I just finished a sweet morning bike ride. My goal wasn’t about burning calories or building muscles. I was looking for a little balance. There were no apps to track distance and time. I had no particular destination. Instead I measured this ride in beautiful sights, deep breaths, and signs of spring. My goal was to relax and restore by engaging the parasympathetic state in my nervous system. So I hopped on my bike for some light to moderate physical activity.
What is the Parasympathetic State?
According to the National Institute of Health our autonomic nervous system is made up of two parts, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. Our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) controls the body’s ability to relax and is also referred to as the “rest and digest” state. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) control’s the body’s “flight, fight, or freeze” response. An overactive SNS raises your heart rate, blood pressures and puts you on high alert but engaging the PNS has the opposite effect; lowering your resting heart rate, decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease, improving digestion and sleep.
Try it Your Self
As someone who experiences nervous system dysregulation, engaging my parasympathetic state is a particularly important part of my health and wellness goals, but you don’t need a condition to benefit from a little relaxation and restoration. To restore and engage your parasympathetic nervous system choose your favorite light to moderate rhythmic cardio-based activity like biking, hiking, or walking. Then head outdoors to a place that feels safe and offers access to nature like a park, walking path, or nature preserve. Finally, use the tips below to be present in the moment and enjoy.
Take a few moments to set an intention for the time you’ve set aside. Once you’ve decide what you want for yourself reflect on the fact that this is where you’re supposed to be. You’ve given yourself this time to relax and restore, you don’t need to be concerned about anything else in this moment. Recognize that restoring is part of the process and must happen as often as we work hard, meet challenges, and make achievements. It’s not regression or stagnation. Restoring is progress, preparing you for the next challenge and achievement.
Engage Your Senses
Allow your senses to be your focus. Take in all the colors of the natural world that surround you. What scents can you identify? What sounds can you hear? Can you feel the wind on your skin? Is the sun warming your shoulders? Along my ride I noticed the deep pink of the prickly pear fruit and the bright coral of the ocotillo flower. I could smell the grapefruit and oleander blooms in the air. I heard a variety of bird calls and could even recognize a few. My body felt lose and warm while my skin was cooled by the breeze.
Notice Your Breath
As you find a rhythmic pace with your activity start to focus in on your breath. As you inhale listen to it and notice the space it takes up in your chest and belly. As you exhale feel your body collapse inward. Let your breath be the tap on your should to draw your attention back to the present moment whenever it slips away. When intrusive thoughts appear, use your exhale to release them away and set them free.
So what do you think? Is this something you could try? What barriers do you imagine could get in your way of trying it and what will you do to get around them? Do already have a favorite way to relax and restore with physical activity? Let me know in the comments.