bodies, delegating tasks such as:
direct all of our movements both voluntary and involuntary
interpret information received through our senses
analyze thoughts and opinions
create emotional responses
synchronize rhythms and cycles
even regulate our vital signs of life including heart rate, temperature and blood pressure
Needless to say, we would be quite helpless without the nervous system.
To carry out this laundry list of to-dos the nervous system is comprised of the brain, the spinal cord, and the cerebral spinal fluid in the center of the body with the peripheral nerves reaching in and around all of our organs. Peripheral nerves interwoven throughout our bodies can be broken down into several categories of which we are going to focus on the following two:
Sympathetic Nervous System
"Fight or Flight"
Our sympathetic nerves are activated in times of fear or stress as the body’s innate response to combat danger. When stressed the body will automatically:
dilate the pupils
increase the heart rate
open the airways
increase glucose release
relax the bladder
promote ejaculation or vaginal contraction
Parasympathetic Nervous System
"Rest and Digest"
In opposition, when the body is in a state of rest and relaxation our intrinsic response is to:
constrict the pupils
stimulate saliva production
slow the heartbeat
narrow the airways (slower breathing)
inhibit glucose release
contract the bladder
promote sustained erection of the genitals.
This state of being allows the command center to rejuvenate through rest and digestion.
The body is designed to spend around 80% of the time in the rest and digest state with only 20% in a fight or flight response. Unfortunately stress has become something of a common denominator of life in 2021. We are stressing ourselves out in more ways than you may think possible:
emotional stress of a break up or a loss
cognitive stress of endless achievement goals
constant worrying about anything and everything
sensory overload of screens day in and day out
metabolic stress of overworking ourselves
toxins we eat, breath and lather ourselves in
immune stress of chronic illness or inflammation
structural stress causing continuous pain
We have made a routine out of stressing ourselves out. This routine causes an overstimulation of the fight or flight response resulting in a digestive stand still, elevated blood pressure and heart disease, impaired metabolism, impeded immunity and detoxification processes, sleep disturbances, depletion of emotional regulators, adrenal function exhaustion, and amplified senses. In short, this is causing us to be sick and tired.
Hope is of course not lost. Here are four areas to explore in our daily routines that can promote the parasympathetic state of resting and digesting.
To foster a good night’s sleep start with decreasing sensory input up to 2 hours prior to sleep by turning off computer screens, phone screens, TVs, dimming the lights, and reducing sounds to soft music or silence. Any evening snack would be best before 8pm. Taking a bath, meditation or restorative yoga are all good ways to prepare the mind and body for sleep. Our body’s sleep/wake cycle is designed to restore and regenerate our organs while we sleep, and with that in mind, best practice is to be asleep prior to 11pm for optimal results. Check out the Chinese Body Clock to see which organs are rejuvenated between the hours of 11pm and 6am.
Replenish nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and antioxidants which support the nervous system. Some important foods to include in the diet are:
green leafy vegetables
It is also wise to remove stimulants and depressants from the diet including:
food additives and dyes
Aerobic exercise is thought to be the most beneficial type of exercise for improving the capacity of the overall nervous system. This type of exercise has great potential to improve cognitive abilities on the whole.
Fantastic aerobic exercises to try are running, cycling, rowing, swimming or jumping rope.
Regular physical exercise has shown to lower activity of the sympathetic nervous system, and encourages stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Practicing mindfulness is a way of slowing down mentally to become fully present. Some suggestions of ways to practice mindfulness include:
Connect with nature
Slow down the breath
Spend time in solitude
Regulate our thoughts: notice what our time and energy is spent on and choose wisely
Enjoy each moment
Restorative yoga helps promote relaxation of the mind and body with slow movement, long holds and deep breathing. Here is a 20 minute video to help get us started this season with balancing out stress and promoting rejuvenation.
Spinal Bath is a hydrotherapy technique which improves blood circulation to the spine, activates the nervous system, relieves congestion over the spinal nerve and promotes total relaxation. Submerge the entire back from the nape of the neck to the tailbone in a thin layer of water about 2-3 inches in depth. The temperature of the water can be set according to desired outcome.
Cold (5-10 minutes) helps with kidney problems or constipation
Neutral (20-30 minutes) can treat hypertension, stress, spinal irritation, insomnia, diarrhea, or irritable bladder
Hot (5-10 minutes) can improve backache, muscle spasm of the back, amenorrhoea, chronic bronchitis, and sciatica
Nothing beats cozying up with a hot cup of herbal tea on a cool autumn afternoon. Utilizing the healing powers of plants to treat and manage ailments of the body is a huge part of natural medicine. This season I am drawing your attention to two herbs in particular which will aid in cultivating a state of "Rest and Digest."
As a natural sleep aid, dating back to ancient Egypt, Chamomile Tea is known for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Researchers believe that its effect on sleep comes from its flavonoid content.
Peppermint Tea is a powerful digestive aid that has been used in herbal medicine for centuries to help improve digestion and soothe the stomach. Studies had shown peppermint tea helps to relieve bloating, gas, and indigestion by relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract.
I hope you have enjoyed this food for thought and utilize the actionable practices I have shared to promote health and vitality.
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Take this moment and thank yourself for dedicating time to the mind, body and spirit. Enjoy this season of celebration. Namaste - Sarah Giordano -