4a: Balancing the Nervous System


Theme Week:
Calmness and Balance

Focus of the Day:

Balancing the Nervous System

Background Knowledge: 

Breathing brings oxygen to your lungs and then to the cells in your body. Your cells use oxygen to burn food and to create energy. If you don’t breathe deeply, you can get tired very quickly.

Teaching is an exhausting job, and you need to take very good care of yourself in order to take good care of your students. Your actions speak louder than your words. Every time you choose to do some quick self-care behavior in front of the class, you are showing your students how to take care of themselves.

Remember the two branches of your students’ autonomic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system gives them energy to accomplish tasks, and the parasympathetic nervous system slows them down. Some students will be dominated by their sympathetic nervous systems and will be filled with adrenaline and energy. They may need help slowing down. Some will be dominated by their parasympathetic nervous systems and will feel tired or a little lazy. They may need help getting energized. Teaching is truly a balancing act—balancing your personal needs and the needs of your students.

Activity for the Day: 
  1. Today we are going to focus on how you can calm yourself down whenever you feel unsafe or scared in class. First, I want to review how the nervous system works. Our nervous systems have two branches. The sympathetic nervous system gives us energy to accomplish tasks, and the parasympathetic nervous system slows us down.
  2. Because there are times when we may have too much energy, and other times when we may not have enough, we need to know how to balance our nervous systems.
  3. One way to do that is to practice a quick, simple breathing exercise. This exercise follows a definite pattern. It is meant to find the middle point between the sympathetic (speeding up) and the parasympathetic (slowing down) branches of our nervous systems. It is called the 5-5-5 breathing pattern.
  4. Here’s how it works. We will inhale very slowly for 5 seconds, exhale slowly for 5 seconds, and then pause for 5 seconds. We will do this three times. I will count for you as you breathe. Ready? First, try to relax. Now breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Now exhale through your nose or mouth: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Now pause: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. (Repeat this exercise for 1 minute.)
  5. Notice how you feel. Are you more relaxed and a little calmer? You can use this exercise whenever you feel your energy level getting too high. It only takes a minute to balance your nervous system and to calm and focus your thoughts, so you can relax and get ready to learn.
Resources Required: 
  • None
Teacher Self-Reflection: 

Make a personal commitment to continue to pay attention to your body throughout your teaching day. When you notice a place of tension somewhere in your body, take a deep breath (or two) and send the energy there. It may take a few tries before you feel the tension ease, but it’s worth the effort—both for you and your students.

Quote of the Day: 

“There is no single more powerful—or simple—daily practice to further your health and well-being than breathwork.”

—Andrew Weil, M.D.