Nervous System Imbalance & The Yin Protocol
What I’ve come to observe is there is an alarming population of people who have a nervous system imbalance. Muscular imbalances are common and bare their own disturbances and consequences, but a nervous system imbalance is an entirely different beast. An imbalance here has quite an impact on your day to day life. For centuries Chinese medicine has given a tremendous amount of value to balance referring to Yin and Yang energies. When they are out of balance they affect each other as too much of one can weaken the other — intrinsically and relatively linked. We can gain a wonderful perspective from this mindset of balance and harmony while regarding the complex system of systems that is our own body. Maintaining homeostasis is, in my opinion, the meaning of good health.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) controls homeostasis and the body at rest. It is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” function. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) controls the body’s responses to a perceived threat and is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. In rudimentary terms these two systems are what control whether you are fired up or calm through many physiological changes including the uptick or down-tick of hormones. Both of these systems are needed at different times. There are times when it is appropriate to have an increased heart rate, short shallow breaths, and adrenaline coursing through your veins. I’m sure if you were being attacked you would need those things to help evade your attacker. Likewise there are times when what is needed is rest, repair, and relaxation. After a long workout for example you’ll need time in repair mode for muscle growth and strength to occur. The problem occurs when one part of our CNS is chronically hyper-active and the other is sluggish.
We have created an environment where our sympathetic nervous system is triggered too often and at inappropriate times. Let’s say you’re sitting at your desk calmly doing your job and your boss comes in and tells you the deadline for your project has been pushed forward. You’re unprepared for this new deadline and all of a sudden you notice your breath becoming faster and shallow, your thoughts speed up, and your heart rate increases. Nothing in the environment has changed. Nothing allows or requires you to expel all the energetic tension you just built up.
This wouldn’t be such an issue if you didn’t have the same issue come up thirty minutes later when you’re stuck in traffic late for your wife’s birthday party. And then again a couple hours later when some other melodrama takes place. Add a daily run on top of these things and several cups of coffee to make it all happen after too little sleep. A recipe for disaster! When the switch for stress hormones is left turned on or is turned on repetitively there can be very detrimental results. We are living far too much in the yang.
Have you ever found yourself procrastinating on a deadline, rushing to get somewhere because you squandered your time, causing drama where it isn’t needed? If so you might just be unconsciously seeking an uptick in things like Cortisol because you’re body has become resistant. One of the ways our bodies adapt to high levels of stress is by down-regulating the receptors for involved hormones, keeping them from becoming too abundant in the body. Some research explains that when this happens chronically it becomes maladaptive. Think of what happens with insulin when blood sugar is kept too high — we become resistant. The important thing to note here is that the protective mechanisms our body has in place tend to become dysfunctional if called upon unabatingly.
There are some more technical terms used in these cases like adrenal fatigue or HPA axis dysfunction but I want to stay away from those as they are much less inclusive. Your symptoms may not qualify for such diagnostic terms yet may still be imbalanced. What I see a lot in my clients are symptoms ranging in severity that include anxiety, compulsiveness, trouble sleeping or staying asleep, dips in energy, feeling tired but wired, low libido, and most notably a body that has become less and less responsive to exercise or diet. The types of people I see with this issue are typically type-A personalities, those with demanding jobs or high-stressed lifestyles, and men or women who have used excessive dieting and exercise (especially cardio) on a long-term basis.
Sensibly one can see the need for restoring balance to achieve re-sensitization to the physiological changes that occur during sympathetic activation. In general, if the sympathetic response system is being signaled disproportionately we need to decrease the factors that do that while increasing the factors that signal our parasympathetic response. Balance.
For clients exhibiting signs of nervous system imbalance I prescribe what I call the Yin Protocol. I refer to it as such because it amplifies the Yin, the parasympathetic, the calmer side of life. The specifics of this protocol may look different for each person but the basic fundamentals are as follows:
-Decrease and eventually eliminate stimulants such as coffee or pre-workouts.
-Decrease cardiovascular training especially intense versions like HIIT
-Decrease intense resistance training
-Avoid sugar and any foods that cause you to have an unfavorable reaction
-Avoid stressful conversations or television shows
-Implement a daily mindfulness practice: belly breathing, slow walking meditation, and gentle yoga are all great examples
-Spend some time in nature each day. Experiment with putting your bare skin on the earth (AKA grounding)
-Use adaptogenic herbs and compounds in a consistent regiment. Chaga mushrooms, Ashwaganda, Passion Flower, etc.
-Create a nightly routine: dim the light 2 hours before bed or light candles, sip chamomile tea, avoid electronics, avoid speaking loudly, engage in some light passive stretching
-Aim for 8 hours of sleep
-Track your food and play with eating higher fat on some days. Observe and note how you feel with the adjustment and change accordingly
-Keep a daily log of your progress and physical or emotional reactions. Modify and experiment with different variables. Each of us are very individual and may benefit from certain things that we aren’t aware of until we observe closely.
This may take some time as you do not want to abruptly eliminate things and cause your body to experience any sort of stressful shock. Systematically titrate down from things like coffee and running. Remember that this is a temporary process. For some it may take longer than others to balance things out. Nonetheless once balance is restored you may find that some stimulants aren’t bad on occasion or that increased cardio training also can be added back in appropriately. Balance is dynamic and although you may need to increase your Yin right now be open to the fact that balance is about having both sides of life present in equal amounts.