We have spoken in some depth in previous articles about Osteopathy, Yoga, Pilates, posture and breathing. These are all extremely important components of living a healthy and joyous life. But what keeps us ticking? What keeps our heart beating when we are sleeping? What mechanisms inside of the body helps us to sober up after a night (or day) out?
In order to keep us alive and kicking, the body has to maintain a state of ‘equilibrium’. To explain this simply it means that when we get too hot, we have to cool down. When we get too cold, we have to heat up. Body temperature however is not the only variable that the body is having to monitor to create this place of equilibrium. There are a whole host of other elements such as chemical levels, water levels, blood pressure, sugar levels and perhaps the most difficult to stabilise – stress. Although this is not an exhaustive list, it does shed light on the extremely complex nature of the inner workings of the human body.
The method that the body employs to maintain this state of equilibrium has been coined “Homeostasis”. This is an extremely complex process and takes years of study at medical school to fully understand. Understanding homeostasis at a cellular level is not necessary to be able to appreciate and begin to apply it to your daily life. Homeostasis can be described as being a 3 step process.
Spies gathering information – Sensors are located all around the body. The name of these sensors depends upon what element they are monitoring. Sensors that monitor chemical levels are called chemoreceptors, blood pressure sensors are called baroreceptors, temperature sensors are called thermoreceptors and so on…These sensors detect change in the local environment around organs.
Information being sent to headquarters – Once there is a fluctuation in this local environment, it is then the job of the spies or sensors to get this vital information back to headquarters i.e the brain. The brain then processes this information and makes an informed decision on what needs to happen next to combat this fluctuation in the inner environment.
Orders being passed – The brain then sends orders back down into the body in the form of hormones. These hormones will contain information for the organs on exactly what action they need to take to combat the fluctuation in the environment in order for it to return to a state of equilibrium.
Action being taken – The organs will receive this information and will begin acting immediately. This final step in the process is what returns us to balanced state that is required to exist.
This is a process that is occurring every second of every day. A basic example of this is when we enter a packed underground tube. The temperature inside the carriage is intensified by the lack of ventilation and overcrowding. The temperature inside the body begins to increase and if it were to not act then we would continue to simmer, eventually leading to a sticky situation.
What happens in this situation is that spies (thermoreceptors) detect the change in body temperature and send this information up to headquarters (brain). The headquarters then makes its decision and orders the pores to open so that we can sweat. This helps to cool down the body and in effect return it to a state of relative equilibrium. Although this is one of the simpler examples, the same process occurs when we eat, exercise, take drugs or sit an exam. It is the basic survival mechanism that has kept us alive for thousands of years. It is an extremely efficient system and has helped us thrive in both hot and cold environments.