Understanding the autonomic nervous system helps us learn healing principles of the mind body. We need to understand the two primary states of the autonomic nervous system. These states are known as survival mode or rest and repair. Survival mode is often referred to as the fight or flight system and is known as the sympathetic nervous system. On the other hand, the more calm and relaxed rest and repair mode is the parasympathetic system.
When we are operating in survival mode (autonomic nervous system), fear is the predominant force. To understand this better, I’ll paraphrase and borrow a scenario from Peter Levine’s book, Waking The Tiger.
In this example, consider you are out in the African wilderness and are being hunted by a tiger. Your body is on full alert with increased muscle tension so you can run or move on a moment’s notice. Breathing will be more rapid. Heart rate will increase as your body prepares for that threat that is lurking. Your eyes and brain focus on the tiger that is hunting you and not much else. Digestion, analytical ability, sleep and memory slow down as they are not critical to running or evading the tiger.
On the other hand, you are sitting in a peaceful place lying in a hammock with ocean wave sounds. At this point, your body does not need increased muscle tension or a rapid heart rate. Your body should be able to go into the rest and repair mode (parasympathetic nervous system). When your body is operating under the parasympathetic nervous system, it is rest and repair time. Now is when you can optimally digest food and allow your mind to ponder various thoughts and creativity. Sleep comes natural and any healing your body needs would be taking place at this time.
In our society, we operate from the sympathetic nervous system in survival mode. It is as if we are running from the tiger. By living in stressful lives and not learning how to listen to our bodies, we fail to avoid the parasympathetic state of rest and repair. Our bodies continues to rev up even though the tiger may not be chasing us at this moment.
If we do not release stress and trauma in the body, they will take up residence within our cells, tissues, and brain. Our bodies absorb a great deal of stress in life. Also, our bodies have experienced so many things that this weighs heavily on our current life. Often because of how painful and frightening our experiences are, we tend to live our lives as if they don’t exist.
While it is easier to dissociate from these experiences and stress, unless we work to release these things, they will get our attention at some point. Whether it is a health condition, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, conversion disorder or a variety of other scenarios, trauma and stress will find a way out. If we do not release these things,they become a disaster waiting to happen.
Fortunately, there is an innate healing system built into the body that allows our nervous system to operate at peak efficiency. While it is a process of waking up and uncovering all that we have hidden in ourselves, we can get to the point of balance in our mind, body, and life.
Through healing and release, we can increase the neuroplasticity of our nervous systems, so that the autonomic nervous system is operating in a state of optimal efficiency. We will not get there by continuing down the path where we have lived all those years. It takes awareness and waking up to evolve and free our bodies from running away from the tiger.