November is a month we spend focusing on gratitude, but this time I’m not making a random list of things outside of me that I’m thankful for. Instead, I’m focusing on gratitude for my body, for all it does for me and allows me to do.
So, I am doing a gratitude meditation every day this month, focused on gratitude for my body and really paying special attention to inviting the feeling of gratitude in.
As I am doing this, as I am meditating on being thankful for my body, I notice how often I am thinking about my body with more reverence and awe.
I have been watching and listening to shows and podcasts about our amazing human bodies, as well. I’ve noticed throughout my day; I am aware of little things happening in my body. Things my body does that just blow my mind.
The other day, in the middle of my workout, at a really challenging point, I just felt overcome with gratitude for the fact that my body rises to whatever challenge I give to it.
We get so caught up, so distracted, so misdirected, and start only thinking of our bodies as only having aesthetic value. We focus so much on how it looks and so little on all it does.
I love the quote from Lexi and Lindsey Kite, “Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.”
Our Miracle Bodies
So, I want to focus on our miracle bodies, and hopefully, you find something in here that blows your mind as much as it did mine and gets you thinking not just about how your body appears but how it works and how amazing it is.
One of the things I watched was a series on Netflix called Human: The World Within. I learned new things that I had never known in each episode. It was so fascinating.
So, I want to share some of the things that blew my mind most. I keep thinking about them as I walk around inworld. And I was just marveling at all the mysteries the body holds that I never even and probably will never know.
So, some crazy things about your nervous system. There are 100 billion neurons in our brain and even more in our body, and we can train them to do anything.
Everything we see comes into our brains as light through our eyes and then is transmitted to the brain as electricity. The electrical impulses are then interpreted and turned into our brain’s reality that we see, feel, and notice.
Every second, the eye transmits 10 million pulses to the brain at a speed of 270 miles per hour. And then the brain has to figure out how to react to that information, right? So the information is transmitted, and then a conversation has to happen about how to react and what to do.
Our brain has to weigh the options, scan the memories for an experience to help us determine what to do next, or come up with a brand-new solution because it may be a new experience.
Then, the neurons fire, communicating with electricity and chemicals that are released. New impulses are sent out to trigger the right muscles to react. This all happens in a split-second outside of our conscious awareness.
Every neuron in the brain can form up to 10,000 connections with other neurons, and the connections change based on how much and what we practice.
The idea is that we can create new connections and sort of strengthen those and let some of the old, non-useful ones fall to the wayside. It is happening all of the time.
When we first do something, the connection is temporary. But we practice, and the more and more we do it, the chemical changes become structural. And the neurons can change shape and position. Pathways between different regions of the brain can strengthen with practice.
Memories of how to perform certain tasks can last a lifetime. That is why we use the phrase, “Like riding a bike.” You do something you haven’t done in years, and you know how to do it.
There are some amazing things about your circulatory system. I think this whole episode blew my mind the most.
Just in thinking about my body exercising and just existing and my heart and the fact that I love this quote from one of the experts on the show. “Your heart is billions of cells beating for billions of times in a lifetime, never pausing to rest.”
I obviously know my heart is always beating, but my mind was just blown at the idea of that. That even when I am at rest that my heart never does. So amazing.
Our cardiovascular system’s network of vessels inside our bodies if we lay it end to end. That would be 100 thousand miles long.
Your heart is the first organ to start functioning and the last to stop. It beats more than 100,000 times a day.
During exercise, our heart speeds up to get more blood flow for more oxygen to our tissues. And the efficiency of that oxygen transfer from blood to tissue increases, so muscles can use the oxygen more efficiently.
Over the course of a day, blood will travel about 12,000 miles through our arteries and veins. It is a system of constant motion. Even when we are at rest, it never is.
The heart is self-sustaining. So, it pumps blood to the body but then back to itself. The heart pumps out five to six liters of blood a minute. So, it is constantly circulating, with new oxygen that is breathed in every second.
The heart is also connected to our emotional state. We feel panic immediately in our hearts, right? This is evidence that the heart is smart at connecting to our emotional state.
The vagus nerve connects the brain and heart. The majority of messages in the vagus nerve come from the heart to the brain. Positive social interactions light up the vagus nerve in the heart.
People who experience intense emotional disturbances, like grief after the loss of a loved one, or a breakup, can experience changes in the shape and strength of the heart. They call it broken heart syndrome.
The heart can change back shape to its normal shape once the person has kind of processed through, and the emotional state returns to normal. It’s so interesting.
A positive emotional, hormonal shock can also affect the heart in the form of oxytocin. It can put your heart at rest, and it helps reduce inflammation in blood vessels. So, little shots of oxytocin when we feel love can have a therapeutic effect throughout our lives.
I think this is true of love that we receive, love that we feel coming from someone else or feel for someone else. But I think it is really important to think about how that is a gift we can give ourselves. We can give ourselves little shots of oxytocin, as we have gratitude and love for ourselves, too.
Some interesting things about your digestive system.
Your saliva binds the chewed food into a mass that can then be pushed into the esophagus and the muscles in the esophagus as they relax and contract and pulse the food down into the stomach.
Those pulses are so strong that they can even work against gravity. So, if you hang upside down and swallow, the food still gets to your stomach. Isn’t that crazy?
Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break, and it also helps our cognition and our ability to learn. After eight hours, the liver runs out of sugar, out of glucose to process as fuel, and the body has to tap into fat stores.
The thought of food or the smell of food even can cause the body to release digestive enzymes. So we don’t even have to be eating before we even start.
Five times as many neurons are in the gut as are in the spinal cord. So, we talk about the heart having a brain. But, your gut also has a little bit of a brain going on.
90% of the feel-good hormone serotonin is produced in the gut. This is because a trillion bacteria live in our gut. Your immune system is in your gut. 80% of the immune cells are in the mucous barrier protecting the gut.
Here are some fascinating things about your immune system.
The oil that sits on the skin is antibacterial. Your skin is the first barrier to your immune system. We have about 20-ish square feet of skin on our bodies. Below our top layer of skin is a layer 20 times deeper.
Water is essential for your immune function, to everything really, especially to clear out toxins.
Our T cells, which are part of our immune system, are tiny little powerhouses. They can make antibodies against other diseases. In addition, they work with signaling to other parts of our immune system when it needs help.
They’re born in our bone marrow, and then they go to the thymus to be trained. So, some lead as those assassins that kill the cells. Others come out as intelligent for fast detection and execution.
The thymus is larger in kids and peaks in teenagers because that is when the most exposure and training in T cells is needed.
Okay, some amazing things about your senses.
All sounds become electricity. That’s what is inputted into our brain. Then our brain combines that signal with data from other senses to orient us to the world.
Our previous experience adds to our sensory experience, right? Those electrical impulses come in, but then our brain uses other information to kind of put it all together.
Touch also becomes electricity and sends a signal to our brain. So, our brain can interpret what it is. It can encode an emotional aspect of the touch, or whether it is just a mechanical touch.
All of our senses can create emotion.
One of the most potent emotional triggers is smell. A smell can reveal things buried deep in our unconscious mind, right? You can smell something and be immediately taken back 15 to 20 years, you know, to the time you were five at your grandma’s house.
We can detect close to a trillion unique smells. Smells start out, right, as just pieces of air. Molecules that then waft into our nose and then the little hairs in the nose pick up the molecules and direct them to receptors under the lining of the nostril.
Whatever you are smelling is picked up by certain receptors and sent to the brain. Then, our brain processes the information, and the specific smell comes into being. We recognize it and name it.
Smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any other sense. So, this is why smell can create feelings on a subconscious level. Smells are visceral. We love some; we hate others. This is a gift of evolution to help protect us and warn us of danger.
Exercises to generate more gratitude
The more I learn, the more blown away I am, and the easier it is to be grateful for it, I feel like.
I have a couple of exercises for you and an extra challenge if you are up for it.
Make a list
First, I want you to take a few minutes to make a list of what you are thankful for about your body.
Now, I am not talking about trying to love your stomach that you hate and can’t stand the sight of. Instead, let’s pick some more neutral parts of your body and think about function over form.
Write five things you are grateful for about your brain. What it helps you do, learn, know, et cetera.
Write five things you are grateful for about your eyes — the beauty they allow you to see, the wonders of nature, the faces of your loved ones.
Write five things you are grateful for about your ears. Not only do they allow you to hear music, laughter, and wind in the trees, but they also help you balance and stay upright.
Write five things you are grateful about your nose—all of your favorite smells and the associated memories and emotions.
Write five things you are grateful for about your mouth. The conversations it allows you to have, the laughter, the kisses, the smiles, the delicious and nourishing food.
Write five things you are grateful for about your hands and arms; what you can hold, touch, lift, carry, hug, and feel.
Write five things you are grateful for about your hands and legs, all the places they allow you to go, sit, stand, drive, maybe dance, hike, or run.
You can pick any neutral body part and focus on what it allows you to do and be in the world, not how it looks.
It may be hard to generate gratitude if looks are the only focus. So, go a little deeper.
Meditation has been used to understand what happens when you direct all of your resources towards something as internal as possible—trying not to process any sensory information from the outside.
So, you can turn that exercise you just did of five things into a meditation as well.
Go somewhere quiet and comfortable, sit or lie down, turn on some lovely instrumental music, set your timer for five to 10 minutes, and then start with five deep breaths. Inhale for two, hold for two, and exhale for two counts, slowly and deliberately. Then go from head to toe, part by part, and think about all you have to be grateful for in your body. Focus on breathing in gratitude and sending it to those parts as you exhale.
Write a letter
Another exercise to try for more body gratitude is to write a letter from your body.
Imagine your body wanted to tell you something, what it needs, loves, wants, what frustrates it, what it is thankful for. Don’t overthink this exercise. Just write the first things that come to your mind.