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Honor Your Spidey-Senses!

Alchemy Wellness NEWSLETTER

October 31, 2022

Happy Halloween. . .

Wow, does Halloween challenge the ol’ autonomic nervous system. Pushing our nerves to the limit is a time-honored tradition at this time of year. Scary movies and haunted houses allow us to realize that not everything we see is real and that we can recover from a fright.

As a Highly Sensitive Person, I prefer the creepy brand of spooky. Media representations of finely honed perceptive abilities that either shock, are tragically intercepted, or are used as a force of good feel more relatable and feasible to me.

Our sense of orientation is re-adjusted in seismic fashion when we hear the phrase, “I see dead people” in the movie The Sixth Sense. The small child in The Shining has a gift that one of the hotel staff labels “the shining.” If only the child in that dysfunctional family could act on his senses before playing out the drama between generations, albeit in exaggerated Steven King form.

What is that sense? We sometimes euphemistically call it our “Spidey-Sense” in homage to Spider Man and his ability to sense danger in time to do something about it. Is it real?

Real spiders have nerve receptors in their legs to sense vibration in the web they have constructed to alert them of either danger or opportunity, i.e. their next meal.

Humans have something uncannily similar on the inside. The connective tissue, or fascia, spanning every inch and structure of the body looks remarkably like a spider’s web.

Our internal spider web moves interstitial fluid and lymph, carries piezo-electricity to stimulate bone growth and other bodily functions, gives support and form to our structure, and is very heavily innervated by sensory nerves. The sensations of diffuse pressure, pain (chemical or mechanical in nature), temperature, and tickle/itch are generated in the fascia spanning from the skin to the bones and everything in between. Technically speaking, the sensory nerves from this structure have their own superhighway/nerve tract in the spinal cord and a separate destination (from more precise sensations) in the brain. Researcher Bud Craig has outlined this pathway in his book “How Do You Feel?” An Interoceptive Moment with Your Neurobiological Self.” These findings are relatively new and have not yet reached most clinicians nor even universities!

The regulatory function of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) depends on the often reciprocal balancing of the Sympathetic (SNS-Fight, Flight) and Parasympathetic (PNS-Socialize, Rest, Digest, Freeze). Both subsystems have sensory input, i.e. a feeling quality to influence the type of action (or inaction) that is appropriate for the environment.

PNS sensory input is largely delivered by the Vagus (Tenth cranial) nerve, which has rightly received a lot of attention in the Chronic Pain and Trauma resolution arenas through Steven Porges' work on Poly-Vagal theory. The vagus nerve monitors internal organ states, especially the gut and, through associations with other cranial nerves, sensations of the face and head, i.e. social state. It also has motor functions in swallow and speech, heart rate regulation (influences all organ function), and will shut down function when we are completely overwhelmed to conserve energy. In general, PNS/vagus nerve slows things down.

SNS input comes from sensations largely originating in the fascial spider web. SNS in general "green-lights" action, especially in response to threat or opportunity/motivation.

The sensations from the fascial connective tissue all over the body are mixed together with the sensations which the Vagus nerve has gleaned in the organ systems, vestibular system input regarding movement and positional sense, and what might be an accurate prediction based on previous experience from the limbic system. This negotiation and refinement produces what we experience as an emotion and happens in the insular (near the ear) region of the brain. Dr. Craig has termed this region the “Interoceptive Cortex” which is distinct from the traditional (top of the head) “Somatosensory Cortex.”

What does all this mean in practical terms?

Body sense is key to resolving issues related to hyper- or hypo- alert responses to the environment. Overactive (or underactive) muscle tension (or flaccidity), immune response/inflammation, emotional states, concentration, or pain levels can be traced in part to a disconnect in body sense relative to the current environment. While fascia has strong mechanical properties which can be physically manipulated, more important is its response to focused awareness to reinforce chemical and electrical properties used to balance body systems (homeostasis) and emotions.

In short, we all have Spidey-Senses. Make the most of yours. . .

Curious to see this marvel in action?

Check out this YouTube video

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