The Autonomic Nervous System is involuntary or automatic. It happens without conscious thought. Your body regulates your blood pressure, heart rate, and rate of breathing by signals that are received in the nervous system. Although, your body automatically follows commands that are delivered from the command center (the nervous system), your nervous system can be regulated. Meaning that you can use conscious thought to change the commands that the nervous system is delivering and receiving. To better understand this let’s dissect the Body’s Central Nervous System.
There are 3 parts of the Autonomic Nervous System.
- Sympathetic System
- Parasympathetic System
- Somatic or Peripheral System
The Sympathetic System is the command center for fight or flight. This is the part of your brain and nervous system that tells your body that you are in danger. It dilates the pupils, accelerates heart rate, stimulates sweat production, increases your heart contractions and restricts blood vessels to increase blood pressure.
The Parasympathetic System is the rest and restore command center of the brain. This is the part of the brain and nervous system that tells your body to rest and recover. It commands the body to slow the heartbeat, constricts the pupils, stimulates digestion, stimulates secretion, it decreases the blood pressure.
“The sympathetic nervous system connects the internal organs to the brain by spinal nerves. When stimulated, these nerves prepare the organism for stress by increasing the heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, and decreasing blood flow to the skin.
The nerve fibres of the parasympathetic nervous system are the cranial nerves, primarily the vagus nerve, and the lumbar spinal nerves. When stimulated, these nerves increase digestive secretions and reduce the heartbeat.”
The Somatic Nervous System or Peripheral Nervous System
In the process of voluntary movement, sensory neurons carry impulses to the brain and the spinal cord. (Yoga is a great form of sending sensory neurons to the brain.)
Sensory neurons or afferent neurons are sent from the 5 senses to the brain. They inform the Central Nervous System about our 5 senses. 12 pairs of cranial nerves send info to the brain stem. 31 pairs of spinal nerves send sensory information from the periphery to the spinal cord and muscle commands from the spinal cord to the skeletal muscles.
I believe that this part of the nervous system is often ignored. Our body sends messages to our brain. When our brain misinterprets these messages, we have disfunction. Eating is the easiest example. Are you eating because you need substance and crave more energy, or are you eating because of something else? I am personally addicted to sugar. I eat sugar when I am stressed, bored, or frustrated. We need to create more opportunities to listen to what our body is telling us. I believe that this is where meditation comes into place.