How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Through that knowledge, I was able to shift from surviving a life of complex trauma into thriving and healing over 50 chronic health conditions in the process.

The tools and knowledge I gained are not something easily summarized in a blog post, which is why I offer 1:1 coaching and am releasing an online course that teaches the science and practical ways to integrate it into everyday life (where the healing part happens).

Strengthening the connection to the parasympathetic nervous system, our built-in healing system, is a major component of what I advocate. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do this!

Here are 10 quick ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and more on why that’s helpful.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Humming creates vibrations that massage the section of vagus nerve near your vocal chords. This stimulates your relaxation response and signals to your parasympathetic nervous system that you are safe.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Singing requires a level of controlled breathwork which can further support the parasympathetic nervous system. Your voice box (larynx) is connected to your vagus nerve. Like humming, singing naturally activates it.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Yawning is a built-in repair circuit which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and signals rest/digest processes for body. If it doesn’t come naturally, intentionally yawning can still exercise and strengthen this connection.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Hugs and cuddles, when we’re receptive to them, aid parasympathetic balance by activating acupressure points that release oxytocin (the love/bonding neurochemical). Deep pressure is detected by receptors in the brain and body that sends signals of safety to the autonomic nervous system.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Supportive meditations and visualizations can prompt the parasympathetic nervous system and relieve an active stress response. Mantras can be helpful for engaging a wandering mind and anchoring. Sourcing pleasant or calming visualizations can equally engage the parasympathetic nervous system as if the events were happening in reality.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with asanas (poses) that are held for longer periods of time than in other styles. The longer holds work to unwind the body’s deeper layers of fascia (as opposed to working with the muscles in more dynamic movements). As we work with these layers, we create the conditions to release deeply held tension in the body and mind. Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep/restorative yoga) relies on little to no movement in a reclined position to create a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, which is a deeper state of relaxation with awareness.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Breathwork can help support the parasympathetic nervous system. Generally the system is best supported through lengthening and deepening the exhale. The tendency with stress is to take short, shallow breaths, so shifting to long, deep breaths can also help shift the nervous system.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Massage and activating certain acupressure points in the body can switch the sympathetic dominant state over to the parasympathetic n ervous system, releasing anti-inflammatory and restorative neurochemistry in the body.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Restorative hobbies, or activites that bring you peace or joy, can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The specific activitity or activities will vary based on individual interests and preferences, but the aspect of focus is on the feelings experienced from the activity. It’s an activitity that feels restorative and fulfilling to energy levels versus depleting or taxing. Engaging in creativity or play can be particularly of benefit to wellness and balance.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

Gratitude supports circuitry to restorative chemistry (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins) and works with the parasympathetic nervous system to offset stress and create reslience.

The parasympathetic nervous system is our natural restoring system and manages the body’s rest, digest, growth and repair processes. In modern lifestyles and experiences, there is a tendency and societal push for production that can overshadow the need for restoration and create an energetic imbalance. As a result, the nervous system may maladapt to be more sympathetic dominant. The sympathetic nervous system prioritizes survival and vital functioning and downgrades parasympathetic processes. Under normal conditions, the parasympathetic nervous system would automatically turn on after a threat is resolves and activate the body’s relaxation response. However, when the sympathetic nervous system is chronically active due to habits, lifestyle, or toxic stress levels, the parasympathetic nervous system may be sidelined on its rest/digest/heal/grow processes.

This can show up as:

  • Sleep issues and insomnia
  • Digestive issues and food sensitivities
  • Fatigue and post-exertional malaise
  • Chronic inflammation and chronic pain
  • Heart palpatations and/or elevated resting heart rate
  • Hormonal imbalances and development of related disorders
  • Anxiety and panic disorders
  • Cognitive disturbances and brain fog
  • Sensory sensitivities (light, sound, touch, taste, smell)
  • Overactivity of the immune system and development or worsening of auto-immune conditions

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

One technique to assist in creating more balance for the body, is to use the mind to be more intentional about restorative practices to guide the shift into the parasympathetic nervous system, which does the healing.

I hope you’ve found this entry helpful! I would love to hear in the comments about other techniques you’ve used to support your parasympathetic nervous system.

Additional resources are also available through Brain Gardening if you’d like 1:1 support or more information on how to hack your nervous system for healing.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

In a recent blog we really dove into why rest is important not just for the reasons we hear often, but underlying reasons.

When we are relaxed we aren’t consistently shooting adrenaline throughout our body causing an inflammatory response like when we are stressed. Our body is able to maintain a balance that keeps us healthy. Being in a parasympathetic state can reduce stress on our heart, chronic illnesses, and immunity in general.

Parasympathetic states also affect our metabolism. When we are in fight or flight mode our cortisol is spiked, causing the blood sugar to spike. This can lead to weight gain.We know that stress can lead us to carry weight in different areas of our body. This stress weight is often related to being in a highly functioning, yet overwhelming sympathetic state.

If we don’t rest, things start to go wrong. We become exacerbated, exhausted, and fatigued.

How to Find Balance

So now that we know the ins and outs of our nervous system states, how do we achieve balance between them? The first step we can take is being cognizant of what our body and mind is telling us. I find it much easier to recognize cues of being in a fight or flight mode (sympathetic state) in my body than in my mind. These cues like racing heart beat, fidgety limbs, sweating, or wanting to run away (literally), help tell me that I need to reflect on the situation and see if I really should be engaging in fight or flight rsponse.

The more aware we are of our bodies and when we begin to track our varying cycles, the more we will be able to respond to the correct state with an educated and effective response.

How to Activate PNS

There are several ways to activate your PNS system. You can typically hack this by being in the company of others, or self soothing. Some of these items below may not apply to you; or you may have other activities that help you achieve PNS. It is important to take note of your physiological and psychological state to see whether the activity is right for you.

Our paleo ancestors did this. They groomed each other, slept together, communicated to each other in their own ways. This part of being human is ingrained in our DNA.

But sometimes it is difficult to understand how to enter a rest state; especially if this is a state we are unfamiliar with.

Soothing with Others

Some of my favorite ways to soothe around people include the following:

  • Talking nature walks with my friends, either on the phone or together in person
  • Taking a yoga class with a friend
  • A couples massage
  • Reading a book in the same space as a friend or lover
  • Watching Netflix on the couch together
  • Having a picnic with a friend
  • Taking a study break at the library with a friend
  • Sitting on a beach with a friend
  • Massages or general welcomed and consented touch from others. If touch from others isn’t an option right now, check out this personal massager that does an amazing job as an alternative.

This may seem counterintuitive if you are an introvert who gains energy by being alone. However. It is important for our mental state to be able to soothe with others around. This fosters connections and allows us to enter a parasympathetic state. Simply, because we are with others and our defenses aren’t drawn, as in a sympathetic state.

Basically, any soothing activity you can do with a friend can be beneficial. A soothing activity is something that won’t push you to create more “should do this” or obligations while completing the task. Notice how I said taking a study break, not studying with a friend. To soothe, it has to allow you to slow down.


A lot of times when I need to get into a PNS state, I need to be alone and the reason I am in that state is because I exhausted my social capacity with others. The following are my favorite ways to get back in a parasympathetic state all by myself.

  • Read a book. If you haven’t read my book, Sexy by Nature, this could be a great opportunity to do so!
  • Reading a book in one of thesesuper awesome hammocks
  • Sitting on a porch or surrounded in nature
  • Yoga
  • Time in a sauna
  • Nature in general, read more here!

We are rounding a full circle here; no pun intended. A healthy lifestyle includes eating proper foods, moving your body, taking care of your mind, and incorporating balance and rest. In the paleo community, and in any western society, it can be easy to forget that the end goal isn’t always weight loss, physical appearances, or accomplishments, but that it’s sustainable health and wellness over the course of our lives.

In order to achieve this ideal state of wellness, we need to incorporate balance.

Note – some links above may contain affiliate links. You don’t pay more, but we get a small cut to help keep this organization running. It’s tough to balance ethics with the need to stay alive. Thank you for your patience and understanding!

While I typically steer away from talking about the science-y aspect of self-care and stress relief, I have recently found myself talking about ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system with people in both my personal and professional life. I’m teaching clients and friends (and myself!) that it’s important to not only prioritize self-care, […]

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How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

While I typically steer away from talking about the science-y aspect of self-care and stress relief, I have recently found myself talking about ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system with people in both my personal and professional life. I’m teaching clients and friends (and myself!) that it’s important to not only prioritize self-care, but to make sure we are giving our body and mind the self-care it needs when it needs it.

This may seem like a tall order, or another thing on your ever-growing to-do list, but fear not. Your Self Care Bestie is here to break it all down for you. Read on to find out why you need to be activating your parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) on the regular, and what the heck it even is. Oh, and of course, I’m going to share 20 ways to go ahead and do the darn thing.

What is the parasympathetic nervous system?

The parasympathetic nervous system can most easily be explained as operating the “rest and digest” state as opposed to the “fight, flight, or freeze” state, which is operated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). I probably don’t have to tell you that rest and digest is where we would ideally spend most of our time – it’s the state in which we can function highly mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Fight, flight, or freeze is that not-s0-fun state that puts us into high anxiety mode, telling us that the world is not safe and we will not be ok (whether or not that’s actually the truth).

These days (read: in 2020), so many of us are spending a good portion of our time being controlled by that darn SNS, whether we realize it or not. It seems that everywhere we turn, there’s another news article (or, let’s be honest, Facebook post) about how the world is ending, big scary creatures are a thing now, and natural disasters of epic proportions are headed our way. I’m not trying to make light of the actual hardships we have endured collectively and individually this year – heck no. I’m just bringing awareness to the fact that each and every day there seems to be something new that turns our attention away from the here and now, and throws us right into that anxious, hyper-vigilant state that is so incredibly uncomfortable. Ultimately, this can become super problematic over time, as the harmful effects of stress and anxiety can deteriorate our physical health as well as our mental health.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

While it may seem like a tall order to spend much (or any) time in the desired rest and digest state, it doesn’t have to be! There are tons of ways to activate your PSNS, in fact. All you are really looking to do is intentionally set aside some time to focus on slowing wayyyy down and allowing your body and mind to rest, and just be. There are so many ways to do this, when you think about it that way, so if there’s something coming to mind for you, I would start by doing just that. If you’re needing some ideas or inspiration for how to activate your PSNS, I got your back.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous systemWhen a person is at rest, the parasympathetic nervous system regulates their bodily functions. Digestion, metabolic activation, and body relaxation are just a few of its functions.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) slows our pulse and breathing rates. Reducing blood pressure, and aids digestion when it is engaged. This is also known as “rest and digest”. Our bodies go into a state of relaxation, which helps with healing.

In today’s time, you can do various ways to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system such as vagus nerve stimulation device, meditation, breathing, etc.

Tips To Activating Your Parasympathetic Nervous System And Increase Your Vagal Tone

Stress is everywhere, but we should know how to control our emotions so that we can lessen any negativity. According to statistics of the most stressed nations, the United States ranks 7th while Greece ranks first.

You have no excuse not to feel better now that we’ve shown you how. We know it can be hard with all of the stress in this world, but if there is one thing our research has taught us then it’s a simple truth: controlling your emotions will lessen any negativity and lead towards lessening one’s own level on worry or anxiety–no matter where they may live! Here are some techniques that should do wonders at stimulating parasympathetic nerve endings for relief from chronic feelings like frustration and stress.

  • Meditation: An estimation of two hundred to five hundred million people does meditation worldwide. It is recorded that 60% of the time, meditation helps improve stress and anxiety. Meditation is a tried-and-true method for improving one’s psychological state, as well as their physical. There are many benefits to meditation including improved stress levels and lower rates of anxiety or depression among other things.
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation Device: VNS works by increasing the synthesis of specific neurotransmitters in the brain, which helps to alleviate depression symptoms. Patients with depression reported that they experience improvements from their symptoms months after starting VNS therapy. For people that only want to improve their sleep and lifestyle, you can find and purchase a less invasive device that can stimulate your vagus nerves. You can research and understand further how vagus nerve science can help for a better night’s sleep.
  • Massage: Massage is a wonderful way to relax the body and mind. It can make you feel more powerful, calm down any illness that may be happening within yourself as well as train your SNS or PSNS muscles easier so they become stronger with practice! Massage has been demonstrated to help restore the equilibrium of our SNS and PSNS. Massage can make us feel more powerful, calmer, and capable of fighting illness. It also retrains the body to shift into PSNS more easily. From statistical data, 30% of consumers from 2020 have had a massage due to doctor’s advice in lessening an individual’s stress.
  • Breath Work: This is a technique to activate your vagus nerve. Ever feel like you’re living in the fast-paced world, with all its hustle and bustles? You need to find time for yourself. Take some deep breaths! Breathing deeply and slowly. The vagus nerve is known to decrease anxiety and boost the parasympathetic system. Typically, an individual takes 10 to 14 breaths each minute. It’s a good idea to take around six breaths in a minute to reduce tension. A good recommendation is deep breathing from the diaphragm. Your stomach should stretch outward when you do this. Execute this with long and slow exhalations. It is crucial for activating the vagus nerve and achieving relaxation.
  • Yoga: Yoga, like meditation, will assist in the activation of your PSNS. It also improves your capacity to reduce the fight or flight reaction when faced with a stressful situation. Regular yoga sessions or self-practice will help you improve your breathing, resilience, strength, flexibility, and general health. Yoga has been shown time and again as a wonderful way to improve your physical, mental health. It can help reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety for most people that practice yoga. According to data, 54% of yogis experience a release in tension while doing yoga. While 52 women in research have felt a decrease in their symptoms from depression and anxiety.
  • Talking and LaughingTherapy: Laughter is the best medicine. It’s been scientifically proven that talking and laughing have a stimulating effect on your vagus nerve, which means it can make you feel better by changing how fast or slow beats come out of our bodies! A happy emotion and positive social relationships help promote and improve the vagal tone. This has already been scientifically proven. Laughter is proven to boost mood and increase heart rate variability. Aside from that, stimulating your vagus nerves can be a cause of frequent laughing as a side effect. It is frequently suggested that both of them are linked and do affect each other.
  • Exposure To Cold Temperature: Cold temperatures have been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is responsible for generating some of our most powerful emotions such as fear. This means that when you’re exposed to a cold environment your body goes into sympathetic mode because it needs all its energy resources towards heating itself up and staying safe from freezing! This leaves little room left over for other tasks like digestion or relaxation – so if we want optimal wellbeing during these times then engaging in more parasympathetic activities would be ideal (like taking deep breaths). It turns out even just 10 minutes spent without moving around could make enough difference between feeling satisfied versus rundown after eating dinner tonight.

The Best Way For Convenient Stimulation of Your PSNS

Various options and unique procedures are offered nowadays for the improvement of lifestyle. We can’t expect productive, and happy days all throughout our life. These techniques are guides on how to lessen your stress and achieve a more desired lifestyle.

A convenient way of stimulating your parasympathetic system is to use a non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation device. During exercise, sleep, or busy days. To help soothe your system.

When the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is activated, it slows our heart and breathing rates, lowers blood pressure and promotes digestion. Our body enters a state of relaxation, and this relaxation breeds recovery. The more time we spend in a PSNS state, the healthier we are.

The PSNS is sometimes known as our rest and digest mode. It forms one third of our autonomic nervous system, alongside the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) also know as the fight or flight mode and our enteric system, sometimes referred to as our second brain.

Below, we discuss 10 ways to restore balance in your body and activate your parasympathetic nervous system

Reduce stress

Stress can seem unavoidable for the most of us. However by limiting or reducing whatever stressors we can control, and changing our reactions to those we can’t, we can learn to manage our response to stress.


Since it’s nearly impossible to remove all external stress, meditation can help to decrease our reactivity to stress we can’t control. Meditation teaches us to manage triggers, reduces our breathing rate, slows our heart, and decreases blood pressure: all signs of PSNS activation. Meditation also helps to reduce lactic acid in our muscles, promoting healing.


Regular massage has been shown to restore balance between our SNS and PSNS. Massage can help us to feel stronger, calmer, and more able to fight infection. It also retrains the body to move more readily into PSNS.

Breath work

Intentionally slowing your breath lets your body know that everything is okay, as it activates the PSNS. B reathing exercises will help to strengthen your lungs, improve your immune system, and decrease your heart rate.

Practice this breathing exercise to activate your PSNS: Inhale for a count of 4. Hold the breathe for a count of 4. Exhale for a count of 4. Repeat up to 10 breaths and increase to a count of 6 if you want to deepen the practice.

Like meditation, yoga will help to activate your PSNS. It also cultivates your ability to decrease the fight or flight response when you are exposed to a stress trigger.

Attending regular yoga classes or a dedicated self practice will improve your breathing, resilience, strength, flexibility and overall health.


Good nutrition plays a huge part in keeping us generally fit and well. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and sugar will help in the activation of the PSNS. By following a diet with the right mix of protein, minerals and nutrients, we can support the PSNS.


Intensive exercise stimulates our SNS. However, light cardio exercise can actually decrease SNS activity and activate our PSNS. The key is to balance high intensity work with slower paced activities.


Osteopathy can help to reduce anxiety and its impact on the body. Treatment involves assessing the body’s overactive nervous system and the symptoms associated, such as tight muscles, headaches, digestive issues. Osteopaths consider and treat your body and mind as a connected whole.

Get enough sleep

Sleep is so important for your overall health and wellbeing. It enables your body to rest and recover, to be fit and well the next day as healing takes place in the deeper stages of sleep. Blood flow to the muscles is increased, which brings along oxygen and nutrients that help to repair and regenerate cells.

Talking therapy

It is important to talk to someone, whether family, friends or a professional therapist who can help you identify anxiety triggers. Therapists can help to develop coping strategies to prevent long-term anxiety that negatively affects your health.

Remember, small steps create big, positive changes in the longterm. These are challenging times, be kind to yourself and take each day as it comes. If you’d like to book an Osteopath appointment with us, please contact us here.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

As you progress in your recovery, you may find yourself in a stressful situation feeling anxious and worried.

Sometimes the stress is caused by something psychological, such as constantly worrying about losing a job or a family problem. Other times the cause of the anxious feelings can be environmental, such as an upcoming major deadline or trying to get to work during a busy rush hour.

Regardless of the cause of the stress, high levels of anxiety cause the human body to react by releasing stress hormones that result in physiological changes that include a pounding heart, quickening of breathing, tensing of muscles and sweating. All of the body’s combined reactions to stress are known as the fight or flight response.

Knowing how to use the parasympathetic nervous system to manage your stress and anxiety can promote lasting sobriety by reducing the urge to turn to addictive substances.

The Fight or Flight Response and the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The fight or flight response was intended as a survival mechanism to allow mammals, including humans, to react quickly to a situation that was life-threatening. Unfortunately, today the human body has the same response to non life-threatening stressors that cause high levels of anxiety.

Research has shown that the long-term effects of chronic stress affect a person’s psychological and physical health. According to an article in Harvard Health Publishing, “The repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.”

The body’s fight or flight response is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, which is one part of the autonomic nervous system. The other part is the parasympathetic nervous system, which works to relax and slow down the body’s response.

Sweetwater Health describes the autonomic nervous system in this way, “The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems act like the accelerator and brakes on a car. The sympathetic system is the accelerator, always ready to rev up and take us out of danger. The parasympathetic system is the brakes, slowing us down when danger isn’t present.”

How Does the Parasympathetic Nervous System Decrease Anxiety?

The changes in the body when the sympathetic nervous system is activated take place very quickly. Until the brain perceives that the danger has passed, it continues to release corticotropin and adrenocorticotropic hormones that keep the body on high alert and ready for intense physical activity.

Once the threat is over, cortisol levels decline and the parasympathetic nervous system slows the stress response by releasing hormones that relax the mind and body while inhibiting, or slowing, many of the high energy functions of the body.

Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System to Decrease Anxiety

When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, it produces a calm and relaxed feeling in the mind and body. People can learn to trigger their parasympathetic nervous system to immediately reduce their sense of anxiety and stress. This also lifts their mood, strengthens their immune system, and reduces their blood pressure.

There are many techniques that a person can use to strengthen and activate their parasympathetic nervous system, causing a relaxation response in their body. For example:

  • Spend time in nature
  • Get a massage
  • Practice meditation
  • Deep abdominal breathing from the diaphragm
  • Repetitive prayer
  • Focus on a word that is soothing such as calm or peace
  • Play with animals or children
  • Practice yoga, chi kung, or tai chi
  • Exercise
  • Try progressive relaxation
  • Do something you enjoy, such as a favorite hobby

A Few More Ways to Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Gently Touch Your Lips
Your lips have parasympathetic fibers spread throughout them, so touching them activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Take one or two fingers and lightly run them over your lips.

Be Mindful – Don’t Multitask
Try not to multitask and be mindful of what you are doing. Toni Bernhard in her book, How To Be Sick – A Buddhist Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, quotes Korean Zen master Seung Sahn who liked to tell his students, “When reading, only read. When eating, only eat. When thinking, only think.”

Use Visualization
Use visualization and imagery to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Picture yourself in a peaceful place that you love. It could be the ocean at sunset, a mountain stream, a beautiful lush forest, a secluded beach, a field of wildflowers, or any place you enjoy and feel relaxed. Use all your senses as you visualize the place in this imagery. Hear the sounds of the waves, feel the breeze on your face, and smell the scent of the flowers. You’ll feel relaxed in no time at all.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

The Parasympathetic System of the body is there to support you to feel peaceful

There are two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System regulating the involuntary functions of the body:

1. The Sympathetic Nervous System elicits a flight or fight response in the body.

2. The Parasympathetic Nervous System stimulates rest and repair through the body.
This is the branch we will be looking at and is the part that supports us to feel peaceful.

The parasympathetic nervous system functions

So the system operates through long pathways of nerves called cranial and pelvic nerves and in general is slower acting. As well as involuntary functions of digestion and excretion, the PNS response restores the body back to balance, a state of calm, where functions are counterbalanced. Responsible for controlling homeostasis, this is the balanced maintenance of the body’s systems, thereby allowing it to rest and repair.

What happens then when we activate the PNS?

When you activate the PNS certain changes take places, such as decreased heart rate, muscle relaxation, and increased saliva. All of these changes just like the regular practice of Yoga are designed to maintain long-term good health and wellbeing, balanced systems, better digestion, and breathing. When you activate the PNS through Yoga practice it is helping you reside in the PNS response for prolonged periods of time.

How to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System through yoga practice?

Yoga benefits the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and therefore is key to keeping us healthy. When we are unable to solve or resolve stress in the body the release of hormones from the adrenals sends signals of the flight and fight mode and we remain in a stressed state. If we are able to respond differently and stimulate the PNS we are able to restore balance to the heart and breath rate and lower blood pressure and the metabolism.

In Yoga practices, this stimulus of the PNS can come from simply taking deeper conscious rounds of breath preparing to sit for a yoga session or a guided relaxation in Savasana (corpse pose).

1. To sit in comfort and breathe with steadiness.

So in most Yoga practices we start with a moment to sit and bring into focus our breathing pattern. Just making our breath conscious ( as it is such an involuntary process) can activate the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system.

Try it for yourself, wherever you are, at a desk, in a queue at the bank… slowly draw your attention to your breath and try to make it fully conscious, following how you draw in the breath and how you let it go. Try to make it travel deeper down in the abdomen and slow it down perhaps concentrating on a little pause between the inhale and exhale. Once you have taken at least three rounds you will have activated the PNS.

In Yoga and the PNS it may appear that as we are bringing muscles to contract and flex that we are not operating from our PNS but in fact due to the associated awareness on breath and focus even with a raised heart rate we will be.

We would certainly not want to be operating out of the sympathetic in a prolonged way in Yoga. In this mode, ‘the fight or flight,’ the immune system is essentially shut down and stress hormones released, while the tubes in the bronchial area of the lungs dilate and the heart rate increases. Operating out of this system is not good for our long-term well-being and is really there to help the body when it is facing danger or as a fast reaction for when we burn ourselves, for example.

2. Restorative Yoga – the body’s ability to heal

With a regular and consistent practice of Yoga, particularly restorative yoga will help to strengthen the PNS. A Yogi aims to develop the PNS through techniques and practices including pranayama, like Kapalabhati, Analoma Viloma, and Brahmaris.

The quality of surrender and relinquishing control of restorative yoga poses is the PNS stimulated at the supportive level it is there for, naturally bringing peace. It awakens that in us that which seeks to be happy and peaceful and abiding in this system, also known as the parasympathetic ‘tone’, for longer periods of time produces the right environment for healing.

With the use of props too, restorative yoga helps us to surrender where we may have been leading our lives from stress response sympathetic and therefore relaxation has become harder to experience.

When practising yoga the sympathetic is encouraged to give up and the parasympathetic takes over to encourage the rest we need to be healthy. When we are in restorative yoga sessions, we soothe and alternately stimulate the organs helping the absorption and flow of nutrients. We also have time to concentrate on the present and not any anticipatory forms of stress by slowing down the brain wave patterns.

3. Controlling or activating PNS at will by consciously changing thoughts

The relax response is what Yoga can bring us where we actively control and activate the PNS, rather like strengthening this whole system so the body can ‘do its thing’ to repair and restore balance.

We are not meant to be stuck in the sympathetic response but sometimes the more invisible stressors of life can do this. For instance, inner stressors like fear, grief, basically stemming from heavy emotions and negative thought patterns. So by consciously changing thoughts to positive, taking stock and using the conscious breath method, the PNS once activated, does all in its power to bring well-being.

Anything that has been stuck in the sympathetic or stress response, will be brought to equilibrium and harmony. Think of an elastic band that has been overstretched, like we can do to our muscles, this is the workings of the sympathetic nervous system, the PNS brings muscles back into relaxation and into line. The noises of the digestions system you often hear when you start to breathe more deeply are the workings of the PNS.

In particular, in relation to Yoga and the PNS where we can at will switch on this system, we are brought more expansion. This means that anything that has been contracted will start to expand and in this expansion, we can experience pure pleasure and spaciousness.

Robin Sands takes this one step further in his papers about the relaxation response.

“ The blood vessels, as well as the intestines all, go into a state of contraction when the sympathetic is in control. If, however, the PNS is able to take over, the gateway to another world is opened. Let’s travel gently into the realms of the parasympathetic: the home of all relaxing, warm and contented feelings. If the sympathetic is what we need to be in the world, then the parasympathetic is what we need to be in Heaven” (Robin Sands – The Relaxation Reflex)

Perhaps you have identified that you are operating out of the sympathetic nervous system and you have internal stressors blocking your ability to switch on the PNS. Signs of this can be digestive problems, inability to sleep, high blood pressure and depression.

Unless of course you are being chased by a Lion, then you need the sympathetic to kick in quick!! as Robert Sands says, the PNS is like the ocean’s depths and its stillness while the sympathetic are the waves and storms.

restorative yoga and the PNS is the relaxation response to heal the effects of stress in the body like bringing in a deep breath to soak the stress away.

These exercises stimulate the part of your nervous system that creates positive feeling, thus reducing stress, enhancing positive emotion, and strengthening the body’s defenses. This part, the parasympathetic wing, evolved along with the sympathetic wing (the part that responds to threats and excitement) to relax you once anxiety-inducing situations have passed. By purposefully activating the parasympathetic wing of your nervous system (or PNS), you can take advantage of its natural cool-down effects and stop the cycle of chronic stress.


Eight different methods activate the PNS, increasing relaxation and providing a number of benefits.

Long Version

    • Exercise #1: Take deep breaths. When inhaling, completely fill the lungs, hold for a second, and then exhale slowly. Try doing this for a whole minute. This relaxed method of breathing expand the branches in your airways called bronchioles, activating the PNS that controls them, causing them (and the rest of the body and mind) to relax.
    • Exercise #2: Relax your body. You can use progressive relaxation techniques or a basic relaxation meditation. You could do a comfortable yoga stretch or just close your eyes and imagine yourself in a comfortable setting, whether its a favorite armchair or a sunny beach. The parasympathetic nervous system causes you to relax, but by “actively” relaxing, you activate it, causing you to relax even more. Call it a non-vicious circle.
    • Exercise #3: Breathe so that your inhalation and exhalation last the same amount of time; for example, you might count slowly to five for each. While doing this, imagine this breath coming in and out of your heart center in your chest, radiating love, gratitude, and peace. Integrate this positive emotion into your own brain. This exercise is called “increasing heart rate variability”; it increases and harmonizing the variation in heart beats, activating the PNS to enhance physical and mental well-being.
    • Exercise #4: Become mindful of physical sensation. Listen to your body and feel with clarity and relaxed concentration–to your breath, to the feeling of your chest or your feet or your tongue in your mouth. By becoming mindful of the body, you are also activating the PNS.
    • Exercise #5: Yawning activates the PNS. Scientists are not sure why.
    • Exercise #6: Meditation also activates the PNS by pulling the attention away from stress and threats. Meditating even for a small amount every day is one of the most powerful ways to work with your PNS. Learn more about meditation by reading What Is Meditation?
    • Exercise #7: Focus on the positive. Positive feelings like gratitude, lovingkindness, contentment, and tranquility arouse the PNS. It’s sometimes hard to make yourself think positive on demand. Some techniques for arousing positive emotion include Community Service / Charity, Gratitude Practice, and Lovingkindness. You can also try Taking In the Good and the Three Good Things Exercise.
    • Exercise #8: It may seem silly, but fiddling with your upper lip has been shown in anecdotal evidence to increase PNS activity. If nothing else, it sure is fun.


    The parasympathetic wing of the nervous system has been with us long before we were even human; it’s a crucial part of every animal’s brain. However, it wasn’t until very recently with modern advances in neuroimaging that we could see how the PNS works for us.


    If the parasympathetic system goes into overdrive, the individual may freeze up completely, unable to act at all. As in all things, care must be taken to balance neurological responses. Remember that stress and anxiety are natural and important.

    Posted on August 2, 2019

    How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

    The parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems are the two parts of what’s known as our autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for controlling bodily functions that we don’t do consciously such as breath, digestion, and our heartbeat. While the sympathetic nervous system is like a gas pedal that activates the stress response in times of danger, the parasympathetic nervous system is our body’s brake system. We can handle our stress better when we put practices into place which activate our parasympathetic nervous system (which is sometimes called the “rest and digest” nervous system). Here are some simple practices to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system so that our bodies and minds can cope with stress in more sustainable ways.

    Deep Breathing

    When our breath is shallow and fast, we’re most likely in “fight or flight” mode. We can pause this by consciously turning our attention to the breath. Use diaphragmatic breathing by taking deep inhales into the belly, and slow, relaxing exhales. This helps us enter a state of lowered stress and increased relaxation.

    Yoga, or any movement where you’re mindfully connecting movement and breath, will activate the parasympathetic nervous system and combat stress. Yoga has many stress reduction benefits and its meditative movements combined with focusing on the breath will put your mind and body at ease.


    When we get sweaty and active, our bodies send more blood and oxygen throughout our system. Our bodily functions, such as digestion and relaxation response, improve when we start the cool-down process.

    Mindfulness Practices

    Mindfulness simply involves being present in the moment and engaging the senses. You can engage mindfulness practices anytime — when you’re doing the dishes, walking, or talking with friends. When we live the moment, focus on the breath and our present experiences, and stop worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, our bodies and mind relax.

    Prayer and Meditation

    Prayer and meditation can help us slow our thoughts and help us to stop focusing on our source of stress. Like mindfulness training, these practices can help place us in the present moment and allow us to have better cognitive control of our emotions.

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