The Autonomic Nervous System… What exactly is it… and Why Should I care?

“Moreover, such a body freed from nervous tension and over-fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well-balanced mind that is always fully capable of successfully meeting all of the complex problems of modern living.” ~ Joseph Pilates

“The Body is so clever!”

As I am always saying to my Pilates clients, ‘The Body is So Clever!’… It adapts to our everyday lives in so many ways, and, if we are looking carefully these adjustments can clearly be seen.

For example, the physical body may be feeling misaligned following that marathon gardening activity you did at the weekend (and it letting you know about it with aches/pains).  The mind and body strength maybe be feeling like it just isn’t functioning correctly because you are getting over that awful cold from last week.  And also, let’s not forget the impact of our emotional health (stress/tensions, fears/anxiousness, social connections, work/life balance), which can manifest itself in any number of ways in the functioning of our body.

Recognising the impact of our day-to-day life on the overall health (mind/body/spirit) of our body, is one giant step forward to being able to understand how we can better look after ourselves.

There is an area of our health though that is very easy to overlook…and that is the effective functioning of those bodily activities that we don’t consciously control…. That is, for example, activities such as your heart beat, your core temperature, your digestion, your breathing and more.  And it is these such activities, that are managed by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). 

The ANS briefly explained… but why care?

So, the ANS is the body’s way of autonomously regulating our bodily functions – that is, it works away, for the most part, unconsciously to us.

The purpose of this special nervous system is to control our internal body processes, the aim being to maintain our body at homeostasis (self- regulation to maintain steady conditions). 

Great!  Good Work ANS! …So, no need to think about it a moment more right?  Well… maybe not.  Otherwise, why would I be writing 3 posts about this area of our health?  (Yes, there are two more posts to follow)

Whilst the ANS does work in the background (a bit like auto-pilot) and we largely have no conscious control over it, the stresses of our lives can greatly impact its function.

If the body is subjected to continued stress (stressful job, busy non-stop lives, chronic (ongoing) pains), the effective functioning of this clever system is impacted, resulting in many (seemingly unrelated) issues.  This can include digestive problems, impaired sleep, cognitive decline, increased pains, anxiety, temperature regulation problems and more. Sound familiar?

The ANS is divided into two main functions and to be effective, these two functions need to work together in balance.  So, if you are wondering how an unbalanced ANS could affect the body or you are wondering how to look after this area of your health, then please read on (with the following posts)…

Link to the second post in this series…




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