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Sympathetic Nervous System vs Parasympathetic Nervous System

David2010-07-04 15:04:45 +0000 #1
In this thread: www.yogaforums.com/f...r-beginner-3721.html InnerAthlete talks about how yoga takes us to the parasympathetic state. I feel that many of us are stuck operating from the sympathetic nervous system. My opening question here is how do you know when you are operating primarily from a sympathetic nervous system and how do you know when you are operating primarily from the parasympathetic nervous system? How do you feel in one versus the other? What is going on physiologically? What is going on mentally?
jetstream2010-07-04 15:13:56 +0000 #2
The sympathetic nervous system controlls the 'fight or flight' response. It is responsible for, amongst other things, adrenaline secretion. The parasympathetic nervous system mediates the 'rest and digest' state. At all times both are operating, but at any particular time you can think of one being the 'dominant force' - i.e. if you've just had your arm bitten off by a lion, your sympathetic system will be firing on all cylinders. If you're asleep in bed after a big meal, the parasympathetic is doing more.

You can't quantify what state you're in but things which might suggest a sympathetic drive would be feeling stressed, jumpy, butterflies, fast heart and breathing, dilated pupils, flushing, perspiration, etc.

My interpretation of InnerAthelete's comment was that many people do not recognise subtle muscle tension, mental tension, distracting thoughts, etc. As a typical guy from a 'western society' I could tell you a lot about the physiology, if you want, but I look forward to hearing from InnerAthlete. I suspect the intention of the comment doesn't really pertain to nervous anatomy.
InnerAthlete2010-07-04 15:42:12 +0000 #3
Stuck in a sympathetic state, we are not. We have chosen it. It is a by-product of our lifestyle. It is not something thrust upon us by others. When we elect to bombard ourselves with stimuli - lights, action, noise, talking, entertainment, doing, going, running, over scheduling - then the body responds...and the adrenals burn out.

The choices a practitioner has are many. One such student asked me how he could become more flexible. And while I did provide some physiological points I also asked him how his lifestyle was supporting his intention. I specifically asked about his eating, drinking, and environmental choices and how they were helping him toward the goal of being more supple and doing "advanced" asanas. Is he really choosing to be more flexible?

'How do we know' David asks? Many do not. It is an awareness issue, a lack of sensitivity. If you cannot feel your serratus anterior how then could you feel something more which requires greater sensitivity? If you cannot observe your emotions before launching them into a closed universe how then could you hope to observe your nervous system?

Precisely the reason, though not the only reason, we do yoga (not asana, but including asana). It is to know the Self, in part through the process of heightening, honing, and refining the awareness. It is only from a position of awareness that we can live in the moment and make decisions that serve us in ways that do not facilitate suffering. Otherwise we are making choice based on some hedonistic flavor of the day or "personal taste" which not only wavers with the winds but is pressured by the voice of the untransformed vital and mental energies.

That having been said, Jetstream outlines some of the physiological characteristics of the nervous system response. You could walk around all day taking your pulse, measuring your skin temperature, looking at your pupils, and gauging your psoas. But that's neither very effective nor very practical. Have a 2 minute savasana ten times a day. Now that's practical.
David2010-07-04 16:00:45 +0000 #4
Quote:

Originally Posted by jetstream

You can't quantify what state you're in but things which might suggest a sympathetic drive would be feeling stressed, jumpy, butterflies, fast heart and breathing, dilated pupils, flushing, perspiration, etc.

That is what doctors tell us. However, I have to wonder if that is when we are at the height of fight or flight. As our body stops pumping massive amounts of cortisol, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine into our system and we start to come down a little, we may not exhibit those symptoms. But I wonder (I think yes) if we're still operating primarily from the sympathetic nervous system and aren't even aware of it.

Quote:

Originally Posted by InnerAthlete



Stuck in a sympathetic state, we are not. We have chosen it.

What an awesome perspective! I never looked at it like that. In the end, it IS a choice. Deciding to cultivate the opposite may seem impossible based upon our lifestyle and what we have been taught, but it IS a choice. Thanks Gordon

Another question: can we be "present" when operating primarily from the sympathetic nervous system? Or is the Now felt when operating primarily from the parasympathetic nervous system?
InnerAthlete2010-07-04 15:27:37 +0000 #5
Quote:

Originally Posted by David



Another question: can we be "present" when operating primarily from the sympathetic nervous system? Or is the Now felt when operating primarily from the parasympathetic nervous system?

Being present (and I don't even like the term) appears to be exponentially reductive as the nervous system moves from parasympathetic to sympathetic.
David2010-07-04 16:56:57 +0000 #6
Quote:

Originally Posted by InnerAthlete



Being present (and I don't even like the term) appears to be exponentially reductive as the nervous system moves from parasympathetic to sympathetic.

That would make sense to me. I'd think it would be like someone who just drank 10 beers trying to tell themselves, "I'm not drunk, I'm not drunk, I'm not drunk". In the end, they'd still blow a .20.

Out of curiosity, has anyone ever noticed what the bodies of animals or young children tend to do as they begin to exit the fight, flight, frozen response?
Pandara2010-07-04 16:07:49 +0000 #7
I would like to offer the view of my own teacher, Sri Durga Devi: She once said that the sympathetic system prepare us to face our external world and environment, whereas the parasympathetic system help us to move into our inner world and to experience our true Self.

Do we know in which one we are? I think it depends on the needs of the moment, most people swing between the two without realising it. Personally I think that recognition comes with awareness, as we evolve and grow spiritually, our awareness grows as well and you start to become more conscious of these different apsects of your body.

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