Rewire To Relax: Create Biological Balance
In today’s world, there is no question that relaxation is a core ingredient for living with health and vitality.
Relaxation is the state of being free from tension and anxiety. Some of us say that we just need to loosen up, unwind a bit and let go.
A scientist would define relaxation, “to restore a system to equilibrium or balance”.
I prefer to use the scientific definition because it is inline with the healing and biological balance. That is, to bring our system back into balance or homeostasis.
Relaxation is a learned response and must be done systematically to reap its full benefits. When we enter the deeper stages of relaxation, we get a substantial cognitive boost, our cells repair or regenerate themselves, and our body reaps physiological benefits. With this in mind, the key is being able to bring your whole being into a relaxed state.
To relax we need to have a few things in place.
- A stable and comfortable body. If the body is comfortable, then it is easier to relax.
- A balanced breath with little to no pause to regulate the nervous system and
- A process that is repeatable and systematic.
Although I am partial to a systematic practice because of its complete benefits, you can choose something that resonates with you. The key is to just take action and establish a habit of relaxation, whether it be 5 or 10 minutes, once or twice per day.
How do we rewire to relax?
Without training, your brain is reactive. It seeks comfort above all else and chases whatever is right in front of you. Getting your brain to perform optimally — focusing, remaining calm, dealing with adversity — takes effort, especially if you are not used to working with the reactive circuitry..namely the stress response circuitry.
Changing behaviors starts with the brain
We know that the brain is extraordinarily pliable, and with the right tools, namely in my view, breath training supporting relaxation you can rewire your brain pathways for happiness, focus, and calm and to respond better to challenging situations.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between disconnecting from stress and resolving stress. I am talking here about disconnecting from stress. Our courses teach this as a core foundation principle. Disconnecting implies that our perception is clear and we respond rather than react.
When we are established in the practice of relaxation stress no longer takes a hold of us sending us down the rabbit hole. The stress chemicals that cause muscles to tense up and our respiration rate to increase, pulse rate to rise and brain pathways to change becomes under conscious control. Being aware of the science behind stress and deciding to relax, you counteract the stress chemicals.
Let’s turn to a bit of the science behind stress.
First, stress is a response to a perceived threat. As we learn to relax, our perceptions change and what was once a threat not longer alarms us. But let’s say we get into a fearful state, after all, fear drives these emotions.
When we perceive a threat, stress chemicals send impulses to the sympathetic nervous system, which has a role of keeping the body activate and in motion. When the sympathetic nervous system is active, the opposite, functioning parasympathetic nervous system which has a role to conserve energy, is inhibited. This is put simply.
Relaxation allows the parasympathetic nervous system to become active or what can be termed up-regulated via the vagus nerve and thus, the sympathetic nervous system becomes less active or down-regulated. Relaxation ultimately slows down brain waves, which rejuvenates the brain’s chemistry and gives rise to a calmer state of mind, even after a practice session of relaxation ends.
When our parasympathetic system is dominant we are able to digest well — both physical and mental experiences and repair any disharmony that may exist in our living organism.
During this time our breath is slow, and deep and complete; not choppy, shallow and irregular. The digestive system works well. The body can focus on repair, including reduction of inflammation, tissue repair, and hormone production. Subjectively, people feel fully present and alive. Many report feeling safe and confident. When the sympathetic nervous system is on “standby” which is natural in a balanced state and the parasympathetic nervous system is more active, people are in a buffer zone for stress. They have energy to get through their day, but they can stay calm and present in challenging situations.
Two key places to consider when creating biological balance.
One of my first tasks in working with people is to assess and support the person’s ability to down-regulate their stress responses.
By assessing the diet, I can see where the weakness may be because a diet that is not a good match for someone causes stress. Certain dietary practices cause instability resulting in stress. That is different from nutrition, which is where certain chemical reactions cause stress for individuals. So diet and nutrition is a key place to work when someone is not able to relax.
I also work with breathing techniques. As I mentioned earlier, the nervous system dictates the stress response activity. When we learn to breathe using our diaphragm muscle, then we stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system and as you recall, and elicit relaxation. All yoga, relaxation and meditation practices need to be taught starting with the core foundation of diaphragmatic breathing since it is the ingredient to control relaxation.
It is important to acknowledge that each person is unique in their perceptions and responses vary. That is why it is necessary to assess how quickly and smoothly does their system deactivate? In other words, “ ask yourself, how quickly do you mentally and physically digest events that may take your from feeling relaxed”? Hours or days?
If you find yourself holding on more often that not, perhaps you can begin to establish a daily habit of relaxation. The most difficult part of this is not having an established routine to follow.
When you do something over and over and get the same result, it quite literally builds a neural pathway between the action and the outcome. If you eat every time you’re stressed, you’ll start to habitually eat for comfort, and the two will begin to wire together in your brain. As the neurons in that pathway strengthen, you’ll start automatically reaching for food when you’re pulled out of your comfort zone. By the way this is both biological and psychological.
On the other hand, if you go for exercise every time you’re out of your comfort zone, you’ll begin to associate exercise with relieving the situation, and you’ll default to exercise when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Both are solutions to fix your issue, and one may be better or not so good depending on the choices.
This process of coupling action with outcome explains why building good daily habits is so powerful. It also explains why breaking bad ones is not sustainable. When you build new habits, you build new pathways. These new pathways override the old pathways.
Try out these four strategies for the next 40 days to make them into habits that will relax your brain and calm your mind:
1. Acknowledge that you want and/or need to change.
2. Create a systematic routine. Here is an example: pick a time during the day for 5-10 minutes and close your eyes and check in with your breath. I chose breath because breath is what regulates your nervous system and without having the tool to establish DB you can never be relaxed.
3. Be consistent and persistent once you pick the time.
4. Follow it for 40 days.