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You've been living inside that complicated meat-machine your entire life, and I can't help but wonder, how much do you actually know about it?
If you've been here at CMC before, you've probably heard me say this BUT, the more you understand something, the better able you are of taking care of it. And since you're obligated to live within the same ol' skin sack for the rest of your days, it would be in your best interest to at least learn how it works, so you can get creative with the care of your incredible, beautiful body.
Welcome to the blog & podcast, Unlocking Wellness! I’m Crystal McLain, curator of Crystal McLain Creative, an online resource that supports folks who are ready to get creative with the care of their mind, body, and mother-lovin’ soul.
If you enjoy this content, would like to support my work, AND score some sweet self care goodies, consider a Patreon Membership for as little as $3 a month! Yup, three bucks…it’s like buying me a cup of coffee. To learn more about memberships and how funds are making a positive impact, you can visit: crystalmclaincreative.com.
And, if you like to read along WHILE you listen, or enjoy graphics and videos, you can access all of these features through the blog version of this podcast (yes, even the audio as well). I’ll leave a direct link to this episode in the show notes below.
Alright. Let's get to it.
So, in January we talked about creating a growth mindset, so you could set yourself up with more empowering, supportive thoughts. And in February we practiced self awareness, so you could gain a better sense of why you do the things you do. And NOW you can access these tools while you expand your body consciousness. ...it's very exciting.
Body consciousness is having an awareness of your marvelous meat machine & understanding how it works. We're gonna dive into more specific ways of caring for the physical self in May (including practicing body positivity), so if you're feeling hungry for more, don't worry- we'll hopefully satisfy your cravings in a couple of months. You should totally sign up for my newsletter if you want to make sure you don't miss out.
Anyway, getting to know your body is kinda like finally having an owner's manual to that flesh-mobile you've been cruising around in your whole life.
Your body is more than just something you have occasional complaints about. C'mon, you know you've grumbled about your body before. Your body is actually kind of like it's own little ecosystem that requires specific things in order to thrive. And, because not all ecosystems are created equal, some will need slightly different things in order to keep them flourishing. Which is why it's important that we get CREATIVE with our self care. Right? Right.
Anyway, when it comes right down to it, you are an organism, which means you're a living creature, just like the plants, animals, bugs, & all biological things.
And every organism is made of tiny units called, CELLS. And human cells need four basic things to survive; water, oxygen, nutrients & waste management.
Now, groups of cells with specific functions form something called TISSUES. And groups of specialized tissues make things called, ORGANS.
I know this is probably pretty boring, but stay with me. I promise it's gonna get more interesting.
Anyway, groups of organs are called SYSTEMS. And your body has 11 major systems being:
- Integumentary ...oooh, what's that?
But here's the cool thing, even though all of the systems are unique and have different jobs, they ALL WORK TOGETHER towards one common goal; to make you a healthy, functioning, organism. WHICH IS WHY IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER THE ENTIRE BODY- and not just one part.
And, this goal of being a healthy, functioning organism that your body is relentlessly working towards is called, HOMEOSTASIS.
And your body does NOT ever take a break from trying to achieve homeostasis. It's literally working 24/7/365, no matter what you do to it.
So, remember how I just said that your cells need water, oxygen, nutrients, and wast management in order to survive? Yes. Okay, good. Do you also remember that we're like little ecosystems that need slightly different things in order to thrive? Awesome. Great. Well, the choices you make can either support your little ecosystem, nourish your cells, and help your body achieve homeostasis, or....not.
Sometimes our choices just create more challenges.
Now, let me be straight with you. I'm not writing this as a person who's always sufficiently hydrated, consistently eating a balanced diet, or, you know, living an impeccable lifestyle. I'm a regular, fallible human, just like you. And I'm not always taking the best care of my body. I think it's safe to say that this is probably true for most of us.
So- let's not worry about what we're doing "wrong" here. And let's certainly not beat ourselves up for the choices we've made, or, will make in the future. Instead, let's just remember that we're learning about our bodies, so we can know what our options are should we want to improve our wellbeing. Okay? Okay.
So, our bodies have needs and our choices can help our bodies meet those needs more EFFICIENTLY. And something pretty awesome about investing in your body's PHYSICAL wellbeing, is that it can actually have a positive impact on the REST of your wellness. Yeah, I'm talking about your mental, emotional and spiritual health (just to name a few). And I don't know about you, but that makes me pretty happy. I mean, we're SO tired, and busy, and so learning efficiency tricks is a real treat.
Alright, so, let's talk about those eleven systems of the body, and learn about their specific functions, so you can be that much closer to becoming a homeostasis ninja warrior.
Personally, I love to start with the nervous system because it's in charge of ALL-THE-THINGS. Like, seriously, there's very little that happens in your body that isn't regulated by the nervous system. So let's start there.
Alright, so your nervous system consists of your brain, and long strings of cells called neurons. And neurons are SUPER important because they're the the ones sending messages about what's going on between your internal and external environments, and your brain (I'm talking about the inside of your body and the shit that's going on around you). And the way the nervous system works is by using electricity and chemicals. How cool is that?
I'd also like to note that your body only has so much energy, so it's important to pay attention to HOW you're using it. I mean, there's no sense in wasting it on things that are just going to cause you more problems, right? TOTALLY.
Anyway, your neurons are picking up on everything that's going on around you and within you, and telling your brain all about it. And then your brain makes decisions based on the messages it receives.
I also need to mention that some information that we receive isn't always factual, but rather, up for interpretation by our subconscious. We'll talk about this more in May, BUT, essentially, that's why we should be practicing things like mindfulness and self awareness on a regular basis. Staying grounded in our truth is going to affect how our body responds to certain things (and if we can control our responses, we can control our wellbeing... at least to some degree.)
Okay, back to neurons and the brain...
So, when you touch something hot, you quickly pull your hand away. This is because the nerve receptors in your skin gave your brain that information. Your brain THEN tells the muscular system to pull the hand away. It also tells the endocrine system to dial up the adrenaline, and the cardiovascular system to send white blood cells to the scene of the crime. A few other things happen too, but I'm trying to keep this short, so let's move on.
Anyway, you are designed to react quickly to potentially dangerous situations. Your brain is hardwired to be on the lookout for bad stuff, so it will keep you safe. But the trouble is, a lot of things that push your fear button, aren't actually dangerous. Again, we'll dive deeper into this in May. But for now, let's just agree that your brain is the conductor of your body, and sometimes it misreads the information.
Okay, NERVOUS SYSTEM: processes information, manages thoughts, memory, emotions, your sense of touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger and (like I said earlier) just about every damn thing that's going on in your body.
No wonder you're tired.
Alright, we've established your brain is busy. How can you help it?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, in May we're going to learn more specific ways to care for the entire body. But, if you DO have a hankering for more (and you happen to be a Patreon Member), I've actually created a pretty little chart with all the systems, listing what organs they include, their functions, what they need to thrive, and signs that they might be in dysfunction (and you can become a member for as little as $3, which is great because that's super cheap AND your money goes towards helping others in need). Anyway- for now, my best advice is to simply give your brain a break. Find something that's relaxing, and doesn't require you to digest a lot of information. Maybe go watch the birds or something.
The second system I like to focus on is the respiratory system, which includes:
Some of those things are just fancy words for throat, voice box, windpipe and airways.
All of these things work together to:
- Exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, to and from the body.
- Create your voice.
- Provide the sense of smell.
- Protect against dust and microbes from entering the body through mucus production and coughing.
So, the respiratory system is really important, because we need clean oxygen in order to survive. And our respiratory system is designed to clean the air we breathe (to an extent. I mean, smoking and using a lot of chemicals is kind of a downer for the respiratory system. Remember, the choices we make can either support or create challenges for our little ecosystems.).
Anyway, WHY do we need oxygen? Like, what's the actual purpose?
Well, in order for your organs to stay healthy and functioning, one of the things they need is oxygen. It helps grow and regenerate cells, and turns food into energy. It's pretty dope.
But here's the coolest thing about the respiratory system, in my opinion anyway. It's controlled by the autonomic department of the nervous system (meaning it just happens automatically, like your heart rate and digestion- you don't have to think about it.). BUT, you can override the autonomic system by using your somatic system.
The somatic nervous system is connected to your muscular system (which you have partial control of, and we'll learn more about this later). BUT, you have a muscle that controls your lungs, called the diaphragm.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, because a lot of us are living with a shit ton of stress and tension in our lives. This stress can cause shallow breathing and chest tightness. When this happens, we may not be getting enough oxygen into our systems. Deep breathing helps increase our oxygen levels, and expands our ribs, making more room for the lungs to do their job. Not only that, but because the respiratory and nervous systems are hardwired, practicing deep breathing actually helps calm you down.
You've heard of the fight or flight response, right? That's the work your sympathetic nervous system. It's how you respond to stress. Deep breathing can activate the parasympathetic response, which is your rest and repair mode.
OMG, this is so much information. Why don't you go ahead and take a few deep breaths while I move onto the cardiovascular system...
So, the cardiovascular system consists of a heart and bunch of blood vessels, and its job is to transport oxygen, hormones, nutrients and white blood cells around the body. It also removes waste, and helps regulate your body temperature.
And that's why it's important to keep your heart strong and healthy, it's literally the delivery system that provides your organs and tissues all the goodies they need to survive. It's also a muscle...which is a great segue to our next system.
When we think of the muscular system, we typically think of of things like biceps and hamstrings. These are just two of your 840 skeletal muscles (which are controlled by the somatic nervous system). We actually have two other types of muscle tissue, smooth and cardiac (which are controlled by the autonomic nervous system).
Cardiac muscle, you've probably already guessed, is the tissue found in your heart (well, at least the center of your heart).
Smooth muscle tissues can be found on the inside walls of your visceral organs, like your liver, pancreas, and intestines.
And it doesn't matter whether the muscle tissue is skeletal, smooth, or cardiac, they all help move stuff around.
Speaking of moving...
Another reason we're able to move, is thanks to our skeletal system. You've got about 210 bones (depending on how many ribs and digits you have). Remember, every BODY is different. But the skeletal system also has a bunch of connective tissue including cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
Carriage hangs out between bones, and acts like a soft padding that protects the joints during movement. Ligaments are elastic bands that actually connect bone to bone, whereas tendons are tissues that connect bone to muscle.
I also want to give a big shout-out to fascia, though, admittedly, I'm not really sure what system it belongs to. I'm sure there's someone smarter than myself who knows the answer. Anyway, fascia is an elastic connective tissue that's basically a giant web that connects every single thing inside your body. Think of it as a suspension system that allows for movement.
Anyway, back to bones.
So, your skeletal system does more than just provide a framework for your body. It's actually where blood cells are made, and, where minerals are stored.
And speaking of minerals...
The digestive system contains:
- salivary glands
And its job is to digest food, transfer nutrients and minerals, eliminate waste & absorb water. And you can imagine how much happier your digestive system is when you limit things like Diet Coke and Doritos. Now, I'm not saying you can't have your tasty processed, chemical-laced snacks now and again. HOWEVER, you'd be doing your body a great service if you actually ate a wide range of naturally occurring, whole foods. Remember, you're a living organism, and you need those nutrients and minerals to survive.
So, what the heck ARE nutrients and minerals?
Basically, they're important compounds that our systems need in order to do their jobs well. And the only way we can get them is if we EAT THEM. Nutrients (aka, vitamins), are derived from plants and animals, and minerals come from the Earth. ...which is why we should stop fucking up our planet. Environmental care IS self care.
So, should we find ourselves ingesting some sort toxins, or getting caught up in an ugly virus or bacteria, luckily we have something called a lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is made out of:
- thymus gland
- lymph nodes and vessels
And its main objective is to fight off anything that can make you sick.
Now, the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems, from a distance, look quite a bit alike with their highway systems threaded throughout the body. But where the cardiovascular system has a heart to pump your blood around, the lymphatic system relies on clumps of nodes to do the job. But here's the thing, the nodes require movement to pump efficiently.
The nodes hang out (mostly) in the busiest, bendiest parts of the body (think armpits, knees, and groin). You have them throughout your whole body, but these guys are the heavy hitters.
Speaking of heavy hitting, it's crazy how much information you're taking in. Keep hanging in there. You're doing great!
Next up, we've got the endocrine system, which is a group of organs and glands that make all of those tricky hormones you've heard so much about.
Hormones regulate things like cell growth and regeneration, body temperature, metabolism, sleep, and how we manage stress. And this system includes:
Pineal Gland: Responsible for producing melatonin, which helps regulate your circadian rhythms.
Pituitary Gland: Creates something called Human Growth Hormone, which is responsible for stimulating cell growth and regeneration, and it helps with metabolism.
Thyroid Gland: Also responsible for metabolism.
Parathyroid Gland: Regulates the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.
Adrenal Glands: Produce hormones that help regulate metabolism, the immune system, blood pressure, and how you respond to stress and other.
Hypothalamus: Regulates water levels in the body, sleep, temperature, appetite, and blood pressure.
Pancreas: Produces insulin and glucagon, which regulate blood sugar levels.
Ovaries & Testes: I'll get into these in the Reproductive System.
WOOF! Eight systems down, three to go! ...we're almost there!
Alright, your urinary system, also known as the renal system, consists of kidneys, ureters, a bladder and urethra. And its job is to eliminate waste from the body. It also regulates blood volume and blood pressure, controls electrolytes and metabolites, and regulates blood pH.
Remember how your nervous systems works by using electricity and chemicals? Well, these electrolytes are what actually carry the electrical charge! Your body is so friggin' cool.
Alright, it's time we talk about the most controversial system, the reproductive system.
If you look at just about every single embryo, most things start out looking like a lima bean with eyes. About six weeks into development the reproductive system starts to form. This reproductive system may (or may not) includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, vagina, a prostate, testes, penis.
Now, this is where a lot of folks get hung up.
Just because a person may be born with certain parts, does NOT necessarily mean they're a girl or a boy. These are just assigned titles because historically our society is lazy and they feel compelled to categorize things. And don't get me started on the patriarchy, and how they've brainwashed us into believing that one gender has more value over the another. ANYWAY- These are just parts that perform functions that help your body achieve homeostasis (among a couple of other perks, like OPTIONAL baby building and pleasure making).
Gender identity is a PERSONAL perception. We are ALL human, and that's all that matters.
Anyway, ovaries and testes produce hormones, which is why they were briefly mentioned back when we were talking about the endocrine system. Specifically these hormones are estrogen and testosterone, and they regulate things the biological growth and development, and influence the nervous, endocrine, skeletal, and cardiovascular systems. They also regulate sex drive, fat distribution, and muscle mass. And, news flash, we ALL have estrogen AND testosterone. It's just that some folks have more of one than other.
Thanks for letting me get political back there.
Alright, let's wrap things up by figuring out what the heck the Integumentary System is. Drum roll, please...It's your skin, hair and nails, which I guess is ALSO pretty controversial, right?
For some reason, there are people out there who get pretty upset about the amount of melanin in the epidermis (which is the amount pigment in the superficial layer of skin, btw), and they're also pissed off about the shape of the keratinocytes found in certain hair folicles.
It's fucking bonkers.
But here's the thing, IT'S JUST SKIN AND HAIR, and it's there to protect your inside bits, regulate body temperature, cell fluid, synthesis of Vitamin D, and detect stimuli (like that hot thing we touched earlier). And it doesn't matter what it looks like.
OMG, YOU DID IT! YOU MADE IT TO THE END!
Real quick, let's recap a few important things...
- You are a living organism that needs water, oxygen, nutrients & waste management to SURVIVE.
- Every BODY is different, so we all need a little something different in order to THRIVE.
- Your brain choreographs all the systems, and they work together, so they can help you achieve HOMEOSTASIS.
- You can help your body achieve homeostasis by eating good foods, breathing clean air, staying hydrated, moving your body, resting and managing stress.
- We need to take good care of ourselves because we need the energy to organize and dismantle capitalism, colonialism and crush the fucking patriarchy...Okay, maybe that's my own personal agenda (but I'd love it if you'd join me).
Speaking of joining me, you can join the Dream Team and me over at Patreon and score those extra perks and make a positive impact on our communities most in need, because community care IS self care.
I love you.
I appreciate you.
Thank you so much for being here.
I'll see you next time, when we start diving into the six-month long series where we explore all the different ways we identify the SELF! You won't want to miss it. Xx
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