The Endocrine System
Our bodies do an enormous amount of internal self-management and we seldom are aware of these processes. We don't pay attention unless something goes wrong. We count on our bodies to function and repair themselves and act surprised when they stop working properly. When it comes to preventive care or recovery care it is important to recognize that our choices, behaviors, attitudes, and habits actually do have an influence on our inner fitness. Our bodies will function better in environments that promote healing and we have some control over that. Today I specifically want to talk about our endocrine system. The endocrine system is a collection of glands in the body that produce and secrete various hormones that regulate things like metabolism, tissue function, reproduction, sleep, body temperature, mood, and so on. The endocrine system is primarily made up of the following:
1. Pituitary gland- secretes hormones that signal other glands to produce hormones.
2. Pineal gland - produces melatonin to control body rhythms such as sleep.
3. Thyroid - plays a role in metabolism and heart rate.
4. Parathyroid glands - (Did you know you have four of them?!) embedded in the back of the thyroid gland, these glands help to regulate calcium levels.
5. Adrenal glands - sit on top of the kidneys and help to control metabolism, the body's response to stress (this is where adrenaline comes from), and blood volume and pressure.
6. Pancreas - A lot happens in the pancreas but most importantly it creates insulin (reduces blood sugar) and glucagon (increases blood sugar).
7. Ovaries/Testes - primary focus is on reproductive processes
(NOTE: Some sources include the hypothalamus because it links the nervous system to the endocrine system. Sometimes the kidneys are included. I have omitted the Thymus in this article. The body is very intricately interwoven!) The endocrine system basically helps the body to function and restore itself every day. It assists the immune system and reproductive system and has influence on the immune system, digestive system, cardiovascular system, skeletal system, and the nervous system. The small levels of hormones circulating in your body have huge implications. When the endocrine system is not functioning properly the imbalances may manifest in diseases such as infertility, insomnia, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and obesity. So what does this have to do with Reflexology and Inner Fitness? One of my primary goals is to help clients reduce the impact of stress and help the body to remember how to shut off the "fight or flight" response for restorative relaxation. As I mentioned already, while we are not able to directly determine what the endocrine glands are doing or what our genetics dictate we do have some influence over our hormonal life by the thoughts and behaviors in which we engage. When the body/mind responds to situations in ways that invoke our fears and stress reactions, the glands of our endocrine system start to produce stress hormones. These hormones are released into the body and in response the liver produces glucose thereby raising our blood sugar. The adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol. The body may inhibit sex hormones when stress is high and may increase appetite as a response to the perceived need to "fight or flee." Habitual or chronic stress can keep us in our ‘fight or flight’ response even when we don’t need to be there. Basically, it can cause a cascade of issues throughout the body that ultimately can lead to bigger problems over time. The ability to recover from stress and to remove ourselves from stress-related environments is very important in the overall healthy functioning of the body. "In the old days" without lights, computers, and night shifts we naturally gravitated toward sleep, rest, and family time. We also lived closer to the earth (which grounds us), engaged in more regular physical labor throughout the day (rather than sitting in chairs all day and then jogging for 30 minutes), and had less news and world events bombarding us on a daily basis. Today our lifestyles are such that we consciously need to choose to engage in true "down time" to trigger parasympathetic responses (our nervous system's rest, relax, and repair mode.) Going to happy hour, watching TV, using social media, and going shopping are NOT conducive to the type of relaxation I am talking about. I am referring to time spent in meditation/prayer, massage, Reiki, Reflexology, yoga, soaking in the bathtub, quietly visiting with loved ones, making art or music, hanging out in the botanical gardens, or taking walks in nature. It also can be helpful to spend some time challenging any responses or beliefs that might trigger stress in the body and see if you can form new habits that reduce the impact. Reflexology, as one method for restorative care, works on various levels. As reflex areas are stimulated the body's inherent healing mechanisms for re-balancing and calming the body kick in by stimulating the nervous system and specific organs in the body. The quiet and relaxing nature of the sessions promotes deep relaxation. Reflexology also can help with circulation and lymphatic return, supports the immune system, and normalizes endocrine activity. The more we engage in regular relaxation in this way, the more the body is able to reset itself and have the energy it needs to heal and recover. Our bodies also are creatures of habit. The more we make restorative relaxation a regular habit the more quickly the body will respond to the resting cues bringing the body back to homeostasis faster. Engaging in new daily habits at home and at work, re-framing expectations and goals, and making time to deeply relax on a regular basis gives the endocrine system the kind of environment it needs to work optimally. -- Lori