Intuition

We all know the feeling of intuition. ‘This just feels right.’ We do not consciously know why but it just is. It’s an important part of our senses and has undoubtedly shaped our life. But what exactly is it? This article looks to explore this within the confines of human physiology. The advent of energy’s, higher guidance and aura governing our intuition is also a possibility but this article would lose its focus should we delve into these as well.

The confines of human physiology attribute intuition (sixth sense) to our subconscious brain. Our subconscious brain is many many times more powerful than our conscious brain. We can define the subconscious brain as the part that performs all the functions we are not consciously aware of. We categorise these functions into:
1. Daily – Those activities essential for our life, e.g. our heart beat, hormonal secretion, breathing, etc.
2. Awareness – processing the information gained from our senses to create a world for our conscious brain to explore.
3. Memory management – although the access of memories is a conscious event, the process of categorizing and storing the experiences occurs behind the scenes.

To understand intuition lets use an analogy of a commentary team during a sporting event. There are usually 2 or 3 commentator’s [our conscious brain] keeping an eye on the overarching aspects of the game. Then there are a large group of analysers (50-200 people) seating behind feeding the commentator’s information. These analysers [our subconscious brain] are looking at everything else, i.e. taking apart the strategy, looking at past records / results, analysing individual performances, counting stats, watching the weather, talking to team members on the sidelines, looking at the reactions of the fans, etc. They are then summarising and feeding this information to the commentator’s. Like the subconscious brain, these analysers vastly outnumber the commentator’s and are therefore able to process substantially more information.

The commenter’s alone could give the viewer a good account of the game, but it is the analysers which enable the commenter’s to bring the game alive and to provide a depth that is entertaining and deeply insightful to the viewer.

In the same way the subconscious brain gives us the depth to make inspired decision which we term intuition. It is unsurprising that intuition is attributed to sleep. When we are sleep deprived we notoriously make bad decisions. Why, because the analysers are asleep!

Little Scientists

When a baby looks at you with a look of astonishment, what are they thinking? When they drop their fork on the floor what are they doing? We now know the answer is experimenting!
Babies from the moment they are born are experimenting. Their experiments taken on the same logical format as any experiments scientists would perform i.e. ask a question, research, construct a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyse & draw conclusions and finally reconstruct or consolidate their hypothesis.

The difference is that our baby’s questions are far simpler then our molecular biologists. They enter this world with little knowledge of how the world or humans work. In fact their understanding of the world is similar to your understanding of Gliese 667Cc (a NASA identified potential habitable planet 22 light years away). But what they do have is a set of genes that provides them with the tools and desire to learn and a group of guardians to teach them.

They observe their guardians interacting with the world and develop a set of rules based on what they see. They then test and retest these rules through little experiments, analysing the results as they go. This builds up a bank of data which either agrees or disagrees with their set of rules. If it agrees with the baby’s idea of what should happen they generally look happy with themselves (like we would too) but if it goes against their hypothesis then they look baffled (again like we would). [Interestingly this is why magic shows are so popular with both adults and children because it defiences what we believe to be true.] Based on the data they modify their set of rules. Following which they ask themselves another question and then the process starts again.

Let’s run through a basic example. A baby moves its hands over its eyes and the world disappears! Where did it go? The hypothesis is that the world has disappeared, the question is how did that happen? The baby now tries to answer this question with a series of test. Test one – shake my head and maybe the world will come back. Test two – wiggle my legs and maybe the world will come back. Test three – move my hands. Test four – open and close my eyes and maybe the world will come back. With each test there is an outcome. The baby records each outcome and repeats each test multiple times to ensure the outcomes are reproducible. The baby then analyses its findings and draws its conclusion, the world disappeared behind my hands and eyelids. It then revisits and modifies original hypothesis to the world can-not disappear on its own but my hands and eyes can make it disappear. Cue, the next few days of peek a boo!

This methodology ensures their understanding of the world is constantly evolving and it is through experimentation (we call it creating havoc!) that babies and children learn how the world works. They are inquisitive enough to experiment, accept the outcomes and ultimately are open to changing their mind set. Something we adults could learn from.

Brain evolution

This article is a summary of the article published in the BBC Science and Technology focus magazine, November 2016, titled Is technology changing our brains? We have chosen to summaries this because it clearly and succinctly summaries the current research in this area. Please read on and be intrigued.

The reality is that our brains do change when we use the smartphone, computer, screwdriver or any other tool for that matter. So the real question is ‘how are our brains adapting to living in today’s screen-first, always online, networked world?’ We are a long way from definitive answers but research has been conducted to start to understand how our brains are being affected in certain key areas:

Attention: many believe that the incessant bombardment, and the need for instant answers, has eroded our ability to focus.

Mood: Heavy use of the internet particularly social media has been linked to depression. Social media can be linked to people feeling inadequate due to a high consumption of idealised images.

Memory: We use our devices to tap into information as diverse as facts, routes, and phone numbers. We are therefore becoming less reliant on our memory. It has been said that those addicted to the internet or gaming have shown shrinkage in the brain’s grey matter. More research needs to be carried out on ‘real’ as oppose to ‘addicted’ internet users.

Sleep: Technology keeps us up for 2 reasons: First, by the stimulating content. Secondly, the blue light emitted by the LED screens prevents the brain from producing the sleep hormone melatonin.

Reading: More research is needed in this area but it is said that when reading on a screen we tend to skim read, scan and click on hyperlinks, rather than ‘deep reading’. Therefore we don’t take as much from the text.

Multitasking: Our ‘always on’ culture has made us more skilful at multitasking. However, when we multitask the knowledge acquired is less deeply embedded in our memories.

Navigation: GPS users have less grey matter in the hippocampus then those who navigate without GPS.

So although more research needs to be carried out in this field, there is growing evidence that our brains our adapting to living in an online world.

Habit

We all have habits, some good and some bad. Some evoke emotions and feelings whilst others are simply actions. Take for example brushing your teeth and smoking. Brushing your teeth is simply an action which evokes little emotions whilst smoking acts on your emotions directly. Changing any habit is achievable but those which are emotional habits are harder. In this article we explain why that is but also describe what a habit looks like inside of you.

An action habit can be viewed as a performed action in response to a trigger. When I brush my teeth, the action of brushing our teeth is triggered by waking up and walking to the bathroom . An emotional habit is also a performed action in response to a trigger but the result of that performed action is the release of some chemicals in your brain which evokes an emotion. In the case of smoking, stress maybe the trigger, reaching and the act of smoking is the action whilst the smoking process causes the release of some chemicals which makes the person feel calmer. See figure below for a pictorial representation.

The trigger can be anything from stress to visual or audible cues as defined in the examples of brushing your teeth and smoking. The action performed exists in your body as a set of neurological connections (neural pathway) within your nervous system. When triggered, the nerves fire which tells the various parts of the body to perform the action. Now here is the interesting bit, the more the action is performed the stronger the connections become and the more refined the pathway becomes. In essence we become better at that habit because we are practising it. The opposite is also true. If we perform the action less, the connections will get weaker and the nervous system will favour that pathway less.

The chemical response leading to emotions explains why emotional habits are harder to change because the chemical itself is additive. The more we perform the habit, the greater the quantity of the chemical is released and so our nervous system gets used to that chemical quantity. When we try to change the habit, our nervous system craves that chemical and tries to alter our actions to get its fix! This explains, to some extent, why those who success in giving up smoking do put on weight in the process. The nervous craves that chemical / emotional fix and so the smoking high is substituted by the food high.

What we can conclude from the above is that a strategy to breaking an emotional habit could be:

  1. Try to stay away from any triggers to the habit
  2. Substitute the emotional response you would have got from the action with a constructive emotional action. This could be watching film, spending more time with friends, a little indulgence, etc. Locking yourself away will only make things more difficult.
  3. Take comfort in the knowledge that it will get easier the longer you persist because those neurological connections are going to get weaker the less you perform the habit, therefore the urge will get weaker too.

Nature vs Nurture

Does nature determine who we are or can we change it by how we interact with our environment? That is the question we shall endeavour to answer this month.

Let us start by defining nature and nurture.  Nature refers to our genes and their role in controlling how we are constructed.  Nurture in its broadest sense represents how we (once constructed) interact with the environment around us and how the environment interacts with us.  By environment we mean the space around us.  It includes the climate, the objects within our proximity, the people or animals who share the space, the emotions generated within that space, the air, etc.

So once constructed (nature), does the space we live in (nurture)  influence the constructed self? To answer this, we must pose another question.  Do we change physically on a day to day, month by month and year by year basis?  Because if we don’t change then the environment is irrelevant.  The answer is, we do change because we age.  However you will be surprised to know that we are changing daily!  Most of our cells are constantly dying or being broken down and replaced by new cells.  So much so that in a month from now the vast majority of our cells will be different!  Knowing this means, we can appreciate that a changing self has the potential to be influenced by its surrounding.

Let us now take the example of something we consider ‘set in stone’, our skin colour.  Given to us at birth by our genes which originated from our parents.  Yet when we go on holiday (i.e. interacting with a sunnier environment, nurture) our skin colour changes! Take another example of a person with a short temper.  Nature wired their nervous system in a certain way that a small stimulus causes a larger release of a chemical which results in anger.  Yet that person can learn to control their temper provided the environment is right.  Somebody may have a predisposition for high cholesterol but by eating and living in a certain way they may never have a heart attack or any form of vascular problems.  In fact, I challenge you to think of anything within us that is independent of our interaction with the environment.

So how does nature and nurture interact, well here is the science bit.

Nature as we stated early, represents our genes.  Genes are blocks of DNA which hold the blueprints to our construct. These blueprints are under lock and key in the centre of the cell.  The only special proteins can read the blueprint, let’s call them the architects.  These architects roam around the cell but are constantly in touch with the outside world.  They do this by reading the reports created by the sensory receptors on the outer aspect of the cell.  They do this because they want to ensure that what they are making is fit for the environment in which it has to function.

So the architects will take the sensory reports with them when they read the blueprint.  They will then interrupt the information on the blueprint based on their understanding of the sensory reports before passing on their instructions to the proteins that perform the construction, i.e. the builders. Therefore, depending on what is happening outside the cell will determine how they read the blueprint and therefore what is created.

Using this analogy in today’s housing industry.  The materials used to build a house are  bricks, mortar etc…  The manner in which the houses are built are very similar i.e. bricks or stone alternatively stacked against each other, a timber construction for the internal parts etc…  Yet all the houses are not the same along the street.  This is because the architect has interpreted the blueprints differently and the construction company (as well as the owner) has asked for different things.  Each house is built within a different environment but from the same basic blueprint.

The same is true with our cells.  This concept is very important because we think that all aspects of ourselves are predetermined by our genes.  Yet the reality is very different.  We have the power to modify that expression.  We have a significant say in who we are.

Active Living

In this article we move away from the nitty gritty of how our bodies work and instead look at the meaning of the word exercise. To some, exercise is a word filled with trepidation as we are continuously bombarded with people, companies, health professionals and the media telling us to exercise.  To others, exercise is something exciting , something that their day is planned around.  Whichever camp you fall into we hope this article will get you thinking.

Firstly what does exercise do? 
It simply challenges our body systems.  When exercising we are challenging the vascular system (blood flow), the nervous system (co-ordination), the respiratory system (breathing) and the hormomal system (endorphins).

Why is this important? 
To answer this, let’s consider how are bodies works.  We have a range of functioning levels, e.g.  our system is in a different state when we a sleep, at work, being active, eating, etc.  Each state requires a different set of parameters, I.e. Our oxygen concentration in our blood will be different when we are sleeping to when we are at work as will our hormonal balance, etc.  Thus we go through different states in our daily live dependent on what we are doing.  Our system needs to be able to respond and adapt to these changing states and in some cases rapidly.  Exercise forces our system to adapt quickly and thus maintains our systems ability to adapt.  It also builds a greater range of adaption.  I.e. If our hearts are stronger and our body more coordinated then we have more options in the event of let’s take an extreme example of escaping a fire in our home.  We could climb out the upstairs window, quickly run through the hot, low oxygen filled hallway to safety or dangle the bed sheets from the window and after anchoring it climb down.  If we did not have any fitness then climbing out would be unattainable and so we would be felt with the only option of running through the hall way.

Whether we can run 1mile in 5mins or 5mins 30sec (I.e. our performance during exercise) is not a life benefit, rather it is an ego benefit.  For life exercise gives us options and the ability to adapt.

Has exercise always existed ?
Not in the convectional sense.  200years ago there were no gyms or exercise classes.  Rather people had active lives which incorporated exercise.  They played games outside to entertain themselves (which developed into sports) and they lifted and moved (I.e. ran, walked, climbed) as part of their daily live

It is only in the modern world, where the physicality of life has been removed that we need to exercise to give ourselves that adaptation ability.

Do we need to exercise?
How many people in a physically demanding job exercise as well?  In my experience not many.  And that is exactly the point, if you are physical in your daily life then you are changing your levels and improving your adaptability and thus exercise has little additional value.  Equally, if you are active in your live, then the need for exercise becomes less.  There is a buzz word currently circulating called active living.  Just being active can give you the adaptability you need.

Exercise vs active living which is better?
It does not matter, it depends on your circumstance and your mind set.  If you have a sedentary job and like your creature comforts then exercising will give you that adaptability.  However if you have a physical job and prefer to use your body to do things (e.g. Washing up by hand as opposed a dish washer, cycling as opposed to driving), then exercise will give you little extra benefit.   As long as you do at least one it make no odds whether you are active living or exercising.

Weight Loss

It’s that time of year when we all start to look at our health and think about implementing some kind of change to your lifestyle. Fortunately (you will be pleased to hear) these changes need not be so radical. After reading this article you will understand the core principles to weight loss and hopefully realise that all that is needed is a tweak!

Lets get started with a question, what is the basic reason we gain weight (if we assume there are no medical problems or complications)? The answer is our input is greater than our output, as the formula below shows:

Input = output + accumulation

where
Input = food intake which leads to energy production
Output = energy used during activity + energy used during mental tasks + energy used to maintain body function
Accumulation = surplus energy stored as fat or other forms

By reducing this difference between input and output we ensure we minimise our weight gain. This can be done by either reducing our input (i.e. food intake) or increase our output (i.e. greater activity either physical or mental). Most people tend to do one or the other however its more effective to do both together.

Before we think about reducing our intake, let’s determine whether we are eating the right food types? After all, the reason why we eat is to fuel our bodies. Pleasure or social interaction is a secondary concern. Our bodies need 5 things which it extracts from food via our digestive system. The 5 components are:

1 – Protein which breaks down to amino acids – This forms the building blocks for our body & various hormones,
2 – Fats which breaks down to cholesterol & fatty acids. This forms the cell walls, various hormones and provides insulation around our body & nerves,
3 – Sugars which breaks down to glucose. This provide the energy for our body,
4 – Water which provides a medium for transport of substances and allows chemical reactions to occur,
5 – Ions and minerals. This creates an optimum environment for our nerves & muscles to function

The process of breaking food down is a step by step process and therefore the more complex the components are the longer the process takes. When humans produce food on a large scale we add a variety of synthetic chemicals to increases it’s shelve life and its appeal. Unfortunately, this means the food is more complex thus lengthening the break down process. A longer process means more energy and so the net energy gained from eating is less. Ultimately this means we have to eat a greater quantity of food and more regularly to get what we need from it.

Unfortunately, there are no specific food types that are abundant in all 5 components. I.e. meat has lots of protein & minerals but less sugar & water, whilst potatoes have high sugars but little else. Therefore, exclusion diets are not a long term solution. Eating a bit of everything is a sure way of getting everything we need. This means you are not giving anything up but it does mean eating things you may not like, a trade off. Ultimately, if your body gets everything it needs, it will function more efficiently and thus use less energy. Interestingly your appetite will naturally decrease as your body already has everything it needs.

This brings us nicely on to our next point, how much is too much. When we eat, there are a number of processes which control our appetite. The 2 main processes are:

1) stretch receptors in the stomach – when the stomach is full it expands. The stretch receptors then fire and tell the brain, the bag is full ‘do not send anymore food down’.
2) glucose levels in the blood – the brain monitors the levels of sugar in the blood which is absorbed from the digestive system. When there is enough in the system it tells the brain to switches off your hunger cues.

We can consciously over ride these signals to some extent, e.g. social situations. The bottom line however is that our bodies tell us when to stop eating, it’s a question of whether we choose to listen!

So that explains the basic concepts behind reducing food intake, what about increasing output. This is fairly straightforward, activity consumes energy therefore if we keep active in both mind and body on a daily bases our consumption is likely to rise. This does not have to constituent an hour in a gym but could simply be doing some extra activity in the garden or walking to the shops rather then driving. Keep it sustainable that’s the key, if you do not like the gym, why join a gym?

So that’s it, simple! What ever your plan is we recommend you keep it simple, make it lasting and enjoy yourselves.

 

Pregnancy Posture

Pregnancy is a stressful time for the mother, not just from the changes going on within her body, but also the affects these changes have on her body structure. The mothers evolving posture during the term is a perfect visual example of strains the body structure must cope with and is the focus of this article.

There are three main factors affecting posture during pregnancy. These are the;
1) production of relaxin at the end of 1st trimester,
2) weight gain, which during an average pregnancy is between 8-14kg, and
3) size and shape of the baby

Each of the above variables alters with each passing week and therefore will alters the mothers posture. Broadly speaking we can look at 3 main postural changes corresponding to each trimester.

Different stages of pregnancy postures

During the initial stages, the enlargement of the uterus pushes the abdominal organs upwards and outwards. This outward motion push against the abdominal muscles, which in turn contract to counter-act the pressure. As these muscles are connected to the pelvis it indirectly causes the pelvis to tilt backwards. Consequently [due to how the pelvis and lumbar spine interact] the lumbar spine loses its curve and becomes straighter (decrease in lordosis).

At the same time the breasts are enlarging and this added weight pulls the upper body (or thorax) downwards increasing the mid back curve (khyphosis). The resultant posture at the end of the 1st trimester is shown in fig A.

As the baby and breasts grow in size and weight, this posture is exaggrated further. The production of relaxin at the start of 2nd trimester means the joints are more lax thus the joints yield to the pull more. Further exaggration of the mid-back curve leads to the lower neck coming understrain as it attempts to keep the head upright from the downward pull of the mid-back.

See typical 2nd trimester posture in Fig B.

During the final trimester, the forward pull of the baby is greater than the abdominal muscles ability to counter act it. Thus, the pelvis actually tilts the opposite way causing the lumbar spine curve to increase.

This is the main change in the 3rd trimester and can be viewed in Fig C.

Whether the mother develops pain associated with these changing postures is depended her bodies ability to adaptable. If she is unable to adapt [there are a number of reasons why, e.g. previous history of low back pain] then any one of following symptoms may present:
– lower back pain
– chest or rib pain
– neck problems or headaches
– pelvic pain
– trapped nerves

By stretching the joints and muscles as well as effective advice and exercises, osteopathy can help restore some of the mothers adaptability. This ensures the pregnancy is easier and more enjoyable.

 

Sport

Summer is approaching and now is the time to get out and active.  We all know the well published benefits of sports (i.e. on our cardio-vascular system, body weight, etc) however we thought we would share some of the hidden benefits with you.

Firstly, sports forces us to move multi-directionally and incorporates movement patterns which we may not encounter during our normal lives.  This encourages the use of different joints and muscles which ultimately allows us greater mobility.

Secondly, sport develops our co-ordination and therefore improves our spatial awareness.  This means our joints/muscles are better protected and less vulnerable to injury.

Thirdly, being active forces us to take deeper and more forceful breaths. This naturally encourages greater movement through our ribs.  As our ribs are connected to our spine, our spinal mobility improves too.  Furthermore, the increased airflow through our nose, throat and lungs means we are able to clear any stagnated dust particles or mucus.  This can help with allergies and improve our vitality.

Finally, when playing sports it is not just muscles and bones which are moving, but also our internal organs.  All our organs have a degree of mobility/freedom and that freedom is important to their function.  Our modern day sedentary lifestyle stifles that freedom and thus can affect their function.  Sport provides a great way to restore that freedom.