Julia Wikeepa, maori women, breathwork nz, hā, wellness workshops, aroha,

Why Being in a Parasympathetic State is Key for Learning and Growth

During my high school years, I grappled with significant social anxiety. My thoughts were consumed by insecurities: concerns about my appearance, fear of speaking in front of others, and worries about acceptance by my peers and whanau. This constant state of apprehension put me in survival mode. Consequently, learning took a backseat as my primary focus became navigating social situations without feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed.

Our innate survival instinct kicks in when we perceive threats in our environment, even if those threats are social in nature. For me, the fear of being the center of attention or speaking in public triggered intense anxiety, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on learning. In those moments, my nervous system was solely focused on survival, leaving little room for cognitive engagement.

Reflecting on those experiences, I realise now that my body's response was a normal physiological reaction to perceived threats. However, at the time, I lacked awareness of this, which led to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I wish I had understood then that my body was merely trying to protect me from perceived danger, and that I could learn to manage my anxiety by shifting into a parasympathetic state. I wish I knew that I was normal.

Transitioning into a parasympathetic state—a state of relaxation and calm—has become essential for me in managing stress and anxiety. I've learned to embrace discomfort rather than avoid it, approaching challenging situations with acceptance and non-judgment. This shift has been transformative, allowing me to navigate stressors with greater resilience and self-compassion.

One effective approach I've found for shifting into a parasympathetic state is encapsulated in the word "AROHA":

  • ARO (To focus or pay attention): Recognize when you've been triggered by a perceived threat.
  • (Breathe): Connect to the Hā (4 Inhale, 8 Exhale. This pulls you out of autopilot & you become aware. If you have a belief in a higher power, IO, tupuna, connect and draw strength.
  • RO (In): Look within. Allow yourself to feel emotion, don't try & run from it or cover it. Try not to judge the way you're feeling, just let it be. Notice the feeling come and go in waves. You are having a biochemical experience (last 60-90sec in waves). Remember that it will pass. You can handle any emotion.
  • OHA (Abundance, prosperity, generosity): Be gentle and kind to yourself, asking what you need to process and learn from the emotion. Maybe you need to set boundaries? Perhaps you need to say sorry. Whatever it is, get used to asking yourself what this emotion needs to be processed and learnt from. As you do this, you’ll notice a richer more abundant life in relationships, health, wealth etc.

By practicing these steps, I've cultivated a deeper sense of self-awareness and resilience, allowing me to embrace discomfort and thrive in spite of it.



Julia Wikeepa.xx

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