I hear this question a lot. Being a somatic therapist, I believe in the connection between the mind and body, and use that connection to help people heal. But how does the nervous system influence mental health? Here are the basics:
1. There are two “sides” to the nervous system.
Our bodies feature a complex nervous system with two “modes” or “sides:” the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is the helper. It is sympathetic to your plight - if there is a threat, you’ll need to run away. The sympathetic nervous system will ramp up your heart rate, increase blood flow and dump adrenaline into your system. Imagine yourself giving a speech in front of a large crowd - do your palms get sweaty? Is your heart racing? That is the sympathetic nervous system getting you ready to run for your life. Crowds are scary!
The parasympathetic nervous system is the opposite. Envision a “para” chute (punny, I know...) slowly guiding you down to earth. The parasympathetic nervous system is for resting and digesting. It’s a slow heart rate, it’s your ability to sleep, and to eat without discomfort and with appetite, it’s having enough presence for play and sex (important!) - it’s part of what we need to connect with others.
"I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?"
- Mary Oliver
Aleya Littleton: Therapist, Climbing Guide, Teacher.