Have you heard of the parasympathetic nervous system? It’s a complicated name for a wonderful part of the nervous system that exists to make us calm and relaxed!
Our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) puts us at ease. It helps our body to heal. It aids our digestion. And when it’s dominant, we seem to breeze through life.
If you’re like me, you’d like to spend the rest of your life feeling like that.
You can actually do things to get your PNS going. Muscle relaxation, slow breathing through the nose, and Earthing are activities that allow our PNS to come to the fore.
So what exactly is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)?
The PNS is the relaxed mode of your autonomic nervous system (ANS).
Right now, your body is taking care of many functions without you being consciously aware of it. You are breathing, your heart is beating, your stomach is digesting food, and your intestines are getting rid of waste. The job of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is to regulate these essential but unconscious bodily processes.
Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) has two modes or states. In simple terms, these are rest-and-digest or fight-or-flight. Their technical names are the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). It can help to think of P for peace and parasympathetic nervous system, and S for stress and Sympathetic nervous system.
When we are faced with danger or too much stress, our nervous system naturally shifts into fight-or-flight or sympathetic nervous system (SNS) mode. Your heart rate speeds up, blood vessels contract and blood pressure goes up. Forget about digestion! That goes on hold, as it’s time to run or fight!
You guessed it! Relaxation is synonymous with the parasympathetic mode. Heart rate slows. You can digest your food properly again. Intestinal and gland activity increase. Even your immune system is boosted. You even feel happy and contented and sleep well.
When your autonomic nervous system is functioning in its optimal and normal state the PNS is slightly dominant. Our SNS gets going when we are in danger and need to act.
Long-term dominance of the SNS can lead to all sorts of health problems from heart disease to high blood pressure, digestive problems, thyroid/endocrine burn out, skin conditions and more.
So if work pressures, worry or responsibilities are building up and eroding your inner calm, activating your PNS may be just what you & your body needs.
When your body shifts into PNS mode, you can feel it. Stress goes down, blood pressure is lowered, you can think more clearly. What’s more, when our body is in PNS mode, we’re likely to stay centred and better manage life’s pressures. Good news for anyone with a busy, hectic lifestyle.
Activating Your PNS With Earthing or Grounding
Earthing has an almost immediate physiological effect on your PNS. If you haven’t heard of earthing, it’s the practice of topping up on free electrons from the earth (find out more in What is Earthing or Grounding and How does it Work?). The health benefits of earthing are wide ranging from deeper sleep to pain reduction.
A 2006 study found an instant and clear change in muscle tension in trapezius muscle (known to hold stress in the body) with participants as soon as they started earthing. Stressed or sympathetically “charged” participants found that their muscles relaxed while earthing. Relaxed muscles tell your nervous system that you are safe and help your body switch into parasympathetic mode.
A further study in 2011 measured the autonomic nervous system of 28 participants in a double-blind study comparing earthing to sham-earthing. While the PNS function increased for both groups due to relaxation, at the end of the 40-minutes the earthing participants had twice the increase in PNS function compared to sham-earthed. What’s more, PNS levels continued to increase after the end of the 40-minute period for those who earthed. This was not the case with sham-earthing. The researchers concluded that earthing has benefits beyond simple relaxation.
On the topic of earthing and the nervous system, Dr Stephen Sinatra has said that:
As a cardiologist, I repeatedly treated the human wreckage that stress (acute or chronic sympathetic overdrive) can exact. In trying to rebuild and restore the wreckage, I have applied the best tools that both conventional and alternative medicine has to offer. Reconnecting the body to the Earth offers perhaps the most natural tool available anywhere. I’ve seen this simple remedy do some amazing things.
In his professional experience, patients with anxiety, emotional stress, panic, fear, and/or symptoms of involuntary muscle contractions and spasms, including headaches, cardiac palpitations, and dizziness, often see positive effects within 20 to 40 minutes of Earthing.
Simple Ways to Start Earthing
Here are some simple ways to get started.
- Earthing at Work: Use an Earthing mat at the office to reduce workplace stress. Also, people generally find they have more energy at the end of the working day.
- Head outdoors. Take a barefoot walk in the garden or along the beach at the end of the working day. Or sit outside on the grass and enjoy the view. Moist surfaces like green grass and wet sand are best.
- Meditation and breath-focused yoga practices activate your PNS so why not give them a turbo boost with earthing. Sit on an Earthing mat while you meditate or place an earthing mat on top of your yoga mat while you do your daily yoga. The slightest of moisture in your clothes creates channels for free electrons to effectively travel through.
- Earthing Overnight: Sleep on an Earthing sheet underlay and reduce distracting thoughts arising from the busy-ness of the day. With earthing, people generally experience deeper sleep and wake up less frequently.
Chevalier G, Mori K, Oschman, JL. ‘The effect of earthing (grounding) on human physiology’ European Biology and Bioelectromagnetics, Jan 31 2006: 600-621.
Chevalier G, Sinatra S. Emotional stress, heart rate variability, grounding, and improved autonomic tone: clinical applications. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2011; 10(3)