It has long been assumed that we have very little, or no real control over our involuntary nervous system (INS). You may not even have heard of the INS, or its more technical name, The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), because it’s the part of us that we are normally unaware of and that operates below our level of awareness – that is until it goes wrong.
Arguably this is one of the most important systems within the body because it regulates everything the body does, including heart function, hormone secretion, immune system, growth and repair, weight control, ageing, mood, stress, sleep, you name it and the involuntary nervous system is involved in a big way.
The involuntary nervous system makes up one half of what is known as peripheral nervous system. This is the part of our nervous system that connects the central nervous system to all the muscles, internal organs and glands.
The other part of the peripheral nervous system is known as the voluntary nervous system, or somatic nervous system, and controls everything we are aware of like movement.
Sorry, I don’t want to geek out too much, but these two parts of our nervous system operate in much the same way as your computer. There are bits that you can control, like keys and programs. That would be the voluntary. And then there are bits that we don’t control and are unaware of, like codes and programming, without which nothing would work. This would be the involuntary.
But with a little knowledge and understanding, you or anyone else could learn simple coding that would allow you to understand how a computer works and how you could change it – in other words, how to hack it.
I know it’s easy to be put off by the term “hacking”, maybe it’s a little too technical, but also it might be because the word “hack” has so many connotations, and not all of them good.
For example a hack describes a low quality writer for a newspapers or magazines, or when you hack something you chop away furiously at it. It can also means to gain unauthorized access into a classified system. But in this case it refers to a way of finding intelligent and effective solutions to fix problems in order to get the best results.
So it’s hardly surprising that at a time when so many people have become disillusioned with conventional medicine and health care, the term is now being used to describe a wide range of health care strategies that ultimately aim at taking ownership and governing one’s own wellbeing.
The ethos behind bio-hacking is one of taking a greater role in, and responsibility for, our health by using what are considered by many to be the three main pillars of modern lifestyle medicine – exercise, diet and restoration.
As part of the process of self-experimentation, bio-hackers will also gauge their progress from time to time through a series of full panel tests of either blood, saliva or urine. These are to measure biological markers like hormone secretion, blood sugar levels, lipid levels, as well as cellular inflammation, and in some cases even genetic coding.
You can certainly go as far as you want with the lab work and there are plenty of independent labs out there to help you, but on the whole, bio-hacking is very much a do-it-yourself approach to health. It is designed to be something you do to affect your health, your athletic ability or your ageing process.
Besides, understanding lab results and blood panels can be confusing to say the least, and is probably best left to hard-core bio-hackers. But we don’t all have to be hard-core bio-hackers in order to benefit from a switched-on bio-hacking approach to health – and this is exactly where yoga can come in.
Yoga makes a perfect bio-hacking tool, as it gives us the opportunity to drop beneath the radar and get the kind of bio feedback that can give us a real sense of what’s going on in our bodies.
Simply by consciously connecting to our bodies through yoga and observing the movement of the breath within the body, yoga has the ability change the function of the nervous system which in turn changes the way the body functions on a cellular level.
Since its conception, yoga has never been that interested in external movement – that’s why many of the positions are held. Rather, it is far more concerned with the subtle movement of energy within – the life force. When we are able to observe this inner movement we are observing the involuntary nervous system in action – in other words we have hacked in.
Riding this inner wave of movement, like a surfer rides a wave, allows us to move even deeper into the involuntary nervous system – the part known as the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with a relaxed state of being, and although with all our day-to-day stressors we often fluctuate in and out of this state, the body operates best when we are predominantly in a state of relaxation. (And this is exactly what we will be exploring in the upcoming workshop – see the link below).
When we can maintain this state of relaxation it is literally like flicking an inner switch that signals to the 100 trillion cells in the body that it’s time to go into a state of growth and repair. As you can imagine, this is going to effect every aspect of our health in a very big way – this is the state of being where everything in the system of the body thrives.
The remarkable thing about this is that fundamentally all disease, as well as all health, takes place at this cellular leave. And consequently we – not anyone else – have the ability to affect our own biology in such profound ways that it up up-regulates our body, our mind and our life – and this is what bio-hacking is all about.
About the author
Howard Napper is a yoga teacher with over 20 years experience. He is a best selling author who has also released 19 yoga DVD’s. Recently he has become known for his ground-breaking work that uses yoga as an effective form of lifestyle medicine that can be used by anyone.
For more information on this or any other aspects of yoga and health, please come along and say hi to Howard at his workshop “Bio-hacking Through Yoga” on Saturday 6th December from 12-1pm. Tickets are available here. Or send a tweet to @Howard_Napper.
Listen to Howard Napper talk about Yoga and Spirituality on Soul Traveller Radio in an interview with Cheryl Slater from Soul Seed Media here.
About the editor
Passionate about wellness, yoga, meditation, and raw food – Cheryl Slater heads up the social media team for Yoga Magazine and her business Soul Seed Media specialises in providing social media and PR support to holistic businesses.