One of my favourite topics to talk about is parasympathetic dominance, ie. talking about our central nervous system. I love it so much that we do a whole module on it in our “3 Steps to finding your Personalised Power Foods” online course.
This couldn’t be a more timely topic at the moment!! What I am seeing with clients, during our virtual appointments, is how much their nervous systems have been impacted by COVID-19. A lot of clients are telling me they are inflamed, which really means that their nervous system is frizzled. This is totally understandable with all the uncertainty that has been (and still is) going on. So now, more than ever, is the perfect time to practise developing the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system.
I heard a great talk recently by a doctor over in Canada. She was talking about how we actually need to TRAIN our bodies, TRAIN our brains and TRAIN our central nervous system. We actually need to train our bodies to become parasympathetic. We need to train our central nervous system. I know that in clinic we do that with tools like our Vagal 2.0 oil, right? We use it to stimulate our vagus nerve. I’m a big believer in Vagal 2.0 because it really helped me. Before using Vagal 2.0 I’m not sure I truly knew what it meant to experience being parasympathetic. Like many of us, I had spent most of my life being crazy busy, and sympathetic dominant.
Ok so what do these words even mean and what is our central nervous system? Well, we’ve got two branches to our central nervous system. We’ve got the parasympathetic, and we’ve got the sympathetic. So when we’re sympathetic dominant, that’s when we’re in that stressed out fight or flight state. That’s where we’re kind of running. That’s when we’re on the grind. That’s when we’re on the hamster wheel. Any of those sound familiar? That’s where I used to live most of my life and I didn’t realize there was such a thing as being parasympathetic. Being in a stressed out state was just the norm for me.
When we’re in that pattern of running round and round and round, we actually don’t feel things. We’re in a state of doing, not in a state of being. So we’re never really fully present in the moment because we’re always doing, and we’re always moving onto the next thing. It’s a real type-A personality. It’s not a bad thing, because it means we’re successful. BUT we do need to become parasympathetic, because when we’re parasympathetic, that’s when we rest, digest, and detoxify. It’s when our immune system can work, our body heals and our lymphatic system works. That’s when everything in our body works. So, if we’re not parasympathetic dominant, all of those systems aren’t working.
In clinic, we have so many detoxifying options for you from supplements to herbal remedies to naturopathic things to ionic foot spas and our saunas – all sorts of different things that we’re working on with you. However, if your body is not parasympathetic when we are doing them, then you don’t experience that detoxification. You don’t get real healing. You also don’t really get full enjoyment in life.
So our dream for you and our wish for you is that you embody life and you experience it to maximum capacity. I want you to have the experience of being parasympathetic dominant. Now the cool thing is, once you’ve been parasympathetic dominant, then you understand your body can reprogram to feel both sympathetic dominant and parasympathetic dominant. So you can notice when your body switches between the two.
It is really normal and healthy for us to switch between these two phases – the key word being switch. We don’t want to stay in fight or flight (sympathetic dominance). We need to go between the two. There are some key times to be parasympathetic. As I said, your digestive system works when your parasympathetic. So that would mean a key time for you is to be parasympathetic is before eating. In the course, we teach you to be parasympathetic before eating your meals, and I’ve even mentioned this to plenty of clients also. This is one of the very first questions we ask you when you first come to us, which seems like such a nothing question, like why do they really care? Why am I spending this money for them to ask me this? We are always asking you how are you eating your meals? For example, I had one client that had always eaten on the run. That’s just what he did. He was eating when he was feeding the kids in the morning. He was eating on the run as he walked down the street, or between building projects. He ate standing up in the evenings talking to his wife, getting the kids ready for bed. Well, it wasn’t until he did the online course that he realised this, plus I made such a big deal about him sitting down and taking one deep breath before eating.
We teach you this breathing technique on our Shelley Gawith Functional Nutrition YouTube channel, or you can do a Google search for it. It’s called the 5-6-7 technique, and. you can use this one deep breath just before eating. That’s how quick and easy it is. You can also use the oil. I obviously use the oil too, but it is really key to get parasympathetic before eating. Why? Because we want to turn on our parasympathetic central nervous system, and remember, like the doctor in Canada said – it’s a training tool. It’s like building muscles, and we know that I love going to the gym! The more you do this, the more your body remembers to do it, and the more you’ll become parasympathetic.
So how do YOU become parasympathetic? What are some things you can do personally? Obviously, deep diaphragmatic breathing (we’re a big believer in that). Breathing techniques like 5-6-7 are hugely beneficial, and really need to be done. Then obviously the Vagal oil, that’s something that we’ve got in clinic that you can have access to. Gagging and gargling also get you parasympathetic, along with singing in the shower. Those are the key ways, but we’ve also brought therapies into the clinic to help you, like red light therapy.
I’m a big believer in Ari Whitten’s book, “The Ultimate Guide to Red Light Therapy” and we’ve had him on the podcast talking about red light therapy. So he helps explain how our infrared sauna is benefitting you. Red light therapy totally gets you into parasympathetic mode as do saunas in general. So using a sauna in your life is a great thing, whether it’s our one in the clinic, or your one at home (I know quite a few clients have now got the SaunaSpace ones now), or any sauna that you have access to, such as at gyms or at pools will be of benefit to you.
Another way to get into parasympathetic is via the AMD ion foot bath. 100%. When clients experience this initially they get sooo relaxed. I even wrangled in the owner of the company and I was like, clients are getting so tired. What is going on? He was like, it’s because they’re getting fully parasympathetic. The ion charges in the water are the best way possible of calming the system. Clients afterwards are like “Oh, I just feel so dreamy. I just feel on cloud nine”. Who doesn’t want that for their lives?
Meditation, mindfulness, and all of these tools are also fantastic for getting you parasympathetic. So there are so many and varied ways of getting there. But remember, your brain controls your whole digestive system. Your brain controls every system in your body. So if you want the best health possible, you need to start training your body to be parasympathetic. We’ve got those two branches. You get to choose which railway line your body’s going to go down. It’s up to you. So your challenge for now, for this week, is parasympathetic. What tool are you going to use? How are you going to train yourself to be more and more parasympathetic?