Definition: Homoeostasis

Homoeostasis comes from the Greek term that means 'same-state' and generally refers to physiological homoeostasis - the body's capacity to regulate and balance our internal environment, to maintain an equilibrium and a reasonably constant level of functioning. In this way, our bodies adjust to factors in the external environment, such as severe cold, with the aim of avoiding extremes of temperature change internally, which could damage our organs and strain our system.

Our blood pressure, blood sugar levels, temperature and bodily fluids are some of the factors regulated by means of various negative feedback mechanisms, that operate through the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). These feedback systems function in a similar manner to a central heating thermostat, which minimizes fluctuations in temperature in order to maintain a suitable living environment.

Sometimes, homoeostatic systems can begin to malfunction, causing an imbalance in a person's metabolism which can lead to illness. For instance, if there is a problem with the production of insulin, blood sugar levels will not be regulated sufficiently and become either too high or too low and diabetes mellitus can develop.

Postural Homoeostasis is a term that was possibly first used by Dr Wilfred Barlow (1952) to describe the body's capacity to maintain a steady balanced state in which we are poised and centred, whilst being upright. Within Alexander Technique classes we aim to minimise our mis-use, which can interfere with our functioning and this fine tuning of our balance that takes place with postural homoeostasis.

As Dr Barlow describes 'Postural homoeostasis involves a most intricate and delicate interplay of muscular co-ordinations and adjustments throughout the body, to bring the body close to a balanced state.' ~ The Alexander Principle p70

Psychological Homoeostasis is a term that refers to our need to find an emotional and psychological equilibrium within us.

However, these various types of homoeostasis interact with each other. As F M Alexander described, we are psychophysical beings and this can be seen in the way we often react to stress. We do not react purely through one realm of our being but through every cell in our body.

Prolonged or acute stress can make us feel miserable and tense and can be emotionally draining. This can create disturbances in the Autonomic Nervous System and the regulation of our hormones, which in turn interfere with various homoeostatic mechanisms. These imbalances can then lead to problems such as back pain, digestive upsets and high blood pressure. If the stress continues and we do not use effective techniques with which to bring ourselves back to a calmer resting state, this can result in illness.

At times of stress we need to use a variety of coping strategies to help our bodies and minds maintain, or perhaps re-gain, a healthy resting balance in our homoeostatic systems. The Alexander Technique is one such effective coping skill and when we use it we can, for instance, support our body's natural homoeostatic mechanisms and learn to become calmer and less tense. It has also been shown that we can reduce our blood pressure by learning and using the Alexander Technique.

 

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