The glands of the body work in much the same way that the muscles in the body work. When you stretch and contract your muscles you get movement. The movement of stretching or contracting is neither good nor bad, it is just how the body works to get you to move. Issues arise when a muscle has been overstretched or held in contraction for too long. When this occurs there is discomfort and pain. Such is the way with the muscular system and such is the way with the endocrine system.
To simplify things, the endocrine system is in large part what dictates your body’s reaction to stress. It is composed of two basic opposing forces that work together to regulate the secretion of hormones, bodily fluids, alertness and the uptake of nutrients. These are the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems. The yin and the yang of your stress response.
The parasympathetic system works to bring the heart rate down whereas the sympathetic system is in charge of taking care of your ‘fight or flight’ responses. Both are equally important to the correct functioning of the body, but what usually occurs in our modern world is that we keep our ‘fight or flight’ response on all the time, thus overexerting our sympathetic system and creating unnecessary and harmful levels of neurotransmitters that inhibit the calming effect of the parasympathetic system. Bringing down the levels of these sympathetic neurotransmitters that are being distributed throughout the body and causing damage can be reversed by activating the parasympathetic system.
Imagine a car. The sympathetic system acts as the accelerator where as the parasympathetic system acts as the brakes. Together these systems work together to make the car stop and go. A car without an accelerator goes nowhere and a car with no brakes is headed for disaster. The same thing happens to our bodies and unfortunately in our modern world of high competition and consumption the brakes are often forgotten and the body is constantly in acceleration mode. This is when illness starts to set in. Illness forces the body into idle mode so that it might create the time necessary to heal itself.
This is where the ancient art of Yoga becomes extremely beneficial in our modern world. By focusing on your breath and controlling the inhalation and exhalation of oxygen that enters the body you are directly affecting the functioning and response of the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems.
Combining your breath with specific Yoga postures works to help create a balance between these two systems thus allowing the body to and mind to work to their fullest potential. This enables a person to avoid and/or overcome illness and pain that otherwise may be inhibiting them from enjoying the joyride of life. You can read more about how specific glands interact with stress in the post A Note on Breath.