Fight or Flight versus Rest, Relax, and Regenerate

Much of traditional East Asian medicine is based around the ancient philosophy of Yin and Yang. Heaven and Earth are represented by Yin (Earth) and Yang (Heaven), as are the seasons, night and day, masculine and feminine, fire and water, Qi and Blood, and so much more. In the human body our organs are paired into Yin Yang couples and our nervous system is divided into Yin and Yang. Our sympathetic nervous system is Yang and is all about fight and flight. Our parasympathetic nervous system is Yin and relates to rest and relaxation.

The pace and stresses of modern life keep our sympathetic nervous system switched into the fight or flight mode, even when we don’t need it. This in turn can stimulate the immune system to switch on and to stay on at a low grade in the background. This can mean when it is really needed it doesn’t have the power to kick in. This type of sympathetic dominance can lead to anxiety, agitation, shortness of breath, palpitations, headaches, back pain, insomnia, decreased urination, lack of appetite, dizziness, nausea, eye pain, cold hands and feet, a rapid pulse, and tight muscles in the front of the neck.

Over time the sympathetic nervous system may also run down (much like the over worked immune system) and this will lead to the parasympathetic nervous system becoming dominant. This change can bring about constriction of the blood vessels  such as the capillaries and arteries in the brain, excitement of the digestive system, and adrenal gland deficiency. Other symptoms can include fatigue, low back pain, shoulder pain, muscular tightness of the whole body, lack of sweat, cold lower back, abdomen, and extremities. We can also see asthmatic symptoms, coughing, frequent urination, abdominal pain, excessive salivation, and gas.

For both of these conditions we have many treatment protocols to restore the Yin Yang balance between the two halves of the autonomic nervous system using acupuncture, moxibustion, Chinese herbs, and exercise.

When we say exercise we are referring to the traditional practices like Tai Chi, Qigong, and Meditation. These contain the five aspects that make up real exercise. You can read more about this idea here. It is vital we take time to switch off and relax, giving the body the opportunity to rest and regenerate.