Our bodies are wonderfully created, incredibly diverse and complex multi-system organisms. We learned about our many different organ systems back in biology class and we all know that the nervous system never stops working. It runs our bodies 24/7. Even after it puts us to sleep at night, it keeps our lungs and heart working, right? It is constantly keeping us alive in the background. Its function is to keep our body parts and organ systems electrically stimulated, so to speak, and in working order.
So, you may be thinking, how do I relate this information to my life. Well, sometimes we make poor choices like body positioning and over time, it can affect you.
Try this experiment. Sit in a chair with no arms. Round your shoulders and head forward, hunched over. Now try to lift your arms at your side up and try to touch the back of your hands together over your head. Doesn’t work, does it?
Now, sit back in the chair in a neutral position and try again. If you are not having any shoulder pain, you should be able to perform this movement. This is a perfect example of how structure affects function.
If we were to continually stay hunched over for extended periods of time, day after day, the function of our shoulders [to be able to reach up over our head] would definitely change due the positioning of our body structure. But the change in the structure of your body can affect more than just your shoulders. With that position, we would also be compromising our ability to breathe properly because our respiratory diaphragm would be compressed. This would lead to NOT being able to take deep breaths.
When we breathe and especially when we practice deep breathing, we help the body move fluids to our extremities, our legs, feet, arms and hands. The fluid in our body is divided into two compartments: fluid within the cell called intracellular and fluid outside of the cell called extracellular fluid. The majority of the extracellular fluid flows through our lymphatic system and moves fluid based on valves and pumps. Those pumps and valves move the lymph fluid within the lymphatic system in wave-like contractions to move the fluid or lymph.
Why do we care about this? Well, those contractions we talked about, or rather the frequency of those contractions, moving the fluid along its pathway is regulated by, guess what, the nervous system. It is determined by the autonomic regulation through the sympathetic nervous system. You remember that one, right? The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight response.
You know where this is going next…when we are busy, always on the go, and never stop long enough to relax, our bodies end up on sympathetic overload. During physical or emotional stress, hormones are released into the bloodstream which sets in motion a series of physiological responses. These changes contribute to the body’s ability to fight or flight. For example: dilation of pupils; sweating; increased heart rate; and redirection of blood from digestive organs to muscles.
When we have prolonged periods of physiological changes for extended periods of time, we can experience migraines, diarrhea, shortness of breath, muscular fatigue, sleep disruption and anxiety, just to name a few.
When we practice deep breathing, we also stimulate the Vagus Nerve, the longest cranial nerve which, according to research, is crucial in reducing inflammation.
Let’s consider inflammation for a minute. According to LiveScience.com, “Inflammation is a vital part of the body’s immune response. It is the body’s attempt to heal itself after an injury; defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria; and repair damaged tissue. Without inflammation, wounds would fester and infections could become deadly. Inflammation can also be problematic, though, and it plays a role in some chronic diseases.”
Usually inflammation has redness, warmth with pain and immobility factors. But, inflammation is also characterized by swelling. When the body has excess fluid in areas, it is difficult to have proper range of motion at your joints. And, you guessed it, that means extra swelling or inflammation.
Sometimes it is a vicious cycle. When we do not balance over exaggerating behaviors, such as continuing in a hunched position, over time, they can create other bio-mechanical issues. So, you can see how structure affects function and vice versa.
So, the bottom line I always share with my clients is- keep moving!