Our physical bodies are a wonderful and grand vessel of complex and varied capabilities. Most of the functions that sustain our life are transparent in their process and automatic in their function. We breathe, our heart beats, we move in coordinated and purposeful mechanics, we feel, we think, we react. All of these physiological components are used as vehicles of anchoring in the refinement of our spiritual and subtle nature. We are humans in corporeal state and as such our level of response to spiritual and energetic action is through the vehicle of physical being. Even those experiences that we cannot articulate or are unaware of their potency and impact move through the state of our physical being and often become the eventual place of manifestation.
This posting will focus on the physical anatomy and in its briefest form will offer some basic information to get us started. I am using the elements as some additional correspondence to the form of energies I associate with these physiological systems. There are many overlays that can be used and some may find other attributes more relevant in description or assignment. Formulate your own opinions and see the analogies in whatever way you resonate most soundly with. As you work with and through these systems over time, everything you thought you knew about their function will change in perception and new perspectives about how they work in collaboration with a strong personal practice, magickal working and spiritual growth will evolve.
A Disclaimer: I am neither a healthcare professional nor a professional scientist. The information I have pulled together is the result of my personal experiences as both a professional dancer and practitioner of Eastern and Western Hermetic protocols. I have read and filled in what was needed of the basics of physiological anatomy to gain a deeper understanding of how to make better use of the energetic protocols and results and strongly encourage those who wish to become more effective in their workings to do some research and formulate their own foundation of understanding about the inner workings of the greatest tool we have in our own spiritual development- our physical state of being!
Flesh and Bones
Our skin, the largest organ in our body, acts as the interface between what surrounds us and how we respond at a tactile level to those surroundings. The sense of touch evokes emotional and mental reaction and the sensitivity of our skin to multiple layers of stimuli is often one of the first points of engagement we have with our world.
Our bones form the structure that holds in place and protects the bodies we inhabit as corporeal and physical beings. Our bones connect us the most deeply to the earth and the mineral life that is composite in the formation of the planet itself. Our bones serve as the upholders of our physical action and are the scaffolding of what is our outer appearance and make-up.
The Muscular system
The muscles are responsible for movement of the bones and work in conjunction with the brain, nerves and sensory systems. There are three types of muscle:
The Skeletal Muscles- sheath the bones connected via tendons and are responsible for reflex actions and giving shape and form to the skeleton.
Smooth Muscles- these are found in the organs and work automatically to ensure the continued function of their specific organ. These are controlled by the autonomic nervous system and regulate such things as digestion, elimination and breathing.
Cardiac Muscle- constantly works pumping the blood in and out of the heart and is stimulated by the electrical impulse generated within our body. This muscle is directly responsible for the function of the circulatory system.
The Neurological System
The nervous system is the master communicator, receiving and distributing the information received throughout our bodies and is the most complex of the physiological systems. The Central Nervous System includes the Brain and spinal cord and the Peripheral Nervous System acts to initiate changes inside and outside of the body. This information gathered is sent to the CNS and reacted upon.
It is through the nerve endings in the skin that the sensorial feed-back is transmitted to the brain. These neural networks of fibers are often interconnected to tissue and blood vessels. Additionally, it is through this system of communication that the development of language, motor and thinking processes is set into motion.
The Endocrine System
The endocrine system is similar to the nervous system in that it relays information and acts as a signal system. The nervous system uses blood as the conductor of the electrical impulses and the endocrine systems uses the blood vessels as the channels of transport.
The endocrine glands release specific hormones that regulate the bodies growth, metabolism, development and more. These secretions are released directly into the bloodstream, carried by the blood vessels and act upon the specific organs and their functions. These hormones are vital for the body to function optimally and grow in a productive healthy way.In spiritual practice the endocrine system is one that can be attuned to enlivening and reforming the physical body’s responses. The seven master glands act one upon the other stimulating and opening the subtle spiritual centers.
The Circulatory System
Our circulatory system uses the electrical current of fire and the flow of water to maintain our life’s spark. The pumping of blood through our bodies and its transformation within the chambers of the heart and then ultimate release back into circulation throughout our bodies is a statement of efficiency in use and flow. The heart is the central core responsible for multiple functions and the related by products that keep us healthy and alive. Mind and heart have long been the components of spiritual growth and deeper understanding. The scientific parameters of the heart have shown that the heart ‘s electromagnetic field is 60 times greater than that of the brain and that it is capable of performing some brain-like functions because of the continual energetic flow between heart and brain in an exchange of cellular information. The spiritual term “Intelligence of the Heart” takes on new meaning when we have this scientific knowledge and provokes a new way of thinking about how our emotional and mental interactions may better serve one another.
The Respiratory System
The intake of breath is the sustainer of life. The air that moves in and through us serves to oxygenate and maintain the life force that runs as current throughout our physical form. The lungs become the great bellows expanding and contraction; response and reaction to the flow of air that is taken in and then released.
FIRE- WATER – EARTH
Held within the polarity of the reproductive organs is the mystery of creation. The womb of the female becoming the place of quickening for the life that will, if viable reach full term and be replicated as human and physical being. It is this combination of earthly form serving as vessel and the seminal fluids of the male quickening the ovum of potential that the fires of creative outpour are produced. It is the movement and flowing of these waters held in the birth canal that offer up the fires of contraction and expansion to release this new life into being. At a purely physiological state, it is the healthy functioning of the reproductive system that ensures the continuation of humanity. These urges to create further provide ground for interpersonal connection engaging mind and heart in the selection of the fittest and physiological response in the secretion of hormones that will attract.
Our digestive system is the furnace that acts to assimilate and effectively distribute what we take into our bodies as nourishment that becomes the fuel to keep us running. It is through this system that the foods we take into our physical structure are broken down into more digestible particles; nutrients and what will enliven are extruded and the transformed products are then eliminated before stagnancy can set in. Our digestive system is also largely responsible for the immunologic responses of our bodies.
This information is brief in its content as each of these systems is vastly complex and can be further categorized in sub-systems. The important consideration is that each system is dependent on the other either directly or through the bridge of another in producing the necessary life force to keep us alive. When we consider the complexity and precision of this life force and its active components that keep us functioning it truly is a profound and deeply humbling analysis. These same structures apply to every living thing in their own way of specificity and in larger scope to the entire universe. It is for this reason that our first point of connection to that which is part of, yet independent of ourselves is through the knowledge of our own smaller universe that is our physical being. Once we begin that exploration we see the broader picture of our connectivity to all manner of life and how work on the self, produces far-reaching effects beyond that self.
The exercises below are suggested to make you more aware of the pulsation and vibrancy of your body. Most often we do not really feel the movement of the blood and beating o our hearts unless we are engaging in a physical activity beyond what our normal resting state would be.
1. Engage in a moderate from of physical activity for at least 5 minutes. Enough to raise your heart rate. This should be in accord with your state of overall physical condition and what limitations you may or may not have. This activity could be climbing a flight of stairs, dancing, marching in place, etc..
Standing or sitting, turn your awareness to the pace of your heart rate, and the feelings of blood moving through your body in response to the exerted effort. Try to completely engage with this sensation and make note of the fiery nature and pulsation of heart beat. Stay in this state of awareness for as long as you are able. As your pulse returns to its normal rhythm, remain conscious of this shifting and “cooling down” period. When you have returned to your normal state of activity, make note of how this differs from what you just experienced. Make note of how much more alive you feel as the release of the endorphins lifts your perspective. This similar type of feeling can be noted in the raising of personal energy as byproduct of an energetic protocol or practice.
2. Sit in a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. Take a few very deep breaths of inhalation and audibly sigh into the exhalation of each. Do this for several breaths, each time listening more deeply and opening to the physical feelings produced in the expansion and contraction of your chest and lungs.
Continue breathing in a relaxed way with no emphasis on inhale or exhale (no sound). Listen more deeply and make note of the sound (inner) of the air passing into your lungs. Really try to hear the gentle whoosh in and the long extended soft sound of exhale. Send your complete focus to the sounds you are hearing for several breaths.
Now, shift your awareness to the physical, rather than audible sensations as you breathe. Make note of how your skin stretches softly in expansion on inhale and the gentle and elastic pulling in on the contraction of exhale. Try to consciously expand your skin just slightly further and contract more fully in for a few breaths. Send your complete focus to this action of physical sensation for several breaths.
Return your awareness to simply breathing, giving no more attention to the audible or the physical sensation. You should be feeling very relaxed and more expansive as you complete this exercise. We forget to breathe deeply and with intention because of the fast paced nature of our days. Taking time to acknowledge and consciously breathe opens your clarity of focus and anchoring to your physical state.
The next post will take a look at the correlates of function of our energetic anatomy.
Our Physical and Subtle Anatomy: Part Two
Emmet B. Keefe, Introduction to Know Your Body: The Atlas of Anatomy (Berkley, CA;Ulysses Press, 1999)
Cyndi Dale, The Subtle Body:An Encyclopedia of Your Energetic Anatomy (Boulder, CO:Sounds True Inc., 2009)