What if we told you that loosing weight is simpler than you might think? This is little bit of a trick question. Maintaining a healthy weight is a complex dance that is controlled by our genetics, eating choices, activity level, and other lifestyle factors. It is definitely easier for some people than others to find a good balance and stay at a healthy weight. But we can all be supported by the power of simplicity. And of the most important paths to a healthy weight is through the nervous system.
Big Stress = A Bigger Body
Stress contributes to obesity and overweight in two ways. On the emotional level, when we are stressed we tend to either not eat at all, or overeat. Both of these actions throw off the metabolism and interfere with the body’s ability to digest food and assimilate nutrients properly.
On a physiological level, stress literally shuts down the digestive system. When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, and the parasympathetic nervous system is shut down.
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) turns off the digestion, reproductive system, immune system, and all other bodily functions that are not necessary for our immediate survival in a crisis.
The SNS releases hormones, most notably cortisol and adrenaline, which speed up the heart and respiration rates. This gives us a quick burst of energy, fires up the brain, and makes our breathing shallow so we can meet the impending crisis head-on.
This sympathetic nervous system (SNS) action has been coined the “flight, fight, or freeze” response. This Prehistoric throwback was designed to give us the quick shot of energy necessary to run from a hungry lion. When it gets turned on occasionally in short bursts, it can be a lifesaver. It is part of what allows mothers to lift cars off their children and firemen to rescue people from burning buildings.
But for most us, the SNS is triggered by lots of tiny events every day. The rush hour traffic, an overdue quarterly report, a dip in the value of our investments, or a teenage child’s rebellion can all get the stress hormones flowing. And since we are usually stagnant when stress spikes, such as at a desk or in a car, there is no physical exertion to use the energy burst and rebalance the system.
This frequent (or constant) internal crisis mode has a cumulative negative effect on the body. Called toxic stress, it steadily wears on the heart, liver, nervous system, digestion, and eventually every part of the body.
Toxic stress increases inflammation, reduces immunity, and is a precursor to many diseases. It opens the door to become overweight or obese. If the digestion and detoxification systems are chronically shut down, then excess fat can never be burned. When we keep adding more stress and more food without the mechanisms to release either, then we just keep getting bigger.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System
The balancer for the SNS is the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), coined the “rest and digest” response. This system controls our fertility, digestion, immunity, and creativity. When the PSNS is activated, oxytocin and other feel-good hormones are activated. This increases the body’s ability to rejuvenate and procreate.
The PSNS also stimulates the digestion to work more efficiently. If you have ever noticed how much better a meal goes down when you are relaxing with friends than when you cram something in your mouth on your way to work, you have felt the difference between how the SNS and PSNS affect your digestion.
The challenge here is the PSNS can only be activated when we feel safe, warm, comfortable, and relaxed. This is a biological safety measure, to keep us from procreating or feasting in a dangerous environment when we might need to run at any moment.
The key is to learn how to calm the nervous system in any environment, to protect our health and nurture wholeness.
This is where Yoga comes in. I don’t mean vigorous Power Yoga, but rather Restorative Yoga. While Power Yoga can help relieve stress, it is the gentle work of the Restorative Yoga practices that really help us tap into the quiet healing place.
Restorative Yoga is specifically designed to activate the PSNS. Through a simple series of fully supported comfortable poses, the body and mind are allowed to relax and rejuvenate.
Restorative Yoga is gentle and adaptable enough to support anyone who can get down on the floor. It involves the use of several props, such as blankets and bolsters, to create very comfortable poses. Each position is held for anywhere from 2 to 25 minutes. Most teachers include breathing exercises, visualizations, meditations, and soft music to further support the relaxation process.
A consistent Restorative Yoga practice significantly reduces stress levels. It increases blood flow to the organs, and calms the mind. It improves blood sugar regulation and improves immunity. It also alleviates chronic pain, reduces inflammation, and can end insomnia.
A recent study at the University of California, San Diego, showed that Restorative Yoga is more effective at promoting weight loss and burning subcutaneous fat than other forms of exercise (source). Discover restorative yoga benefits for weight loss the easy way. Relax your way to weight loss! Learn one of the most powerful benefits of restorative yoga and how it can work wonders on your weight loss.
Weight management is affected by a blend of factors, including diet and lifestyle. But our ability to maintain a healthy weight is greatly affected by the nervous system. When we can protect ourselves from stress, it becomes easier to maintain a healthy size. Restorative Yoga offers many health benefits, and can help us find a healthy balance – inside and out.