2 Bodies are not what they used to be

We used to have a brain which housed the mind and organized the body. With the exception of a few automatic reflexes, external information was detected by sense organs, transmitted through the body to the brain which assessed and interpreted it before sending a response back to the body. This clunky machine-like model was based on the exploratory techniques of the industrial era; anatomical observation of dead bodies, the behaviour of dissected body parts, and molecular activity in the laboratory.

Bodies, nowadays, are very different.

21st century live-imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), allow us to explore whole bodies doing what they do while whole and alive; and how different bodies are in their natural state. Not only have organs and tissues been seen to have functions we never knew they had but entirely new organs have been discovered.

Wholeness has revealed functional interconnections that were invisible in dead or dissected parts. The lungs are now known to make red blood cells which previously were thought to be made only in bone marrow. A new set of lymph drainage tubes have been found that drain waste products from the brain. The mesentery, a collection of connective tissue surrounding the gut, is now understood to have so many previously unknown and complex functions that it is considered a new organ. And connective tissue, once ignored completely as a mere binding fabric to hold organs in place, is now considered a vital ‘new’ organ of communication and is being investigated for its many new functions. Importantly, bodies are now known to have ‘distributed intelligence’ with aspects of learning, decision-making, and memory evidently occurring outside of the brain. Neuroscientists now discuss a body-brain system in which somatic intelligence includes non-neurological tissue.

We are also beginning to appreciate the amount of 'plasticity' in the adult body--the amount of change that can take place as genes switch on or off according to our what we do; adapting form to function as we go along.  For example, bone density increases if you 'load' your bones by changing the way your weight is distributed during movement (conversely, bone density reduces if you don't put any load on them).  Similarly, fascia tissue which networks your entire body and all its organs, hydrates, lengthens and connects with gentle use but contracts, dehydrates and sets semi-solid with immobility. 

Bodies, nowadays, are minded, alive, dynamic and working as wholes.

None of this is news to bodyworkers who have been working with and assessing living bodies over thousands of hours in their professional practice; publishing papers on the functional connectivity of parts; acknowledging mindedness throughout the body; and developing their own non-machine-like model of bodies to explain their experience of living systems.

With live-imaging techniques we are entering a time of integration, where laboratory scientists and hands-on somatic practitioners will find themselves talking the same language—a time when bodywork will no longer be ‘alternative’ because the medical model will finally include a systems-level perspective of aliveness, mindedness and wholeness. As medical research applies new in vivo techniques to whole bodies instead of isolated tissue, cells or molecules, there will be many more ‘new’ discoveries to come.

Exciting times.

  Benias PC, Wells RG, Sackey-Aboagye B, Klavan H, Reidy J, Buonocore D, et al. Structure and Distribution of an Unrecognized Interstitium in Human Tissues. Sci Rep [Internet]. 2018;8(1):4947. Available from: doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-23062-6
 Claxton, G (2017) Intelligence in the Flesh: why your brain needs your body more than it thinks, Yale academic press.
NIH, (2016) www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/brain-cleaning-system-uses-lymphatic-vessels
Coffey (2016) www.thelancet.com/journals/langas/article/PIIS2468-1253(16)30026-7/abstract
Lefrançais E, Ortiz-Muñoz G, Caudrillier A, Mallavia B, Liu F, Sayah DM, et al. The lung is a site of platelet biogenesis and a reservoir for haematopoietic progenitors. Nature [Internet]. 2017 Mar 22;544:105. Available from: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature21706