MODULE 8

Systems of Your Body

Yoga: Support for Output, Endurance, Confidence and More

This guidebook is filled with a lot of information about one system—yoga. However, as you know, systems are everywhere.

Pause and see if you can think of five systems right now.
List them.

Join us for a Mindfulness and Movement Practice
for the Systems of the Body: 38 mins

You might have listed: school, the solar system, the interstate highway system, a system of the human body, or yoga (that one was a freebie). Does each system have a collection of items that are linked and related, functioning as a whole? What are those items? What are the inputs and outputs of the systems you listed? What happens when the system breaks down?

Just like the world around us, our body contains many systems too. Yoga is one of the ways we can support the health and function of these many systems. Focusing on our breath helps to support not only our respiratory system, but our nervous system too. Breathing helps us maintain lung health both in lung capacity and lung strength. Having stronger lungs brings on endurance and overall vitality, building on the prana or “life-force” in the body. Practicing yoga poses builds strong muscles and bones, which give us the confidence that we can manage all we set out to do physically in the world.

By paying closer attention to our digestive system, we learn how to fuel our bodies with nutrients (instead of empty calories) and how much fuel is needed for the task at hand. As we listen closely to our body’s signals, we learn how to eat healthy, eat for our body type, and have more energy. What we are eating impacts our integumentary system (our skin) and our ability to sweat and move toxins from the surface of the skin. A practice of yoga can help bring relief from pain and support inflammation in the body. Deep relaxation helps the body fight viruses and bacteria. It strengthens and restores our immune system.

When our nervous system is dysregulated we have the power to regulate ourselves through our breath. We can slow down our heartbeat, encourage fresh oxygen and blood flow by practicing breathwork, which supports both our cardiovascular and circulatory systems. Especially at a young age, a focus on yoga can lead to better overall health for each system of the body, for a lifetime.

Our hope and promise with Conscious Classroom is that you input some energy into our system of yoga. You can choose any part of the system: breathwork, meditation, mindfulness, or yoga poses. Only then can you receive the output —a greater sense of well-being, concentration, and ability to learn— that benefits all systems of your body. Let’s learn more about the systems.

 

Nervous System

The practice of yoga was commonly offered to young men as a form of discipline. It was a way to focus and build upon their physical and mental aptitudes. Eventually, everyone was encouraged to practice yoga in order to cultivate a strong body, a quick mind, and keener awareness.

CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (CNS):

  • The brain
  • The spinal cord

PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (PNS):

Consists mainly of nerves

  • Enteric Nervous System (ENS): Manages the gastrointestinal tract. Note: the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are found in the lining of the gut, supporting our physical and mental health.
  • Somatic Nervous System (SNS): Consists of spinal nerves (out of the spinal cord) and cranial nerves (into and out of the brain stem) including smell, vision, taste, and hearing.
  • Autonomic Nervous System (ANS): Consists of two parts that regulate involuntary bodily functions (digestion, heart rate, etc.)
    • Sympathetic nervous system (SNS): Also known as our Fight or Flight response, helps protect us from danger.
    • Parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS): Also known as our Rest and Digest response, helps us stay rested, healthy, and nourished.

Vagus Nerve

This nerve is part of the autonomic nervous system and, within that, is directly connected to the parasympathetic nervous system. It is responsible for the upper throat and head functions of coughing, sneezing, swallowing, and vomiting. It also regulates internal organ functions such as heart rate and digestion. The vagus nerve is sometimes called the “wandering nerve”—it starts in the brain stem and wanders down the neck, then moves to other parts of the body. It’s the 10th of the 12 cranial nerves, which are nerves that directly emerge from the brain.

The vagal tone is a term meaning the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a vital part of our PSNS, and there are ways to stimulate our vagus nerve. Deep breathing (pranayama), singing or chanting, meditation, and movement all improve the health of the vagal tone. So does eating well and understanding how our digestion works. When our vagal tone is thriving, so are we. When our vagal tone is in poor health, we are more susceptible to disease and inflammation. Our mental health can also suffer. Overstimulation of the vagus nerve, often in response to an extremely stressful situation, can cause the heart rate and blood pressure to drop, with decreased blood flow to the brain, leading us to faint. So it’s important to keep the vagal tone healthy and regulated!

 

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR NERVOUS SYSTEMS

  • Epilepsy: an abnormal electrical charge in the brain causing seizures
  • Parkinson’s Disease: damage to the brain’s nerve cells leading to difficulty with movement
  • Multiple Sclerosis: the immune system attacks the body and damages nerve linings
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease): deterioration of neurons in the brain that affect voluntary muscle movement
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: has adverse impacts on mental ability and memory

Take a Minute

Imagine a time your nervous system was dysregulated. Were you scared, in pain, or anxious? Do you remember exactly what it felt like? What was happening in your body? What are the steps that you took to calm down? Take those steps now.

Pro Tip: Singing your heart out in the car or the shower stimulates the vagal tone which supports your immune system.

Musculoskeletal System

Our skeletons and muscles form the structure of our bodies. Together, bones and muscles enable mobility and support our structures as well as our internal organs.

 

Muscles

There are over 600 muscles in the human body! Over half of them are pairs, doing the exact same thing on the left and right sides of the body.

3 Types of Muscle:

  1. Cardiac (heart) muscle – functions involuntarily
  2. Skeletal, or striated, muscle – functions voluntarily
  3. Smooth muscle – functions involuntarily

Bones

Hold bone marrow, which produces red and white blood cells.

    • Red blood cells: carry oxygen throughout the body
    • White blood cells: part of the immune system, fight disease

Ways to support our strong bones:

    • Exercising, especially weight-bearing poses like Downward Facing Dog, that makes you work against gravity
    • Nutrient-rich diet
    • Wellbeing that promotes properly balanced hormone production
    • Meditation, yoga, getting enough sleep

Tissues

Groups of cells that have similar structures and function together.

    • Tendons: attach bone to bone.
    • Ligaments: attach muscle to bone.
    • Cartilage: protects bones and joints so they can function well.
There are 206 bones in the human skeleton:

    • Skull – includes the jaw.
    • Spine: lumbar (5), thoracic (12), and cervical (7), vertebrae (24),
      sacrum (3 fused bones with the coccyx, or tailbone).
    • Chest: ribs and sternum or breastbone
    • Arms: radius, ulna, humerus, clavicle, and scapula
    • Hands: wrist, carpals, metacarpals, and phalanges
    • Pelvis: ischium, illium, iliac crest, and sit bones
    • Legs: tibia and fibula, patella, femur
    • Feet: tarsals, metatarsals, phalanges

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR BONES

  • Polymyositis: inflammation and weakening of skeletal muscles
  • Osteoporosis: comes with age and a loss of calcium and tissue for the bones, causing brittleness and structural impact

 

Take a Minute

  1. Are your arms strong enough to support your own bodyweight? No? Then, practice Downward-Facing Dog, Cat, or Cow Pose once a day for three rounds of breath. Yes? Challenge yourself to do Plank, Crow, or Dolphin Pose while taking longer breaths.
  2. Have you noticed your muscles often spring back like rubber bands after you work out or stretch? Choose three yoga poses to try for three days. Experiment with how it feels to stretch your muscles. How quickly do your muscles spring back to feeling tight? Notice what happens after the three days.

Integumentary System

An “integument” is a “tough outer protective layer.” For humans, that’s our skin. You may not have thought of it this way before, but our skin is a single organ system that includes our hair and nails. It’s like a suit of armor, protecting us from absorbing harmful pollutants. The body also receives sensory information through touch. Regulating the body’s temperature is another thing skin does—our sweat glands secrete liquid through the skin’s surface, helping to cool us down when we’re hot. It can absorb some liquids too. Keeping our skin clean promotes skin health by stimulating hair follicles and exfoliating dead cells.

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR SKIN

  • Acne: blockage in hair follicles and skin glands, usually from body oils or dead skin cells
  • Warts: a viral infection causing bumps on the body, usually the hands and feet
  • Eczema: a topical skin disorder causing itchy, flaky, and sore skin
  • Skin cancer: often signaled by a new growth or patch on the surface of the skin, can cause harm if not treated

Take a Minute

Challenge yourself to drink your body weight in ounces of water per day.
80lbs/oz. = 10 cups
100lbs/oz. = 12 cups
125lbs/oz. = 15 cups
150lbs/oz. = 18 cups
175lbs/oz. = 20 cups
200lbs/oz. = 25 cups

Endocrine System

The word “endocrine” refers to the glands that secrete hormones into our bloodstreams. The pituitary, pineal, thyroid, and adrenal glands are all part of the endocrine system, as are the pancreas and ovaries. This system has many important functions such as regulating growth and development, mood, digestion, organ function, and reproduction.

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR ENDOCRINE SYSTEMS

  • Diabetes: the body’s inability to produce enough insulin
  • Hypoglycemia: blood glucose dropping below normal levels
  • Hypothyroidism: lack of hormone production in the thyroid gland

Take a Minute

Are there days when it feels like you’re living off of adrenaline? Do you wake up feeling anxious, drink coffee, sprint to school then after-school activities, skip meals, and stay up late? What do you do to restore after days like that? Choose 3 restorative poses: Child’s Pose, Bridge Pose, Happy Baby, Supine Twist, or Corpse Pose. Set a timer for 5 minutes each. Relax into each pose for the full 5 minutes. Pay attention to your breath and let your mind wander.

When you do not consciously relate to your body,
your mind does not relate consciously to you.

Yogi Bhajan

Circulatory (Cardiovascular) System

This system is made up of our heart, arteries, and veins. It transports oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones, blood cells, and nutrients to all parts of the body. It also has the important job of fighting disease, stabilizing our temperature and our pH, and, overall, helping to maintain the body’s homeostasis. Blood pressure can measure how well our blood is flowing. High blood pressure can cause stress on organs and tissues. Low blood pressure means that some areas of the body are not being fed with oxygenated blood, which can cause dizziness, loss of energy, and damage to major organs. Both can have serious consequences.

Veins help to bring deoxygenated blood from the organs back to the heart. They have valves ensuring that the proper direction and amount of blood is transported through the body and back to the heart. Arteries carry fresh oxygenated blood from the heart to all other organs. They are thicker and stronger than veins and utilize the heart’s pumping action to move blood through the body.

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR CIRCULATORY SYSTEM

  • Cardiovascular disease: involving a compromised heart with structural issues and not enough blood circulation
  • Stroke: an event where a blood vessel carrying nutrients to the brain is blocked or ruptured
  • Hypertension: high blood pressure that can lead to a stroke or heart attack

Take a Minute

What do you do that makes you sweat? What gets your heart rate up? Whether it’s walking, biking, weight lifting, or yoga, can you schedule time to do something that you love, to play and have fun?

Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is an essential part of our bodies’ immune systems. Lymph fluid is transported through the body by our lymph vessels, nodes, glands, and ducts. This helps maintain fluid levels and remove cellular waste. It also aids in the production of white blood cells, which fight disease and keep us healthy.

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR LYMPHATIC SYSTEM

  • Lupus: inflammation caused when the immune system attacks its own tissue, often the internal organs and the skin
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: chronic inflammation where the immune system attacks tissues in the joints

Take a Minute

Try Eagle Pose to move lymph through the glands in your armpits and groin. This keeps your immune system healthy!

Stand on your dominant leg crossing the other on top. Try to wrap the legs, encouraging the lifted foot to wrap behind the opposing calf. Inhale your arms out wide and as you exhale wrap one arm over the other. Your focus is to land with your palms together as you wrap your arms. Ideally, you wrap the opposite arm to leg. Inhale and exhale slowly, then unwind. Switch legs and do the same on the other side. Modifications: Keep the wrapped foot on the ground, like a kickstand. Extend your arms instead of twisting them.

Respiratory System

This system is responsible for our breathing. We inhale fresh oxygen, and we exhale carbon dioxide. The lungs create ventilation and respiration in the body by moving nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide in and out. The diaphragm enlarges and moves down into the belly on an inhalation and draws back in and up when completely contracted on an exhalation. The thoracic cavity in the chest works with the diaphragm to create a vacuum and allow the lungs to draw air in and out, helping with circulation, strength, and stability of muscles.

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

  • Influenza (the flu): a contagious illness impacting the lungs, ears, nose, and throat
  • Pneumonia: an infection causing fluid to build up in the lungs
  • Asthma: a constricting of the airway, causing chest compression, shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing
  • Covid-19 (coronavirus): a virus that attacks the respiratory system, including the lungs

Take a Minute

Turn to the breathwork exercises in Module 1 and build a pranayama practice for when you wake up and one for when you go to bed.

Digestive System

This system includes the esophagus, the stomach, and the intestines. It is responsible for moving food and nutrients into and out of the body. The gastrointestinal tract works together with the vagus nerve, which we learned about earlier. Remember, the vagus nerve, within the parasympathetic nervous system, supports the body’s rest and digest function. In addition to digestion, blood pressure, heart rate, and the slowing down of the body are all ways the parasympathetic nervous system can be activated.

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): pain in the intestinal tract causing gas, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): when stomach acid goes up into the esophagus
  • Crohn’s disease: chronic inflammation of the bowels, damaging the lining of the stomach and digestive tract

Take a Minute

In order to support your digestive system, ask yourself these questions. What’s the difference between the feelings of hunger versus want? Do you eat when you’re bored? Do you reward yourself with sugar? Pay attention to what you eat and when. What if you eat protein and veggies first, then have sugar. Do you eat less sugar? Do you know you can change your brain activity and ease anxiety with what you eat? Eat or drink something with pre- or probiotics. Experiment with eating smaller meals. Do you have more energy? Eat a rainbow every day! You’ll know you’re getting all the necessary nutrients by eating a fruit or veggie for every color of the rainbow.

Urinary System

This system is made up of the kidneys, bladder, and urethra. It works to remove excess fluid waste from the body and the tissues. Waste travels through our body, filtered through our kidneys, and is released through our urine. This system, when functioning optimally, supports blood pressure regulation.

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR URINARY SYSTEM

  • Kidney disease: when the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood
  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): when bacteria filters into the urinary tract
  • Prostatitis: swelling of the prostate gland
  • Kidney stones: small, hard deposits that form in the kidneys and are passed, often painfully, through the urinary tract

Take a Minute

Don’t hold it. Some of us hold our urine for way too long! Challenge yourself to drink your body weight in ounces of water per day then let it flow as soon as you feel it. In Module 9: Energy and your body, you will learn about strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with a focal point called Mula bandha. When you try to stop urinating mid-stream, you’re working those muscles!

Reproductive System

The reproductive system exists to ensure the survival of our species. Both egg and sperm are produced to support the female and male systems. This system has a big job of both producing and transporting cells. The ovaries in the female body and testes in the male body are the primary organs that aid in the production of offspring.

DISEASES THAT AFFECT OUR REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM

  • Cervical cancer: a tumor found in the cervix, found in the female reproductive system, resulting in cancer

  • Prostate cancer: cancer forming in the prostate gland, found in the male reproductive system

  • Yeast infection: this occurs in the vagina when excess yeast is present

  • Endometriosis: when uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus

  • Sexually transmitted infection (STI): many types, can be transmitted through sexual contact

Take a Minute

Educate yourself! Start with the day you were born. Who can you have a conversation with about your birth? Do you know what time you were born? Where were you born? Who was there? What questions do you have about your body? Learn everything you can about how your reproductive system works. Your body is yours to become the expert on, but seek professional help to answer your questions. See Module 7: Neurotransmitters for more information about how hormones like oxytocin and endorphins impact our growth and the different changes we feel in our bodies.

Discover how yoga impacts the systems of your body. Using the different parts of yoga: breathwork, meditation, mindfulness, or the yoga poses benefits many systems at once. The next time you feel anxious, take a deep breath. Breathwork helps your nervous system and respiratory system. Your lymphatic and immune system can greatly benefit from a before-bed routine. Close all the apps on your phone and try a restorative yoga pose. Knowing the systems of our body allows us to become better advocates for our own health and wellness.

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