Yoga as Medicine: Sympathetic Dampening

Our nervous systems are extremely complex. It is this complexity that gives us unique thoughts, personalities, dexterity, balance, memories, habits, proprioception, and countless other things that enrich our daily lives. But sometimes our nervous systems can get confused and go a little "hay-wire" causing interference with normal function. Concussion, viruses, auto-immune conditions, spinal cord injury, aging, and allergies are just a few examples of ailments that can interfere with our normal nervous system function.


When we feel pain or danger our "fight or flight" response is triggered - this is normal! Common body responses to this stimulus include increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, stress hormone release, and sweating. If the nervous system is repetitively triggered into "fight or flight" mode it can get confused resulting in "sympathetic wind-up", a constant, heightened resting state. In this stressed state the nervous system has a hard time calming down resulting in possible pain sensitivity, stress, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and fatigue.


There are various types of medication commonly prescribed to help combat symptoms associated with sympathetic wind-up. But perhaps our first line of defense shouldn't be medication at all. Yoga has been shown to reduce pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and irritability. Yoga practice can also increase blood flow, improve concentration, and improve sleep quality. In short, yoga can produce the opposite effect of "sympathetic wind-up". Yoga can help produce "sympathetic dampening" - it can calm the nervous system via breathing practices, mindfulness, meditation, and asana (pose) practice.



What the research is saying about yoga and it's positive effects on our health and well-being: From Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life (Woodyard C, et al.).

"Yoga should be considered as a complementary therapy or alternative method for medical therapy in the treatment of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders as it has been shown to create a greater sense of well-being, increase feelings of relaxation, improve self-confidence and body image, improve efficiency, better interpersonal relationships, increase attentiveness, lower irritability, and encourage an optimistic outlook on life.

While modern medicine has the ability in many cases to heal physical diseases and alleviate psychological disorders, it is argued that a purely medical approach is far less effective in healing the emotional, intellectual, and personality layers of the human entity. The discipline of yoga offers individuals a timeless and holistic model of health and healing and although it may not result in the complete elimination of physical diseases and/ or adverse conditions from the body it offers a holistic path of healing. "


The complex nervous system contributes to the distinct uniqueness between people, but also contributes to the difficulty in finding the "perfect" treatment plan. Each person can respond very different to the same condition, medication, and exercise. It is important for healthcare providers, and patients, to recognize that the body and the mind of each person is unique and needs to be treated that way. "Cookie cutter" treatment plans work for some, but not for most.

Yoga may not help reduce everyone's symptoms, but it should be considered as a component of treatment for everyone. Not only does the research support the treatment effects of yoga, but yoga side effects are not as serious, or as uncomfortable, as some medication side effects! Yoga is low risk with a high potential reward.


Tips to get started to reduce "sympathetic wind-up" and promote "sympathetic dampening":

✅ 4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold breath for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds

✅ Meditation: find a comfortable position in a quiet place, acknowledging rogue thoughts as you let them go

✅ Asanas for stress relief: child's pose, cat/cow, legs up the wall, savasana

✅ Find a friend/friends to experience a yoga class together. Having a good support system can enhance positive experiences.

✅ Try a new, fun yoga class. Cat yoga, goat yoga, and neon yoga are all fun options! Laughter is a great way to have fun and reduce stress hormones.


Yoga is extremely diverse! Don't be afraid to try different styles and different teachers. Just like finding a good health-care professional, it is important to find a style and person that resonates with you and your situation.


For personalized, one-on-one yoga sessions contact Jessica (jessica@physioyogaandwellness.com) to schedule!