So much of your life is controlled by the nervous system, which stems out from the brain like tree roots with tendrils reaching all parts of your body.
How you react to everyday situations, how much sleep you get, how well you relate to people, how you manage triggers, and so much more depend on your health or lack of health.
Likewise, our emotional state has a huge impact on our lives. If we’re carrying around resentment, fear, jealousy, and other heavy emotions regularly, it’s affecting our entire being, right down to our cells.
But life on earth today isn’t exactly super supportive to nervous system health or emotional healing, unless we consciously cultivate both.
Let’s face it — there’s a lot going on. Caffeine and sugar, endless screen scrolling, side hustles, and navigating daily life are all pretty taxing on the nervous system. That’s not to mention the impact that economic instability, a pandemic, war, and all the other forms of upheaval going on around the world have on our emotions, minds, and bodies.
So, if you’ve been feeling extra frazzled as of late, you’re not alone. Stress is understandably on the rise.
Yet awareness of how to take our health into our own hands is also on the rise. We have more resources than ever to understand how our mind, body, and emotions are deeply intertwined and how nervous system health is essential to well-being.
It turns out, we can count nervous system health, improved mood, and positive energy among the many benefits of good old-fashioned exercise. In this article, we’ll look at how to sweat it out, dance it off, and move your body to reset your nervous system, release negativity, and take control of your health. Ready to get started? Let’s get into it!
Why Reset the Nervous System?
Before we dive in, let’s do a quick breakdown of this important system, how it works, and why it’s key to our well-being.
Our sympathetic system is our “fight or flight” mode, which helps us stay alert, primed to respond to threats, and ready to act and ensure survival. Our parasympathetic system, or “rest and digest” state, is what allows us to fully relax, rest, connect to other people emotionally, and properly digest food.
In a sympathetic state, our bodies register danger in the environment, even if we’re not consciously aware of it. Take your work commute. Rushing to make sure you’re not late to the place that’s the source of all your food, shelter, and stability is flat out stressful. You may not be fending off a bear, but your body still registers it as survival.
It’s unhealthy to stay in sympathetic dominance for extended periods — high stress has been linked to nearly every major disease, including the heavy hitters, cancer and heart disease. Yet that’s exactly what most of us do. Rushing through meals as we look at work emails, multi-tasking to the extreme, and staying busy up until bedtime all interfere with the parasympathetic system’s functions.
Finding ways to induce parasympathetic dominance or at least balance out an excessively sympathetic state is essential to your well-being.
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Exercise is incredibly powerful. We’re made to move, and that means our bodies function best when we’re regularly active. When we get moving, our nervous systems reset, we flush out residual toxins (like stress hormones), and we stimulate the release of feel-good neurotransmitters, helping us to be more positive.
There are so many ways to get moving, and they all have their own benefits. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Dance is a powerful healer. It will bring both the benefits to the nervous system and the emotionally healing aspects of the expressive movement arts. So, dance can help us work through past traumas, feel and heal emotions, relax muscles, breathe more deeply, and stimulate the flow of energy.
There are all sorts of styles, and there’s no need to limit yourself to one kind — or any kind at all. Putting on positive music in the morning and dancing freely is an amazing way to start your day off right. Alternatively, try jumping around to heavy metal when you have some excess anger to get out or salsa when you want to feel transported to another environment entirely.
Women will greatly benefit from belly dancing. This ancient art form isn’t just about entertainment. It’s associated with the womb space, or sacral chakra, the seat of emotional well-being, sensuality, and pleasure. Stored energy and emotion can accumulate here, but belly dancing can help you work through those dense emotions.
Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Yoga
These Eastern movement arts practices offer powerful avenues for self-expression, shifting your perspective, and moving stagnant negative energy out of the body. Plus, they’re well documented for their ability to calm the nervous system, induce a parasympathetic state, and stimulate brain wave activity that’s restorative.
Tai Chi was originally developed as a martial art but is now known primarily for its graceful, flowing movements that build balance and flexibility. Winding down before bed with Tai Chi will help activate your parasympathetic system, promoting deeper sleep.
Qi Gong is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that includes flowing movement as well, but it is designed primarily with subtle energy in mind. Visualization and attention are important. Practitioners might imagine themselves gathering “earth energy” from below and “sky energy” from above, with each type of energy having a different quality. With such an emphasis on moving energy, Qi Gong will undoubtedly help you rebalance your system.
Yoga needs no introduction, but it’s worth mentioning that every pose has many layers of meaning and importance. The Warrior Pose doesn’t just build balance and flexibility — it shifts your perspective to one of strength and can stimulate different energy meridians, supporting your emotional health.
Stretching, in general, is also excellent for clearing out stagnation because our muscles hold emotions as tension. Just think about how your shoulders hunch when you’re under stress. Gentle stretching will help release those knots of negative emotion.
All three disciplines will offer a mild to moderate form of exercise that’s generally low-impact and suitable for every level. While you won’t necessarily get your blood pumping, you will be regulating your nervous system and releasing negative energy.
When it comes to flushing the body of accumulated tension and emotion, aerobic exercise is absolutely superb. We all know how amazing it feels after a good workout.
Getting that blood pumping and oxygen flowing stimulates the release of toxins (like stress hormones) and promotes feel-good chemicals in the brain. Activities like running have been shown to promote parasympathetic (rest and digest) dominance. Generally, regular aerobic exercise also results in better sleep, improved mood, and deeper relaxation throughout daily life. Those are all due to an active parasympathetic system.
Aerobic exercise is so powerful that it can actually stimulate the growth of new neurons, a process called neurogenesis. This is so important. Stress, especially chronic stress, can kill neurons and shrink areas of the brain, resulting in reduced emotional control and impaired decision-making. As the brain is the seat of the nervous system, changes in the brain will impair nervous system function too. As you might imagine, none of this is very good for our emotional well-being (or well-being at all).
Yet much of what we have to do is sign up for that 5k, head to the gym, or go for a swim to mitigate the negative effects of stress. New neurons mean more ability to shape the pathways of the brain — a quality called neuroplasticity — which helps us learn more quickly and create new ways of thinking and being. If that doesn’t motivate you, what will?
Note that non-aerobic exercise doesn’t have these effects, so it’s extra important to include some aerobics every week.
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Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
These days, many of us are waking up to the fact that our bodies store emotions, patterns, and habits. As this awareness has blossomed, so have new healing techniques that target the body, not just the mind.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping is one such technique. It involves tapping the body at specific meridian points (much like acupuncture) while repeating affirmations to help with mood, relaxation, mindset, fear, panic attacks, and many more issues.
We can’t say EFT involves much body movement, but it’s worth mentioning here because it does involve subtle movement — tapping.
The gentle vibrations of tapping are effective at releasing stored emotion, relieving stress, and, importantly, releasing practitioners from stagnant negative energy. That stagnation can sometimes be a huge block in our lives. Sometimes, even when we want to change, the energy pattern is simply too deeply ingrained to stop a behavior. With regular tapping, you’re loosening that up so you can replace old habits and feelings with new, healthier ones.
You Can Heal Yourself with Exercise
Exercise is one of the best possible things you can do for your entire well-being. It’s simple, mostly free, fun, and has incredible benefits, including resetting your nervous system and releasing negative energy.
Whether it’s aerobic exercise, the expressive movement arts, yoga, or Tai Chi, a regular fitness practice will help your body recover from excessive sympathetic nervous system arousal. You must balance this activated state with the calming, soothing parasympathetic system. Movement will also help you stimulate the flow of energy and release you from old patterns so you can thrive.
Uplevel your nervous system and take control of your health on your path to greatness!