Parasympathetic Response: The Big Four

Emotional and physical dysregulation (overwhelm) involve the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is often referred to as “fight or flight.” The techniques presented here are medically proven to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which balances the SNS. While there are numerous additional exercises available, I call these the “Big Four” due to their efficiency and efficacy, especially when performed in this sequence:

Peripheral Vision Awareness: Taught to special operations troops and professional athletes, this technique utilizes the natural physiological response of the brain to the “softening and widening” of the visual field.

While looking straight ahead, extend the pointer finger of each hand and raise them to your sides at eye level. Now focus upon both fingers simultaneously via the use of your peripheral vision. Hold this while moving on to the next technique in the sequence.

Box Breathing: This breath is also a parasympathetic skill that is taught to elite warriors and professional athletes.

Exhale completely and pause for 4 (four) seconds, now inhale deeply for 4 (four) seconds, hold for 4 (four) seconds, then exhale for 4 (four) seconds (the four equal sides of the breath form the square, or box). Try to breath progressively longer and deeper.

Pelvic Release: There is a network of nerves and muscles in the deep pelvis that have been scientifically proven to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Most people are aware of these muscles via the technique known as the “Kegel Exercise,” and this exercise is often referred to as the “Reverse Kegel” because its focus is upon the relaxation phase verses the tensing phase of this muscle group.

Moderately tense the muscle group (as in the “Kegel” proper) for 5 seconds and then concentrate upon a long, deep release. Many report experiencing a sinking and expanding feeling in this area as the muscles relax.

Mindfulness: This skill has been practiced for centuries within various spiritual traditions, and modern science now understands its efficacy in promoting relaxation and calm.

With eyes closed and breath moving slowly and deeply, allow your awareness to rest in the present moment. Feel the sensation of your breathing and gently focus upon the solar plexus. If thoughts arise, simply let them flow through without any attachment. Rest in this state for as long as you wish.

© Dr. Michael E. Ludwig, PhD