Stress of all kinds, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual, can cause a negative impact on our health. Chronic stress has been called “the silent killer” as it compromises the immune system, potentially leading to many chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s and many more. Stress and the inability to relax is fundamentally experienced as a result of the sympathetic nervous system being overactive and the parasympathetic nervous system being unable to turn back on.
The sympathetic nervous system is our fight or flight response - a survival mechanism that increases heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and dilates the pupils. If the sympathetic nervous system becomes overburdened by prolonged stress, it can potentially lead to fatal consequences. The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand, has a calming influence. It lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, and simultaneously promotes digestion and the uptake of nutrients. It is primarily during rest, eating and sleeping that the parasympathetic nervous system dominates and coordinates the body’s repose and regeneration.
One of the most important elements of the parasympathetic nervous system is the vagus nerve, which spreads nerve fibres from its origin in the brain stem to the throat and the upper body, connecting the brain to everything from the tongue, pharynx, vocal chords, lungs, heart, stomach and intestines to different glands that produce enzymes and hormones influencing digestion, metabolism and much more. The vagus nerve’s influence on the brain, heart and lungs is especially interesting, as this trinity rules the body and governs the mind!
The key to managing our state of mind and stress level lies in being able to activate the calming parasympathetic pathways of our nervous system. By simply focusing on the breath and the movements of the diaphragm - in particular with exhaling slowly and deeply - we can influence the system through the vagus nerve, and restore peace and calmness to the body and mind.
Our Gong Yin practice at HOA is targeted specifically at individuals needing to release stress. Meditation has been shown in numerous studies to rebuild, support, and strengthen our nervous system by training our breathing.
Research has shown that meditation can increase the length of telomeres in the body, which are linked to optimal health and longevity. Meanwhile, the restorative deep stretching incorporated in our Yin practice helps release blockages, tension, pain and rigidity in our fascia and connective tissues, to maintain free flowing movement of energy in our body.
A classic relaxation technique in therapy and yoga is progressive muscle relaxation, in which areas of the body are first contracted and then relaxed in order to create an awareness of the residual tension and stress that may be hidden in the body.
During Gong Yin, the gong works through the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to create deep relaxation through playing sequences that are termed build and release cycles. In other words, the gong is played in such a way that pressure can be applied and released on the physical body through sound, much similar to the progressive muscle relaxation technique. The gong goes beyond dealing with simple muscular tension - which is symptomatic and not causative of stress - and addresses the root cause of stress by rebalancing the nervous system!
Tune into stillness with a Gong Yin practice at HOA, for deep relaxation and rejuvenation. Book your mat today!
Written by Izzy Liyana, content creator & writer for HOA