Downregulate and Recover


Up-regulation and down-regulation might sound complicated, but they are just terms that highlight the state of your nervous systems during common everyday practices like moments of mindful breathing or stressful work tasks.

Up-regulation refers to increasing arousal and activation in your nervous system, this is super-important to be on-point during tasks and activities which require a high level of attention and output, while down-regulation the nervous system is about calming the body and mind and bringing it back to a state of balance. 

Sadly, this modern world puts us in a state of almost continuous up regulation or hyperarousal whereby there is increased activity of our sympathetic nervous system. 

So how does this affect our recovery and movement?  Longterm this can lead to an anxious, tense state, with physiological consequences such a shortness of breath and altered breathing patterns, therefore increasing our levels of C02 which links to are inflammatory status and hypersensitivity of our nervous system.   Digestive problems and nausea are also commonplace, alongside increased heart rate and increased respiratory rate......and above all poor sleep.

As a Physio, working with individuals who are symptomatic of various pain conditions the importance of implementing some sort of down-regulation into their program is absolutely paramount not only to reduce central sensitivity and perceptions of pain, but also to improve sleep quality and regeneration.  This is the same with athletes who find arousal curve can peak during competition and then struggle to return to resting state.  In the modern world, with a huge amount of incoming data each day - we can all benefit from self-led practices to help us down-regulate our nervous system, your mind and body will thank you.

When down regulating for recovery we recommend;

Removing sources of external stimulation.  Grab a mat, calm the mind and engage in something similar to the mindful practices, there are many ways to do this;

Mindful Movement, any movement practice where we aim to bring our full attention to the present moment to experience, the here and now. We bring our awareness to our movement and focus on our breath or the way our body feels as it moves. There are many ways to do this, Yoga and Tai Chi are two common examples, find what works for you, keep the temple slow and consistent, to down-regulate this should be hard

Box breathing, involves breathing in and for counts of four. You begin this exercise by breathing out slowly through your mouth and counting to four. From there, you will breathe in through your nose for the count of four, trying to make sure your breath is coming from your stomach, and not in the apex of your chest.  Try to notice and focus on how the breath feels as you breathe in. After this step, you will hold your breath for a count of four, followed by exhaling through your mouth for a count of four. Once you have exhaled, you will hold your breath again for a count of four, and then repeat the cycle as many times as needed until you start to feel calmer. Most people require at least three to four cycles of this breathing exercise to start feeling a relaxation response.

Hum Breathing, activate the Vagus Nerve which our internal alarm system off, and switches on the rest and digest part of the nervous system.  Take a deep breath in through your nose, and as you exhale you will hum until all the breath has left your lungs. Then, simply repeat five to ten times, or however many times you need!  Try this exercise the next time you feel anxious or overwhelmed and pay attention to any release of tension in your bod

Static Stretching decrease neural excitability and sensitivity, thus helping to down-regulate you as a whole. So to wrap up your breathing session with some static stretching can also induce a rebound effect on muscle blood flow, reducing flow during the stretch, but quickly elevating it afterwards aiding recovery.   Combined with some breath work this can be a good way to wind-down, relax and promote recovery. 

All this lead to better Sleep – the basis of athletic recovery.  Sleeping reduces your bodies need for oxygen and the amount of energy needed for digestion, as a result, the body can devote more energy to building and transporting the proteins and fatty acids needed to recover from your previous slog.  Growth hormone is also secreted during your sleep hours and is integral for this type of tissue regeneration and repair.  The average person requires approximately 7-9 hours of sleep per night to promote wellbeing, but the key here is consistency, we can’t bank sleep or easily catch up – so it’s about finding your rhythm.  

Putting the above together for 10-15 minutes in a session can make all the difference to your wellness, sleep and readiness to take on the next day.