When our bodies are experiencing stress, our sympathetic nervous systems are activated in what is known as “fight or flight” mode. Our breath becomes shallow. Our muscles tense. Our bodies undergo a full shift, using a hormonal web waiting beneath the surface to help us in times of crisis. These hormonal shifts that create the fight or flight response allow us to make quick decisions using hyperactive bursts of energy intended to help save our lives. Unfortunately, given the compounded stressors of our late-stage capitalist culture, our bodies are accessing and needing them too often and remaining in them for unhealthy periods of time. This repeated activation of our stress response can lead to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, addiction, and well you get the point.
So, one of the most important tools we have access to is our ability to return to our parasympathetic or resting nervous system. This other half of our autonomic nervous system helps us maintain a resting heart rate, controls our metabolism, and resting bronchial constriction (essentially our heart rate at rest). Knowing how to reset our systems after they’ve been activated and even stay within our parasympathetic nervous system more often is vital for our health. Like anything worth learning, it just requires a little training. Our parasympathetic systems largely use a nerve called the vagus nerve, the longest and most complex of our cranial nerves. When we relax and down-regulate our nervous systems from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic, the vagus nerve communicates to the brain what the body is doing versus the brain responding and telling the body to react. Mmm, how lovely for our bodies to be leading the way as our brains listen in and follow.
There are many ways to activate our parasympathetic nervous systems, which over time helps decrease our risk of cardiac disease and stroke, naturally increases our metabolism, and makes us feel better in our emotional and physical health. The most common ways to sink into this important resting system are through breath, exercise, being in nature, talk therapy, sleep, and meditation. I wrote the poem below as a piece that will help you do just that and relax into yourself. Through understanding and tuning this nerve, we have a forever resource that just may help prolong our lives.
Our Careful Tending
I have been given a vine. It’s long and unwieldy. I study its length, look at around at the overwhelming mass from which it stems. I see others with their ends and middles and off-shoots.
I begin to weave forward and over as best I can with the thickness of this root. Others around me do the same, searching for their under over pattern, their out and through. I look back in the hopes that my movements are untangling the mass as I go.
A hum enters my belly and my eyes close as I trust my body to find its ancient rhythm, before body and mind were separated and indoctrinated. I know what to do.
I sleep with it, study it, move with it over and under and through, carry it as my symbol of sovereignty, my personal scepter, into the next day. Others continue across and under, twisting wide round and around again. Without words we slink together seamlessly– our thick slippery middles, our wild aimless roots, our careful tending to the mass, pulling fellow weavers out into process, separately and together, slowly finding our way through.