Yoga And Nutrition For Dysautonomia
by Elissa Michaud
Dysautonomia is the term used to describe several different medical conditions that occur as a result of a malfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS regulates the automated functions of the body including breathing, heartrate, circulation and others. Over 70 million people worldwide live with various forms of dysautonomia -- a great number more remain undiagnosed. ANS dysregulation results in a wide range of symptoms such as fatigue, lightheadedness, unstable blood pressure, abnormal heart rate, digestive/bowel issues, malnutrition, circulatory problems, neuropathies, exercise intolerance, body temperature regulation, inability to perspire, fainting and in the severe case of pure autonomic failure, death.
Some conditions in which dysregulation of the nervous system frequently occur include Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer, Lyme Disease, Lupus, Sarcoidosis, Sjogren's Syndrome, Irritable Bowel, Interstitial Cystitis, heavy metal poisoning, Encephalitis, Diabetes, HIV, AIDS, chronic alcohol use, Tuberculosis, H-Pylori, brain injury/concussion, physical trauma, spinal cord injury, autoimmune conditions, and Parkinson's.
There is no western cure for dysautonomia at this time and limited awareness/treatment options in the field of medicine. This leads to misdiagnosis or delays in diagonosis. For instance, nervous system symptoms that occur in the digestive tract that lead to gastropariesis may be given a broad IBS diagnosis; blood pressure fluctuations deemed high blood pressure; and anomolies in heart rate generated by an over or underactive sympathetic nervous system, diagnosed as heart conditions. This results in unecessary or incorrect perscription medications administered with potential unwanted side effects; and the delay in diagnosis adds to the years spent in frustration and suffering.
Fortunately there are tools that we can apply in order to positively influence the ANS that can help bring about a reduction of symptoms and restore balance to the ailing nervous system. Many of those tools are available to us in the practice of yoga, nutrition, and complementary therapies. Let's take a more detailed look at the problem and how yoga can help.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into three parts: the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system. The medula oblongata located in the central brain regulates cardiac, respiratory, vasomotor control and the hypothalamus that links the nervous system to the endocrine system, regulating blood volume and blood pressure, body temperature, thirst, hunger, sleep and circadian rhythms. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body's fight or flight responses such as increased heart rate, and respiration. The parasympathetic nervous system, better know as rest and digest, allows the body to enter a state of healing, repair and optimal digestion. The enteric system controls the working of the gut and smooth muscle.
There are any number of outer and inner influences that affect the ANS and those most harmful, or to which one is most affected by, lead to long-term, biochemical and cellular adaptive abnormalities; and create psychological, immunological, neurological, endocrine distress and neurotransmitter imbalances. Some of these include environmental, mental and physical stress, chronic illness, EMF/Wi-Fi sensitivity, chemicals, black mold, viral, bacterial and fungal infections, toxins and heavy metals, methylation and detoxification pathway problems. When faced with unrelenting stressors, the hypothalamic - pituitary adrenal axis can remain in a pattern of sympathetic nervous system dominance, where the fight or flight response remains activated. In this state it is virtually impossible for the body to heal, repair, digest and assimilate nutrients. The acid/alkaline balance of the body is disrupted by the aforementioned influences and counter-balancing the acidic state, draws upon minerals, resources and energy. The nervous system becomes in a manner of speaking, fried and the immune system knocked down.
The field of psychoneuroimmunology looks at the integrative function of these body systems and their functions. The teacher who introduced Kundalini Yoga to the West, Yogi Bhajan, referred to the importance of this field of research more than 30 years ago. He was aware of the detrimental effects of the pace and stress that 20th century living and the Western lifestyle inflicted upon the nervous system and made a decision to leave India, relocated to the US, to share this healing technology. While this in itself was quite an accomplishment in the 60's, it was more challenging than one would imagine. According to the laws and traditions of India, a student could study privately only under the tutelage of a master and the potentional student was vetted for acceptance. The Yogi's arrival in the West represented the first time the teachings of Kundalini Yoga were taught openly in a class format.
Ancient, yet simple yoga techniques access and positively affect the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, medulla oblagata, key regions of the brain, and the entire neuro-endocrine system and in particular, the tone of the vagus nerve. Breathwork, meditation, asana and chanting are the tools used to support healing. Breathing exercises have a profound and beneficial influence over the entire nervous system. Traditional yoga practice uses the breath (pranayam), rhythmic sound (mantra), and hand positions (mudra) separately and together to influence the nervous system. Kundalini Kriyas are designed in such a manner as to achieve stable, predictable results and benefits when practiced. Sound healing creates a healing vibration - it's practice is referred to as the Science of Naad. On the roof of the mouth, there are 84 acupressure points that stimulate different glands and responses. When stimulated in repetative patterns generated by the movement of the tongue on the palate, as occurs while practicing mantra, harmonizes the activity of the hypothalamus, the glands and other regions of the brain.
Specific asanas increase blood flow and cerebral spinal fluid to the pre-frontal cortex promoting parasympathetic response (rest, digest, heal, repair) and optimizing neurotransmitter production, while soothing the nervous system. Yoga techniques work together to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system, thereby assiting to regulate excessive, or inhibitory symptoms such as blood pressure, heart rate, vasomotor symptoms, anxiety, poor digestion and others. The technology and techniques of yoga bring the practitioner into the now, turning off fight or flight response, encouraging parasympathetic response. Meditation clears the subconsious and promotes mindfulness, helping to eliminate conscious and unconscious detrimental thoughts, patterns, habits and tendencies.
Yoga and meditation reduce stress, increase circulation, strength and flexibility; support the immune system strong keeping invaders at bay. Yoga assists with detoxification, supports optimal ph balance and fosters inner peace and body/mind awareness. Perhaps most importantly, yoga helps to address the spiritual, energetic and emotional components of illness, in order to recognize and heal imbalances in our states of being, while allowing an introspective look at unsupportive lifestyle habits that perpetuate states of illness.
A slower paced class setting is best suited to those who suffer with dysautonomia. An ongoing series that starts with simple techniques and builds to slightly more challenging is a safe and steady approach. A chair may be used for the duration of the class or occassionally by those who experience discomfort on the mat. For those who are more physically challenged visualization and mental exercises may be performed in place of physical movement when an exercise proves to be too challenging; breathwork, meditation, vocalization and relaxations are performed in a seated or prone position and encompass half of the class time; and modifcations are available for most exercises.
Common postures can appear challenging. It's important to emphasize that instructional yoga classes for the purpose of supporting the reduction of dysautonomic anomolies is practiced at a reduced pace to accomodate all levels and current disabilities; and that the exercises and class content of Kundalini Yoga differ greatly in technique and benefit from those practiced during the more popularized yoga classes such as Hatha or Hot Yoga that focus predominately on postures. If you are ready to embark on a profound healing journey, Kundalini Yoga is waiting for you to explore its secrets!
Elissa Michaud is a certified yoga teacher, holistic nutritionist and energy/body worker. She has experience with remissive episodes of dysautonomic symptoms and has found great benefit in the application of yoga, nutrition and energy healing. She is teaching Yoga for Dysautonomia: Optimizing the Nervous and Endocrine Systems starting January 19th, 2017 and is available at Sooke Yoga for private coaching and sessions.
Alanda Carver, owner of Sooke Yoga, was left partially paralyzed in storm related car accident and suffered from a range of physical and nervous system challenges. She was able to study and complete her teacher training while recovering from paralysis and attributes a great deal of her recovery to her commitment to the practice.
Yoga and Nutrition for Dysautonomia: Optimizing the Nervous and Endocrine Systems starts January 19th. Call 250-891-8300 or visit SookeYoga.com. During this course, we will also cover lifestyle and management changes, as well as meditation, nutrition, and alternative treatments including supplements, herbs, and guest practitioners of Western and Eastern healing modalities.
"Elissa of Zen Holistic Nutrition is incredibly knowledgeable about health and wellness. She's spent years studying and researching different paths to vitality, and in her classes, she offers incredible amounts of knowledge and support to you on your healing journey. In the ten week class series I took with her, she gave us a thorough, in depth, and clear understanding of how to optimize our health and energy via nutrition, as well as yoga and meditation. She explained common problems that can compromise vitality, and what to do about them. When you enroll in her courses, you will find that she is distilling her years worth of training and delivering them to you in ways you can actually receive and integrate, and the amount of information you will benefit from is truly incredible. I don't believe there were ever any unanswered questions that came up in our class, as Elissa was always able to speak to each issue that was raised. This is a teacher who has dedicated her life to health, and who really knows her stuff. She studies ongoingly to keep her research and information current, so you are always getting the freshest information and cutting edge research and teachings to apply to your life. I can't recommend her highly enough. The opportunity to study with her will be a good investment in your best health and quality of life."
~ Giselle Ruemke, MA, RCC, Heart of the Matter Counselling