5 Ways to Calm Your Nervous System


I recently read (in the book The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope):

“The shape, look and feel of this world is actually a function of our own nervous system”.

This encapsulates my own experience so vividly. My nervous system was headed for a breakdown and the look and feel of my world at that point matched this malfunction. At the lowest points in my struggles I was barely sleeping each night and experiencing strong muscle twitching and jerking in my limbs – surely a sign of my sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” part) being in overdrive. In Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga) such symptoms would constitute a “Vata Derangement” – in other words a whacked out nervous system!

Here are my tips for soothing your brain, spine and of course, in turn, your nerves – the central components of your nervous system. All of these things have worked wonders for me and I feel it when I don’t adhere to these guidelines.

1) Do abdominal breathing / relaxation / meditation. Some people find it hard to sit in meditation. It took me 15 years of yoga postures before I finally sat for more than 10 minutes, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t sit! An alternative is laying on your back with your hands on your belly, breathing deeply and raising the belly with each breath. Don’t let your chest rise – it’s harder than it sounds. Abdominal breathing activates the soothing and calming parasympathetic wing of the nervous system. Making your exhale long and slow increases the benefits.

2) Eat “grounding” foods. The following foods are recommended for those with a “Vata Defect”!

Protein and omega 3 oils such as fish oil (or if you are vegetarian like me you can use a combination of flax oil and DHA from algae).

Avoid refined sugar and flour

Dairy, eggs, nut and seed butters

Sesame oil and ghee added to cooked foods

Cooked vegetables (salads are to be avoided as they are too light but if you can’t resist use an oily dressing)

3) Do yoga poses that increase blood flow to the brain or involve a “chin lock”. These activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the brain. Poses in which you bend forward, invert or lay back over bolsters are beauties.

4) Cut stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Alcohol deprives the brain of oxygen – the buzz is the feeling of neurons drowning.

5) Get regular exercise and more sleep. If you’re ill, stressed or working hard you need more sleep! (Hint: report writing begins soon – rest up).

As Dr Robert Svoboda, a renowned Ayurvedic doctor says:

It is easiest to harmonise the body-mind-spirit complex by starting with the body….balance of the mind and spirit…comes more easily once the body has been made firm and healthy.”

A healthy nervous system = a healthy and happy you and a different world to enjoy!



Soul Medicine: Connecting with Nature

forest bathingDuring these holidays I have had the good fortune of spending some quality time in nature: in the ocean (lots); under a waterfall; in the forest and climbing a (small) mountain. I’m sure you would agree that being in nature has a positive effect on our wellbeing – we feel ourselves slow down, we seem to breathe easier and begin to feel more expansive as the buildings recede. But as our lives get busier perhaps these sojourns into the wild are relegated to our holiday period when really we would benefit most from these jaunts during the stress of term time (particularly if we live in a busy urban environment).

Science backs our intuition that being in nature is beneficial, with various studies revealing the restorative and regenerative effects of time spent in nature. Japan has been leading the way in the development of research involving nature and forest medicine and its effects on stress, depression, tension, anxiety and other negative moods. In Japan they call this Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing” – I love this sensory term. Go to infom.org for detailed research findings and www.shinrin-yoku.org for resources on this healing natural therapy.


Perhaps this coming term you could commit to spending more time in nature in some very simple ways.

Here’s my top 10 ways to get green (some without even leaving your house!):

  • Surfing: it doesn’t matter whether you can do it well or not. Grab a surfboard, paddle board, body board or simply go body surfing. Let the waves blast the stress from your cells. If you are not a competent surfer make sure you take a buddy and look out for each other.
  • A coastal / mountain / forest / park walk: aim for something slow and leisurely rather than a power walk or jog. Your goal is to be present and soak up the healing energy of the natural environment rather than sprint through it. Feel the air on your skin, notice the changing light and breathe in the earthy scents.
  • Do some yoga out on your lawn, in your garden under the trees or in a local park if you don’t have your own green space.
  • Swim in the ocean, in a river or better still a waterfall – INVIGORATING!
  • Sit on the beach and sink your toes into the sand. Breathe in the salty air which is charged with negative ions that accelerate our ability to absorb oxygen. Negative ions also balance serotonin levels which affect our mood and stress levels. Let the sound of the waves calm you into a deeply relaxed state.
  • Lay in some early morning or late afternoon sunlight – the heat of the sun reportedly affects the secretion of endorphins which make us feel relaxed and less stressed.
  • Float in water – it pumps blood towards your abdominal region rather than your limbs. Fresh blood being pumped around the body brings more oxygen to your brain which makes you feel more alert and active.
  • Do a short walking meditation in bare feet on the grass (after school in the playground?!). Keep your eyes softly focussed on the ground about 1m in front of you. Walk slowly feeling every part of your foot as it touches the ground. You may like to repeat a mantra as you breathe slowly in and out.
  • Sit by a fountain or water feature (or listen to recorded nature sounds)– just the noises of nature have been found to have a positive impact.
  • Recreate the scents of nature at home using essential oils such as those from cedar, pine or fir trees to counteract stress and enhance wellbeing. Perhaps use an oil burner while you do some meditation.

I encourage you to find even the smallest ways to bring the natural world into your daily life – I definitely plan to incorporate even more of nature’s goodness into my routines this coming term!