The Living Brain

It is truly amazing to think about the complexity of the nervous system and the brain….so many nerve signals responsible for all of the communication between our muscles, organs, and cells. The intricate workings of the brain process an immense amount of data from our senses, enabling our perception. By organizing all of the electrical signals from visual, auditory and kinesthetic sources we are able to map out the world before us. We then send signals (called motor signals) to special cells (called muscles) that shorten when stimulated with electricity. This is how we interact with our environment and consciously adapt to it. We have gained so much power from our advanced nervous system, we have learned how to dramatically change our environment. How fascinating it is to add the capacity for emotion, intuition, creating our moods, determining our thought processes, creativity, and higher mental functions. The nervous system regulates virtually every aspect of our mind and our body.

Those of us from Western cultures often assume things are separate by nature and when we see connections we are surprised. The concept of BodyMind emphasizes the woven relationship between the body and the mind. Consider the body as horizontal fibers and the mind as vertical fibers, weaving a fabric that integrates the many threads into a functional whole. In my view the nervous system is the weaver, the one who decides which threads get connected and how tightly they are pulled. The nervous system controls what we perceive, how we think, and how we respond. This complex machinery has one very important function: to maintain homeostasis. All living things have the ability to adjust to their environment. As conditions change, in an effort to survive, we must adapt.

This instinct to constantly adapt is illustrated by the Eastern principle of balance. The Tai Chi symbol represents this dynamic balance, always moving, always self-regulating. The wave is reminiscent of water, whose nature is fluid and movable. In Chinese medicine, we consider the nervous system as part of the water element, implying that the nature of the nervous system is fluid, dynamic balance. Day and night our nervous systems are perpetually working to balance the diverse internal activity and the external environment. For those of us in pursuit of better health, maintaining and refining our ability to be balanced is key.

In Taoism, time is described as a river, flowing in one direction. One story describes how we are floating down a great river, with areas of rapids, maybe waterfalls, and calmer areas. Swimming against the current is futile and wastes precious energy. Better to open the senses to better feel the dynamics of the river so you can navigate, avoid dangerous rocks, and steer toward more favorable conditions. Fear and lament also drain resources and make our actions flawed, increasing the hazards. As we pass through time we are striving to keep ourselves in balance with our surroundings, as well as maintain balance in our internal terrain. With our complex physiology and sensitive mind, this is quite a feat!

Acupuncture has an uncanny ability to regulate the nervous system. I often describe qi (chi or ki) as electricity so “regulating qi” can translate to “regulating electricity”. For most of us, the idea to regulate electricity is odd and we don’t really know what that means. It seems very natural to me that in managing the billions of nerve impulses, some nerves might get overloaded. In the real world we know that electric currents create electromagnetic fields. Have you ever heard the buzzing from a telephone pole after a rain? I use the term neural static to describe a similar situation in the body where “white noise” has interfered with nerve signals, creating a hot spot. This extra current is a by product, like a static charge picked up after rubbing your feet on carpet. You don’t usually feel the current until it moves, creating a shock. You will hold that static charge like a battery until you touch a doorknob or your friend, allowing the extra charge to go to ground. The acupuncture needles gently stimulate special points, allowing this extra current to be drained. Without the neural static, the nervous system is more efficient and can integrate more creatively. Most of us live with plenty of white noise that we’ve grown accustomed to, remaining unaware of it until after it is quiet.

Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are proteins like serotonin, adrenaline, dopamine and norepinephrine. Nerves are like wires and neurotransmitters are like the switches in the body’s wiring. Some are excitatory and they turn certain body systems on, making us alert and awake. Others are inhibitory and they turn things off, generally causing a calming effect. They create your bio-rhythms including, sleeping, eating, alertness, mood, focus, etc. Many of today’s drugs for anxiety and depression are trying to specifically alter neurotransmitter function. While this can have some benefits, it is often laden with unwanted side-effects. Fortunately there are other options.

I am pleased to offer patients comprehensive neurotransmitter testing to assess levels of these fundamental ingredients of the nervous system. With simple saliva and urine samples, we can accurately determine your levels of the various neurotransmitters. The lab results allow us to see how your nervous system is functioning and illustrate possible imbalances. By using targeted supplements, mostly amino acids, we provide the specific nutrients needed to better regulate neurotransmitter levels. After a three to six month course of treatment, we can retest to see how the levels changed.

In the quest to improve the efficiency and balanced function of the brain and nervous system, having optimal levels of neurotransmitters is essential. If the switches are dysfunctional, the signal will get crossed and the body will not self regulate well. It is also vital to periodically clear the neural static that builds up and live free from white noise. Exercise and meditation are also excellent ways to clear and balance the nervous system. Proper nutrition, especially eating plenty of raw oils, nourishes the fatty tissues of the brain and supports nerve conduction. We are blessed to be living at a time and place where we have access to the marvels of modern science and to the lessons of our ancestors. The human brain is indeed a miracle of nature, especially when properly tuned.

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