Recovery & The Role of the Nervous System

To really recover means more than having an Epsom salt bath, taking a few days off training and waiting for the DOMS to subside. Your nervous system plays a key role in recovery, however this aspect is still often overlooked.

The human body is pretty damn clever. Our autonomic (i.e., we cannot consciously control it) nervous system is made up of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS mobilises the body’s resources in a fight or flight situation, whereas the PNS regulates the bodily functions needed to repair and recover. The body is designed to spend the majority of its time directed by the PNS, with the SNS response only triggering in case of a life-threatening emergency. However, the body interprets all stress, be it mental or physical, as a reason to activate the SNS.

Therefore, physical exercise is a stressor on the system.

Concept 2 Rowing

What does this mean for your training or fitness regime?

The key to improving your recovery is to activate the PNS, which is exactly what we are doing through the practice of yoga - even if it may feel challening at times. Linking movement with breath through a series of postures (asanas) as well as practising breathing techniques (pranayama) to calm down the system, slow down the heart rate and elicit the body's relaxation response.

Better recovery is the main purpose of my yoga for sports class - click here to find out where you can practice with me.

Post-cycling legs up the wall (viparita karani)

Post-cycling legs up the wall (viparita karani)

Could the diaphragm be a game changer for your core strength?

The Diaphragm

The Diaphragm

When we talk about core strength, we don’t typically mention the diaphragm, the primary muscle of respiration – yet it is located right at the centre of the abdomen. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle and tendon and separates the chest (or thorax) from the belly. In very simple terms - the diaphragm contracts during inhalation, which causes air to be drawn into the lungs, and relaxes during the outbreath which forces the air back out again.

Now, what does the diaphragm have to do with core strength? For starters, it attaches to a number of stabilisers, such as the ribs, sternum and (lumbar) spine. In terms of surrounding muscles, imagine your abdomen like a pressurised container – with the pelvic floor being the bottom, the deep abdominals and back muscles forming the sides, and the diaphragm acting as the lid on top. If any of these components don’t work optimally, the container will start to lose pressure and weaken the base – your core.
The diaphragm also connects to the thoracic and lumbar erectors, the QL (the ‘back muscle’) as well as the psoas (main hip flexor) – all of these are involved in moving the spine, and giving it stability. Conversely, this means that impaired function of any of these muscles will lead to a knock-on effect.

Energising pranayamas (control of breath) such as bhastrika or kapalabhati, strengthen the diaphragm and are an excellent way to round off a yoga asana (yoga poses) sequence for core strength.