Relaxation is imperative for wellness. When we are feeling crushed with stress and are unable to adequately rest, not only do we feel anxious and depressed, but we are highly susceptible to developing chronic disease. You know it intuitively – you don’t need me, your doctor, or your parents to tell you: Relaxation is essential for good health.
At any given time, the autonomic nervous system of the body is either in a sympathetic or parasympathetic dominant state. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for kicking the body into high gear (i.e. “fight or flight”) during times of stress, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for restoring the body to a state of optimal health (i.e. “rest and digest”). Now don’t get it twisted, it’s very important that both branches of the autonomic nervous system function properly, but there’s no doubt that chronic sympathetic dominance leads to poor health. Modern society sets us up to permanently stay in a sympathetic dominant state. Bills, payments, poor relationships, lack of physical activity, nutrient-devoid food, sleep deprivation, constricting and uninspiring jobs… these are just some of the factors that create a chronic state of freak-out within the body. The only way to solve it? More parasympathetic input to balance the nervous system. In terms of the autonomic nervous system, it’s never one or the other branch (i.e. sympathetic or parasympathetic) that is in control at any given time, it’s more like a gradient. You may be extremely sympathetic dominant for a short amount of time, while performing sprints in a workout for example. You may also be slightly sympathetic dominant for a long period of time, like anyone and everyone who’s every felt chronically stressed. The former can be excellent for you, while the latter is crushing to your health. Regardless, what you should be aiming for in order to achieve optimal health is to be slightly parasympathetic dominant most of the time, and schedule periods of extreme parasympathetic dominance every once in a while.
What does this mean in terms of real-world practice? To be slightly parasympathetic dominant most of the time means that you should aim to cultivate an easygoing “no big deal” attitude. Now this does NOT mean that you flake on all of your responsibilities. But completing important tasks in a relaxed versus stressed state makes you more effective and is better for your health anyways, so why not cultivate that stoner-like “no big deal” attitude as you go about your daily living? Similarly, scheduling periods of extreme parasympathetic dominance every once in a while is necessary for bringing your nervous system back into balance after periods of acute stress. For example, an athlete might book a relaxing massage after a two-week phase of hard physical training. Or a hard-charging CEO might devote an hour a week to a deep meditative practice. There are a million and one ways to swing the see-saw that is your autonomic nervous system further towards the parasympathetic side, and it is up to YOU to choose the activities that you find most relaxing and reinvigorating! To get you started, below I’ve listed my top 3 favourite ways to put myself into a more chilled out state of being.
- Cannabis. A quarter gram of Nuken or Girl Scout Cookies, or 2-3 milligrams of a THC edible is enough to keep you mellow and shield you from all of life’s bullshit. At those dosages, you feel relaxed and lighthearted, but you’re not baked out of your mind.
- Breathwork. Without getting into too much detail, throughout the day you want to be breathing with the diaphragm using only your nose to breathe in and out, and making sure the exhale lasts longer than the inhale. You may even schedule five to ten minutes out of your day each day to really hone in on your ability to breathe slowly and deeply.
- Mindfulness. Noticing internal and external sensations. Instead of being carried away with obsessive thoughts, catch them early and notice the accompanying thoughts and sensations, then move on. One of my favourite hacks for culling anxiety is the “54321” mindfulness technique. Whenever you start to feel anxious, stop for a few seconds and name (in your head) 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things that you can physically feel, 2 things that you can smell, and 1 thing that you can taste. You’ll immediately be catapulted right back into the present moment, where you belong.
As always, if you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond for any of your personal training needs.
Patrick Koo – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness Richmond