The Palace of The Mind: The Nervous System
We know that we are beings made up of body, mind, and spirit. Each plays its own role in how we carry out our life and experience the world around us. The easiest, most tangible of these is of course the body. However, most of us are acutely aware of our soul, or spiritual nature as well, even though it is deeply personal and cannot be easily quantified. There are things that speak to us on a deep level of understanding and help us form the beliefs that we model our lives around. The mind is just as ethereal as spirit, and so ever-present in our experiences. It is the command center of our being- for better or worse sometimes- and allows us to process the information that we are constantly sensing and turn it into ideas or emotions which then shape how we react to our situations and environment. I would personally argue that the mind is the strongest of the three forces at play in our being. (I believe that spirit can be equally strong, and when your mind and spirit are in harmony, your overall health (including physical) is at its peak. You are happy, peaceful, and living life to its fullest!) When the mind interprets something and applies it to your past experience, this determines how your body will react to that stimulus. For example if you are watching a movie where a person gets in a terrible car accident, and you have had a terrible car accident in your life, your body may become tense or your heart rate may increase. You are not in danger of an accident. You are sitting safely in your home watching TV. But your mind is applying its incredible ability to assimilate information and make it relevant to your own experiences to protect you. So your body in turn, goes into fight or flight mode. Your mind controls everything in the body- from your heart rate, your digestive functions, your reflexes- everything.
So where in the body is this incredible component housed? Many throughout history have suspected that the mind is housed throughout every part of the body. I agree, and I believe that the mind is the nervous system- a network of
neurotransmissions generated and carried throughout the body that allow us to experience and interact with our surroundings.
Our nervous systems connect and control every other part of our bodies and make our senses, perceptions, and existence cohesive. The human nervous system is categorized into two parts: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
The central nervous system (CNS) is comprised of the brain, spinal cord, and
cranial nerves (such as the optic and olfactory nerves). The CNS is has several main functions. It controls movement and coordination by taking input from the peripheral nervous system, interpreting that information, and sending out new signals to the body to appropriately respond to any given circumstance. For instance, when walking, the CNS takes in information about the terrain (the incline, the texture, etc.) and makes adjustments to the nerve impulses that it sends to the muscles accordingly. Since it includes the brain, the CNS is also the powerhouse of thought, emotion, and creating/recalling memory. Different parts of the brain are responsible for these different actions, but they all fall under the umbrella of the central nervous system.
The other part of our nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, encompasses every other nerve in the body apart from the CNS. It connects the CNS to the rest of the body, and relays information to and from the CNS to the muscles, organs, and skin. The peripheral nervous system is broken down into the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system is responsible for relaying information to and from the CNS to create fluid, coordinated muscle movement of the body. Any voluntary movement, such as catching a ball or doing a jumping jack, is using the somatic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system on the other hand, is just what it sounds like- it controls the more "automatic" functions within the body.
This part of the peripheral nervous system is responsible for organ functions (like regulating heart beat and digestion, dilating pupils, breathing, etc.). The autonomic nervous system is further broken down into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is your fight-or-flight mode. It is able to automatically stimulate the body when there is danger. Your heart rate will speed up, you will sweat and breathe faster, and your adrenals will release adrenaline and cortisol to help you flee from danger. All of this happens without any conscious thought or effort. When the danger or stress has passed, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks on to undo these processes and restore your body to a resting state where your energy is conserved and your body functions normally.
In our modern society, problems often arise within our autonomic nervous system. The stressors and dangers of our world are so different from the ones which shaped our evolution thousands of years ago. Instead of being chased by a lion, we are faced with other less tangible and immediate stress. But make no mistake, our bodies react the same way to the endless news headlines or missed deadlines that they would to the peril of being hunted by a lion. It is all stress to the body. So the body reacts the same, kicking on that sympathetic nervous system to help us overcome this stress. However, with our constant state of distress, we rarely get to come out of that fight-or-flight mode. This, over time, taxes the body greatly and can lead to disease. It sometimes takes conscious effort to return our bodies to a peaceful, resting state. Tools such as yoga, massage, breathwork, and meditation are intended to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system and give the body rest.
The nervous system touches every other system of the body. It controls muscle movement and organ functions. It tells the endocrine system which hormones need to be released into the bloodstream. It keeps the blood pumping by stimulating the heart's electrical circuitry. It relays urges such as hunger or needing to eliminate. It interprets information from the sensory organs and creates thoughts and memories. It, like the connective tissue of the body, touches and connects everything making us a cohesive, functioning organism. And it consolidates our whole experiences into one life! How amazing is that? Our minds inhabit our whole beings through the network of our nervous systems.
This all goes to show how important the control of the mind is over the body and its functions. The mind, in essence, is nothing more than a chain of chemical reactions in your body. Neurotransmitters relaying messages back and forth to carry you safely through the experience of life. You have the power in a thought, to create your own health or destroy it. Use the tools of meditation, breathing, yoga, and massage to calm your body. And don't let the stress of the world get you too worked up!
How the Nervous System Works:
Guided Breathwork to Reset the Nervous System