The nervous system of vertebrates (including humans) is divided into the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The (CNS) is the major division, and consists of the brain and the spinal cord. The spinal canal contains the spinal cord, while the cranial cavity contains the brain.
A regular yoga practice not only provides more flexibility, strength and balance, but also enhances our mental clarity and sense of ease, as anyone hooked on the practice would affirm. In fact, the various poses, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques practiced through yoga can strengthen the nervous system, thereby bringing balance and helping us live more aware lives.
The nervous system responds to restorative asanas, pranayamas, antar mauna, prana sadhna, yoga nidra , tratak, mantras, meditation.
You’re in the middle of a meeting at work, but your mind keeps drifting to the parent-teacher conference you have tonight … and the car you have to pick up at the shop on the way home … and how you wish you hadn’t skipped lunch because the rumbling in your stomach is driving you nuts. You vaguely hear your boss ask you a question and for just a moment your heart races and you tap your pen nervously, trying to regain your focus. Then, suddenly, you’re back in the moment, answering confidently and hoping nobody noticed your brief “departure.”
With things so hectic these days, it may seem as if your brain is always on the go. And it is. The brain not only controls what you think and feel, how you learn and remember, and the way you move and talk, but also many things you’re less aware of – such as the beating of your heart, the digestion of your food, and yes, even the amount of stress you feel. Like you, your brain is quite the juggler.
Anatomy of the Nervous System
If you think of the brain as a central computer that controls all the functions of your body, then the nervous system is like a network that relays messages back are more “whole-brained,” meaning they use side. It’s believed that some people are more you’re using the left side; when you’re listening to music, you’re using the right side and forth from it to different parts of the body. It does this via the spinal cord, which runs from the brain down through the back and contains threadlike nerves that branch out to every organ and body part. When a message comes into the brain from anywhere in the body, the brain tells the body how to react. For example, if you accidentally touch a hot stove, the nerves in your skin shoot a message of pain to your brain. The brain then sends a message back telling the muscles in your hand to pull away. Luckily, this neurological relay race takes a lot less time than it just took to read about it! Considering everything it does, the human brain is incredibly compact, weighing just 3 pounds. Its many folds and grooves, though, provide it with the additional surface area necessary for storing all of the body’s important information. The spinal cord, on the other hand, is a long bundle of nerve tissue about 18 inches long and 3/4 inch thick. It extends from the lower part of the brain down through spine. Along the way, various nerves branch out to the entire body. These are called the peripheral nervous system. Both the brain and the spinal cord are protected by bone: the brain by the bones of the skull, and the spinal cord by a set of ring-shaped bones called vertebrae. They’re both cushioned by layers of membranes called meninges as well as a special fluid called cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid helps protect the nerve tissue, keep it healthy, and remove waste products. The brain is made up of three main sections: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain.
The Forebrain: The forebrain is the largest and most complex part of the brain. It consists of the
cerebrum – the area with all the folds and grooves typically seen in pictures of the brain – as well as some other structures beneath it. The cerebrum contains the information that essentially makes us who we are: our intelligence, memory, personality, emotion, speech, and ability to feel and move. Specific areas of the cerebrum are in charge of processing these different types of information. These are called lobes, and there are four of them: the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital. The cerebrum has right and left halves, called hemispheres, which are connected in the middle by a band of nerve fibers (the corpus collosum) that enables the two sides to communicate. Though these halves may look like mirror images of each other, many scientists believe they have different functions. The left side is considered the logical, analytical, objective side. The right side is thought to be more intuitive, creative, and subjective.
So when you’re balancing the checkbook, “right-brained” or “left-brained” while others both halves of their brain to the same degree. The outer layer of the cerebrum is called the cortex (also known as “gray matter”). Information collected by the five senses comes into the brain from the spinal cord to the cortex. This information is then directed to other parts of the nervous system for further processing. For example, when you touch the hot stove, not only does a message go out to move your hand but one also goes to another part of the brain to help you remember not to do that again. In the inner part of the forebrain sits the thalamus, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland. The thalamus carries messages from the sensory organs like the eyes, ears, nose, and fingers to the cortex. The hypothalamus controls the pulse, thirst, appetite, sleep patterns, and other processes in our bodies that happen automatically. It also controls the pituitary gland, which makes the hormones that control our growth, metabolism, digestion, sexual maturity, and response to stress.
The midbrain, located underneath the middle of the forebrain, acts as a master coordinator for all the messages going in and out of the brain to the spinal cord.
The hindbrain sits underneath the back end of the cerebrum, and it consists of the cerebellum, pons and medulla.
The cerebellum – also called the “little brain” because it looks like a small version of the cerebrum – is responsible for balance, movement, and coordination.
FROM 1ST-10TH OF THE MONTH
Conscious Breathing and conscious execution of yoga postures actually strengthens nerve transmissions from the body to the brain, decreasing our stress and muscular tension.
Fully supported, restorative yoga poses activate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing anxiety, fear and anger to leave our minds. The most effective combination for strengthening the nervous system, as documented in research from the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation in India, is to practice more actively and then practice relaxing poses and breathing techniques, rather than just practice restorative yoga alone. We can practice Creative Visualization.
- REGULAR YOGI
FROM 11th to 20th OF THE MONTH
Exercises for Strengthening & Balancing the Nervous System
A steady practice of sun salutations or standing poses should precede a restorative Yoga practice, so that your body can move and release tensions through more vigorous activity. Great poses to follow this with are reclined bound angle pose, or Baddha Konasana, supported child’s pose, or Balasana, and legs up the wall, also known as Viparita Karani.
Shoulder stand and plow pose are also great inversions for supporting the parasympathetic nervous system, as they activate the thyroid. Pranayama exercises for breathing are also recommended for balancing the nervous system; practice Surya Bhedhana to clear blockages of the sympathetic nervous system, Chandra Bhedhana to support the parasympathetic nervous system, and Nadi Shodhana to balance the central nervous system. We can practice Yoga Nidra.
- COMMITTED YOGI
FROM 21st TO 30th OF THE MONTH
When you’re having trouble snoozing, you’ve got two options: one, keep tossing and turning (barf); or two, encourage yourself to sleep better with a round of soothing Yoga Poses for sleep.
They’re the perfect way to calm your nerves, combat restlessness, and release any lingering tension.
Ready to sleep better? Like, way better? I thought so. Give the below yoga poses for sleep a spin to get your zen on, holding each one for five breaths:
1. Standing forward fold
Stand with your feet about six inches apart and fold your torso toward the ground. Bring your head as close to your knees as possible and reach your hands down until they’re touching the ground.
2. Child pose
Sit down on your knees, making sure your big toes are touching and your knees are apart, almost as if your lower body’s forming a V. Move your chest and forehead to the floor and stretch your arms out in front of you
3. Seated head-to-knee pose
Starting in easy pose, extend your right leg straight out in front of you and place the bottom of your left foot against your right thigh. Inhale your arms up and lean forward on your exhale, interlacing your fingers around your right foot and placing your head against your knee (bend your knee if it’s more comfortable).
4. Legs up the wall pose
Sit down with one hip close to the wall. Lie on your back, pivoting your buttocks so it’s against the wall and swing your legs upward. If your hamstrings are tight, don’t feel guilty if you have to bend your knees a bit.
5. Lying down spinal twist
Lie down on your back and move your arms out to the sides so your body forms a T. Lift your legs and bend your knees until your thighs are against your chest. Turn your head to the right, letting your knees fall to your left. Use your core to lift your legs back to center, and repeat on the opposite side.
6. Knee hug pose
Hug your knees into your chest and gently roll from side to side.
7. Corpse pose
This is the only yoga pose I’m really good at: Lay on your back with your arms at your sides. Breathe deeply and consciously relax your body from H2T.