The nervous system
The nervous system, which runs through our body like a complex and extensive network, consists of several components that work closely together.
The nervous system, comprising the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system, is an intriguing system that coordinates movement, influences emotions, and maintains vital functions. It perceives the inner and outer world and enables us to respond appropriately. We delve into the restorative capabilities of the autonomic nervous system, the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and how these aspects can contribute to personal development.
The nervous system subdivided
central nervous system (CNS)
The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord, serving as the body's main control center.
Processing information from the peripheral nervous system, the central nervous system coordinates movement, regulates higher cognitive functions like memory and language, influences emotional reactions, and maintains bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, and hormone release.
It plays a crucial role in the functioning and maintenance of a balanced state within the body.
peripheral nervous system (PNS)
Acting as a bridge between the central nervous system (comprising the brain and spinal cord) and the rest of the body, the peripheral nervous system extends to every part of our body, including the tips of our fingers and toes.
It is composed of neurons that transmit signals from the central nervous system (efferent neurons) to the muscles, organs, and senses, as well as from the body and environment to the central nervous system (afferent neurons).
The peripheral nervous system regulates muscle movement (motor function), receives sensory information from the body and surroundings (sensory function), and coordinates automatic, unconscious functions like heart rate, breathing, and digestion (autonomic function).
What does the peripheral nervous system consist of?
The peripheral nervous system is comprised of branches extending from motor and sensory nerves, which lead to and from the spinal cord. These different neurons work closely together to ensure appropriate responses to external stimuli. The peripheral nervous system is divided into the autonomic nervous system and the somatic nervous system.
The somatic nervous system
The somatic nervous system is responsible for regulating voluntary movements and receiving sensory information from the external environment.
It enables conscious control of our muscles and allows us to respond to stimuli such as touch, pain, heat, and pressure.
This system includes nerves that run from the spinal cord to skeletal muscles and sensory receptors. It transmits sensory information from the senses to the brain (sensory pathway) and from the brain to muscles (motor pathway).
The autonomic nervous system
On the other hand, the autonomic nervous system regulates the body's "unconscious and automatic" functions, such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, stress response, thermoregulation, and hormone release.
The autonomic nervous system works continuously to maintain the body's internal balance, known as homeostasis.
It consists of two main branches: the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system is directly connected to both sensory nerves and motor nerves. Sensory nerves, also known as afferent nerves, are responsible for transmitting sensory information from the senses (such as touch, pain, temperature, and pressure) to the central nervous system. This sensory information is conveyed via the sensory nerves of the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system, particularly the spinal cord and brain.
On the other hand, motor nerves, also known as efferent nerves, transmit signals from the central nervous system to muscles and glands in the body. They control and coordinate muscle movements and regulate gland activity. Motor nerves receive instructions from the central nervous system and ensure that these instructions are transmitted to the relevant muscles and glands.
sensory nerves and motor nerves
Both sensory nerves and motor nerves play essential roles in the body's functioning and communication. Sensory nerves, or afferent nerves, carry information from the senses and receptors in the body to the central nervous system. They enable us to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, and they play a crucial role in perceiving the external and internal environment.
Motor nerves, or efferent nerves, send signals from the central nervous system to muscles and glands in the body. They regulate and coordinate movement, as well as activate glands to secrete hormones. Motor nerves enable both voluntary and involuntary movements, such as moving limbs, swallowing food, and the beating of the heart.
The significance of the autonomic nervous system
The word "autonomous" refers to the ability to function independently and autonomously.
In the case of the autonomic nervous system, this refers to its ability to control vital body functions without requiring conscious effort. The autonomic nervous system governs and regulates various unconscious, automatic functions in the body, including heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, digestion, hormone release, body temperature, and excretion.
It was previously believed that we had no active control over these processes, as they occur in the background without our conscious awareness. However, we now have a better understanding. For instance, we can learn to exert control over the autonomic nervous system, as demonstrated by our ability to influence breathing.
The autonomic nervous system in action
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for coordinating two main branches:
Sympathetic nervous system: fight or flight
The sympathetic nervous system becomes active during stressful situations, triggering the "fight-or-flight" response. This leads to an increased heart rate, accelerated breathing, dilation of the airways, and constriction of digestive blood vessels. These responses enable the body to react swiftly and provide the necessary energy to survive in emergency situations. Additionally, the sympathetic nervous system helps mobilize energy reserves and suppress non-essential functions, such as digestion, to sustain physical exertion.
Parasympathetic nervous system: Rest & Digest
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for promoting rest, recovery, and relaxation in the body. It activates the "rest-and-digest" mechanism, resulting in a decrease in heart rate, stimulation of digestion, constriction of pupils, and relaxation of muscles. The parasympathetic nervous system aids in returning the body to a state of rest after a stress response, facilitating the digestion of food, enhancing the immune system, and promoting overall well-being.
Functions of the central nervous system
Cognition and thinking
The brain is responsible for complex cognitive processes, such as learning, memory, language, reasoning, and decision-making. Different parts of the brain work together to facilitate these functions.
The central nervous system controls the body's motor functions, including voluntary movements and coordinated activities. Motor signals are transmitted from the brain through the spinal cord to the muscles, enabling movement.
The central nervous system receives sensory information from the body and the external environment. This information is processed and interpreted, allowing us to perceive and make sense of our surroundings through sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
The central nervous system plays a role in regulating emotions, motivation, and behavior. Different regions of the brain are involved in experiencing and expressing emotions, the reward system, and decision-making.
Emotions and behaviour:
Stepping out of one's comfort zone leads to improved physical health. Engaging in new exercise challenges and adopting healthy habits result in a stronger body, increased energy, and overall well-being.
Restoring the autonomic nervous system along this path
The nervous system has a direct impact on our emotional, mental, and physical states. Thankfully, there are several strategies that aid in restoring and supporting it. Throughout this journey, we will utilize various techniques to bring recovery to the nervous system. You can liken it to a spiral that has been tangled by life's challenges. With knowledge and mindful breathing, we can untangle this spiral and live a fulfilling life.
The link to our nervous system in this journey
Questions and answers about the nervous system
Peripheral neuropathy: This condition involves inflammation of the peripheral nerves, causing symptoms such as numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, pain, and coordination issues.
Nerve compression: At times, a nerve can become compressed or pinched, often due to conditions like herniated discs, carpal tunnel syndrome, or a pinched nerve in the back. This can result in pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the area innervated by the affected nerve.
Guillain-Barré syndrome: This systemic condition occurs when the immune system attacks the peripheral nerves, leading to muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, and, in severe cases, paralysis. It can even affect vital functions such as breathing.
Motor neuron diseases: These are conditions that affect the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain stem, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS). They cause progressive muscle weakness, paralysis, and eventually breathing difficulties.
Herpes zoster (shingles): This viral infection can cause inflammation of the peripheral nerves, resulting in painful blisters and a burning sensation in the affected area.
Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and there are other conditions that can affect the peripheral nervous system.
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