By Megha Bajaj
Maintaining your nervous system in good condition is easy if you follow a balanced wholesome diet, stay peaceful, and practise yoga regularly
Lift a hand. Blink. Swallow some water. Think of a happy memory. Simple acts, right? Without a functioning nervous system not a single one of these acts would be possible. The nervous system is to the body, what network is to a mobile. Without it, no communication can take place. The brain would not be able to send the various messages that it needs to for the different parts of our body to function correctly. Also, no messages from the body parts would be taken to the brain. For instance, if you were touching a hot iron, you would continue getting burnt because there would be no message sent to the brain to ask the hand to retract itself! Communication is life and the nervous system is the mechanism that allows communication to take place. It consists of a highly specialised network whose principal components are nerves called neurons. Neurons are interconnected to each other in complex arrangements and have the property of sending messages, using electrochemical signals, from one part of the body to several others. However, this system needs a lot of love and care to function optimally else it could fall prey to diseases. Some common diseases of the nervous system are multiple sclerosis (destruction of the myelin sheath which is a protective covering around nerves), nephritis (inflammation of a nerve or a group of nerves due to a viral infection) and neuralgia (weakness of a particular nerve or a group of nerves). Most nervous system disorders can be treated successfully when detected at an early stage. However, the treatment tends to be for long periods as neurons are very delicate and once damaged, take a while to heal. Prevention, we know, is always better than cure, and yet many of us don’t give the few minutes of care that our body needs to function well. The nervous system was designed to work efficiently from birth to death. Here are some simple, do-it-at-home techniques for a healthy nervous system.
A good, balanced, wholesome diet (five portions of fruits and five portions of raw vegetables each day) will help make the nervous system more efficient. Toxin-laden food creates an unnecessary load on the nerves and should be avoided. A protein-rich nutritious diet in a pregnant woman ensures that the child will be born with a well-developed nervous system. As we grow up, the vitamin B group begins to play a key role in strengthening and sustaining the nervous system. Here is a list of the nutrients that this complex network feeds on to stay in shape, along with a list of foods rich in it.
Thiamin: Unrefined, unsifted or minimally processed cereals and grains (brown rice, wholewheat or brown bread, crushed wheat and all cereals), organ meats, pork, nuts and legumes (dry beans, peas and lentils), milk, peanuts, asparagus and broccoli.
Niacin: Meat, unsifted cereals and grains like oats, brown rice or crushed wheat, peanuts, baked potatoes, mushrooms, mangoes, peaches, raw carrots. Riboflavin: Dairy products. Also meat, poultry, fish, eggs, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, cereals.
Pyridoxine: Meat, bananas, fish, potatoes and legumes (dry beans, peas, lentils and soy products). Also present in nuts and rice.
Vitamin 12: Foods derived from animals, like liver, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk.
Folic Acid: Liver and fortified staple foods such as bread and corn meals. Also present in fresh citrus fruits, fruit juices and fresh vegetables.
Biotin: Liver, cooked egg yolk, soy flour, cereals. Also present in cauliflower, peanuts, chocolate and bananas.
If you suffer from exhaustion or nervousness, take a B-complex supplement. And have at least one item from each of the above groups.
Yoga has a profound effect on the nerves. It soothes the nervous system, strengthens it and even ensures smooth functioning of all the neurons and the various organs that it connects. All the four aspects of yoga – asanas, pranayama, meditation and chanting provide unique benefits to the system. Here’s how:
Surya Namaskar or salutation to the sun pose, is one of the most beneficial asanas for improving the functioning of the nervous system. It includes different steps, which help in alternately strengthening and relaxing this network, leading to optimum functioning. Done at least five times daily, at the break of the dawn, this asana could ensure a perfectly functioning nervous system for years together.
Almost all the different pranayamas have a beneficial effect in relaxing the nervous system, but nadi shuddhi or nerve-purifying pranayama also cleanses the seventy two thousand nadis that run along the body. It is one of the most effective ways of ensuring a strong, clean, well-working nervous system. In nadi shuddhi one inhales from the left nostril, while closing the right one with the thumb. After this both nostrils are closed with the help of the thumb and the middle finger and air is retained for a few seconds. Exhalation follows through the right nostril, keeping the left one closed with the help of the middle finger. Finally after complete removal of air from the body, both the nostrils are again closed with the help of the thumb and middle finger. After this, inhalation is done from the right nostril and the steps are repeated. After exhalation from the left nostril, one cycle is complete. One should do at least twenty-five such cycles to experience the maximum benefits. Says Rakhi Seth, a dancer from Mumbai, “Before my stage shows, I do nadi shuddhi pranayama. It relaxes and rejuvenates me and prepares me to face an auditorium filled with hundreds of people!” Meditation: The nerves that work to transmit signals to organs that work continuously (lungs, heart , etc) never get any rest. From birth to death these impulses keep working continuously, even while we sleep. When we are awake and involved in any activity, their workload only increases. These nerves too require relaxation so they can continue to work well throughout your lifespan. Here, meditation plays an important role. When we sit up straight, our hands in nyanamudra (tips of thumbs and first finger touching and lightly placed upon the knees), and focus on our breathing, the body moves into a state of deep relaxation and the frenzied activities of the body slow down. This allows the nerves to continue their work in an unperturbed way and thereby leads to rejuvenation. Adding light music to the meditation helps too as the rhythm calms the nerves faster.
Aum chanting: When we repeat a sound again and again, in rhythm, it helps in de-stressing. Stress takes the body in fight or flight mode, telling the nerves that they need to fight some sort of a danger, resulting in over-working of the nerves. Aum chanting, a universal rhythm, relaxes the body and also gives one the feeling that they are safe and secure in this universe. This has a positive effect on the nerves. Chanting also catches the wandering mind, which uses more nerve impulses, and ties it into focusing on the repetition of a single sound over and over again. The nerves unwind and thereby, invigorate.
Laughter is known to reduce levels of epinephrine (or adrenaline), cortisol, and dopac hormones in the body. All these hormones are related to the fight-or-flight reaction that causes stress. Laughter also boosts the immune system as it increases the number of neuropeptides that facilitate communication between cells and the nervous system. Since viruses infect cells through the same receptor sites on cells that the nervous system uses to communicate, an increase in neuropeptides at those sites effectively increases the cell’s ability to block viruses. Laughing at least 10 times a day, or giggling for at least ten minutes is shown to produce the benefits.
All of us need at least half an hour of direct sunlight (falling on the skin) or two hours of indirect sunlight (windows open and sunbeams coming through) to ensure that our body produces enough vitamin D. This vitamin plays an important role in improving circulation and building a healthy nervous system. Lack of sunlight can lead to depression, fatigue and a feeling of nervousness, which comes from weak nerves. These easy-to-do techniques go a long way in protecting and strengthening our nervous system so that they work efficiently for the rest of our life.
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Affirmation for a healthy nervous system: (Repeat ten times in the morning and ten times at night) ‘I communicate with ease and joy. Only right communication is taking place through me and within me. I communicate from my heart in an open and loving way. I am able to freely communicate. I am safe. I am secure. All is well.’
Laughter also boosts the immune system as it increases the number of neuropeptides that facilitate communication between cells and the nervous system