The Monthlies

The Science of Slow Living

There is a lifestyle movement in the blogosphere which goes by the name of slow living. It promotes taking the time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life such as; the smell of air by the ocean, the glow of the sunset on a long summers day, the satisfaction of picking home-grown vegetables or making your own bread. For some it means using crafts to make things by hand but it doesn't have to be.

I once read a book called simplicity and he explained that slow living often encourages people to de-tech their lives but he stresses that this is not a necessity and each person will de-tech to whatever extent keeps them mindful of life without causing themselves undue stress and complication. In this article I want to talk about the health benefits of slow living and why I make it a compulsory part of re-educating my patients.

It all starts with our nerves.The nervous system is split into two distinct parts; the sympathetic nervous system (we will call this the 'active' part) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which we'll call the 'passive' part). The active part of the nervous system gives us the infamous flight or fight reponse. In this, the pupils dilate, digestion slows down, the heart beat races and you may lose control of your bladder.

The passive side of the nervous system gives us the less well known; rest and relax response. While we are using the passive side our pupils contract, the heart beat slows, digestion is activated and we have full control of our bladder.

What people don't realise is that in order to have an efficient flight or fight response we have to spend at least as much, if not more, time resting and relaxing. When we are passive (i.e. resting and relaxing) we are repairing our bodies both physically and mentally. When we spend extended periods of time in the active state we end up with colds, then tiredness/insomnia and finally exhaustion and chronic fatigue. This 'story' of extended periods of time spent in 'active mode' is the starting point of most of my patients explanation of how they got sick. It's my job to teach their minds and bodies to use the passive side again and that's where slow living comes in.

Here are some of my favourite slow living 'activities' which help engage the passive side of the nervous system:

  • most crafts such as knitting and crochet
  • most creative outlets such as drawing and singing
  • meditation
  • long baths
  • reading
  • painting your nails (because it stops you doing anything while they dry!)
  • getting a massage or other relaxing treatment
  • turning off the internet on your phone for certain hours of the day (or all alerts if you're a total phone addict like me)
  • taking your lunch AWAY from your desk each day at work
  • having tech-free evenings, that includes no TV and no internet

This is a tiny list of things you can do. Each person will have different things that switch on their passive side of the nervous system and it's important that you experiment with different things and remain mindful and attentive to your needs as an individual.