The more I learn about the nervous system, the more I understand why it’s so important to decompress and to move. Here’s why and what you can do about it.
Our nerves are basically the highways that transport information from our body to our brain to help our brain decide what’s the best way to help us survive. Our brain uses that information to decide whether we need protecting with pain or not. (Read more about how your nerves send danger messages to the brain here.)
But nerves are more than just highways. Nerves themselves can become sensitive and generate their own danger messages – leading to pain – when they don’t have enough space, movement or blood flow.
Nerves love space, movement and blood flow! They slide and glide around through tunnels of muscle, fascia, tendons and bone. They fold and unfold and stretch. Nerves have a thick fluid that flows up and down inside them to deliver stuff you need for health and to take out the trash. This liquid (axoplasm) is thicker than water, but it actually flows more easily when nerves move. When nerves don’t move enough because they’re compressed or strained, that liquid gets too thick to flow well, and the nerves become very unhappy. When that happens, they become sensitive to pressure and movement, and you’re more likely to feel pain in different body parts. For example, when we sustain a posture or position for too long, we cut off that flow. Our brain becomes alarmed at the influx of danger messages from the unmoving nerve and gives us an experience of pain to get us moving.
The good news is that we can remedy that situation by decompressing and moving. Here are some tips to make your nerves – and you – happy.
We can decompress by stopping compressing! It might sound logical, but the tricky part is noticing that we’re doing it, because our habits feel normal to us. Pause for a moment to ask your self, “Self, where am I pulling in? Am I pulling my head down? Am I scrunching my neck? Could I release my head upward? Could I release my shoulders outward? Where do I notice ease.” Giving ourselves time to check in with ourselves is key.
Thinking up and out is an Alexander Technique tool that helps to decompress. That’s because it’s not something that we do. By thinking up and out, we allow our body to expand in those directions, creating space for nerves to move.
Decompressing also means reducing mental and emotional stress, because every thought, belief and feeling we have appears in our body. Pausing to ask our self the questions above can help us to notice how we are reacting to a stressful situation. Noticing with curiosity and inviting ease when we’ve tightened up already begins to create change in our mental-emotional state.
Decompressing allows space for movement and blood flow. But we need movement to pump blood to our nerves. Nerves without blood flow are unhappy nerves that make themselves known. Aerobic exercise is excellent for providing nerves with movement and blood flow, but movement of any kind is better than not for making your nerves happier.
Ever notice some pain in your bottom or back of your legs after you’ve been sitting for a long time? That often happens when our sciatic nerve is angry because it’s being compressed so it can’t move or receive it’s nourishing blood. (Nerves are bloodthirsty little things!)