During this time of uncertainty, it has never been more important to keep healthy and calm. Physical health is vital, but without mental health to underpin everything exercise will have a limited impact.   

As humans we are hard wired to be in either fight and flight mode or rest and digest. If we feel threatened or under stress, we will see everything as a potential threat, and feel compelled to defend our selves and family.



The body is preprogramed to respond to threat, and quite rightly if we are under attack we need to respond quickly. The body will prepare itself to fight or flee, with the release of adrenalin and other hormones.

The body produces the fight and flight response via the hypothalamus, which activates the adrenal-cortical system and the sympathetic nervous system. The adrenal-cortical system uses the bloodstream and the sympathetic nervous system uses nerve channels. These two systems produce fight and flight.  

Once the brain tells the sympathetic nervous system to react, the body goes into alert mode. The heart rate, respiration and blood pressure increase, and generally speeds up the body. The sympathetic nervous system sends messages to glands and smooth muscle and instructs the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline.       


If not carful this will become the norm, and so we stay feeling under threat, and respond accordingly, resulting in panic buying of food and essential goods. That works if you are fit enough and have the resources to quickly buy everything. What about those that can’t, or don’t have the resources?


It’s easy to stay stressed, and its just as easy to create good mental stability. By recognising we are under stress it means we can take measures to initiate the rest and digest nervous system, or parasympathetic nervous system.


The parasympathetic nervous system creates the opposite effect of the flight and fight system. The parasympathetic nervous system will slow heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. It is our nurturing and compassionate response which allows us to empathise and act with a sense of the bigger picture. It allows us to stand back and consider our actions, rather than react through fear.


The simplest way to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system is through the breath. When the parasympathetic nervous system is active the breath will be short and sharp, keeping us in fight and flight. Slowing down the breath will begin to initiate the parasympathetic nervous system.


Cerebral Vasodilation is a response that occurs through breath retention and through slowing down the rate of breaths per minute. Cerebral vasodilation relaxes the smooth muscle, lowering blood pressure and slowing down heart rate. This lets the body know we are safe, which kicks in the parasympathetic nervous system.


The vagus nerve connects most of the bodies major organs and has fibres to the sympathetic nervous system, which if overly stimulated through stress will also initiate the fear response.        


Calm the vagus nerve by breathing like a baby; babies typically breathe in the tummy at around six breaths per minute. Simply make yourself comfortable and take the breath to the abdomen. Keep the breath below the diaphragm and gradually slow down the exhalations, and eventually allow the breath to slow down to six per minute.    


Relaxing the mind through calming the nervous system is integral to a rounded yoga practice. Calming the mind and keeping the body fit and healthy will see us through this unsettling time. We need to stay fit mentally and physically to make sure we can support those that cant!

Martin Thompson.