Billions of chemical reactions go on inside our body—the absolute miracle that it is. A heart beats about 100,000 times per day; every month we regenerate our entire outermost layer of skin; every three months we can replenish our blood supplies; every 10 years, adults rebuild and remodel the bones in our bodies; and 50 percent of bone mass is laid out between the ages of 12 and 18.
Our juicy nervous system is so intricate, and has an enormous impact on our health. There are different parts to our nervous system—our brain, spinal cord, and all the nerves that come off our spine and reach out to all of our organs and control their functions without one having to think about it. Our CNS, central nervous system, is governed by our conscious thinking mind. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is governed by our subconscious—it regulates how quickly the heart beats, how quickly fingernails grow, how quickly a cut heals—with no direction from you. Your body knows to heal naturally. And within the ANS there are two branches: the sympathetic nervous system—the fight-or-flight response—and the parasympathetic nervous system—the rest, digest, repair and reproduction arm of the nervous system. The challenge for us today is that we are living in the sympathetic nervous system. The main hormone behind that is adrenaline, and it leads us into that fight-or-flight response. Some of us are living in that zone all day, every day. Part of us likes life in the fast zone—communicating a million times a day on email and text. The nervous system influences which fuels to use in our body: glucose or fat. When we are in an adrenaline state, our body makes the fastest-burning fuel available, which is always glucose. The glucose we store in our bodies gets released, blood sugar goes up to get us out of this “danger,” and the fat doesn’t burn.
The power to change all of that is in our hands. First, change the perception of stress—it’s a great way to create a quieter internal response—and pause to feel the good fortune it is to be alive.
Now is the time to hibernate and reset by practicing calming rituals like meditation, walking, even Nordic skiing—a moving meditation we write about in this issue. Spa time—which we highlight in our primary Purist wellness cities of Aspen, Miami, Palm Beach and LA—is a relaxing self-care practice.
There are so many reasons to create a nutrient-rich environment from the inside out, the main one being that nutrients are essential for our bodies to run smoothly. Every mouthful we consume should be nourishing for regulating stress hormones, neurotransmitters and the nervous system.
My favorite, easy fix—breathe. The longer the exhalation, the better the parasympathetic nervous system engages. Adults breathe short, sharp, shallow breaths and adrenaline is driving that; a baby breathes in and out through their nostrils and their belly goes up and down. We need to breathe diaphragmatically to communicate to every cell in our body that we are safe, and from that place health is incredibly optimal. Set a reminder to diaphragmatically breathe, and add to your fitness repertoire some breath-focused practices like tai chi, restorative yoga or Pilates.
This new year, be patient and kind to your nervous system, to yourself.