The mind isn’t the only thing that can be thought to have intelligence. The body is an extremely subtle and adaptive collective of systems of communication and response. Sometimes we get down on ourselves about our bodies. Maybe we don’t like the way we look, or we have back pain or weak knees. Some things we cannot change, they are hard-wired into our cells at the genetic level. Some things would require major surgical intervention to change. Some things a trip to the hairdresser or cosmetician can take care of. With cautious, continuous attention, however, it might surprise you how much or a difference we can make to even our bones and brains.
Human reaction time to a stimulus under lab conditions can run from between 160 to 190 milliseconds (thousandths of a second) for college-aged individuals, while energetic, visceral responses to startling sounds can happen in a matter of seconds. Chemicals that have been inhaled or injected can be carried to the brain by the blood stream in seconds. But change doesn’t just carry though the body at high speed.
Even bone can change shape over time. Stresses on our bony structures cause tiny “piezo-electric” charges by stretching the bonds between molecules. Inside your bones are two types of cell that can create change: osteoclasts, which break down bone, and osteoblasts, which create new bone. Osteoblasts can do their work anywhere in the bone, while osteoclasts can only remove bone that is not carrying a piezo-electric charge. This means that, over a period of months and years, some parts of the bone are being built up without anything to keep them in check.
These same forces act on the fascia, the fibrous connective tissue that runs through all our muscles, bones and organs holding us together. Recent research has found that fascia can also contract in a similar way that muscles contract, though to a much lesser extent. The net result is that the way we hold our bodies and the way we move them molds and sculpts them over time. A depressed, collapsed demeanor eventually constrains the body that expresses it, just as an expansive, open bearing can create freedom and lightness in the body.
Change can also happen within grey matter, the parts of the brain that are involved with much of the major processing of neural function. A recent study has shown that people who practiced mindfulness meditation for thirty minutes a day over a period of 8 weeks changed the configuration of their brains, creating “changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”
Posture, movement, bearing, thinking, reaction, muscle, bone, sinew and brain: all of these can be changed if we but apply ourselves.