10 June 2022, by Tim Böttner

The importance of the integral body map: systematically recognizing physical-spiritual connections

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Health and fitness unfold in the optimal interaction of muscles, connective tissue, bones, vertebrae, organs and glands, but also emotions, feelings and thoughts. These different aspects influence each other and work in integration, rather than isolation. Tim Böttner presents an integral model for recognizing and utilizing the complex interrelationships.

Pain and dysfunction are complex. For example, if a client has lower back pain, it may have multiple causes. According to the "where it hurts" method, the cause lies in the bony, connective tissue or muscular structures of the trunk. However, thinking one step further, the causes may also lie in other structures of the body such as a dysfunctional leg axis or lack of hip mobility. It may also be that the solution is not to be found in these biomechanical aspects, but in the organic and emotional-mental level. Organs as well as emotional-mental aspects can be assigned to each body area. This is a holistic view of the body in harmony with the mind. Holistic I equate here with "integral", which means that isolated parts of the body in reality work together in their functions and influence each other.



Our knowledge of the body, mind and health has advanced exponentially. As a result, it is now impossible for one person to be an expert in all areas. There has been a shift toward being a specialist. As a result, our body systems are often viewed in isolation and awareness of interconnectedness is lost.

An integral view is nothing new, but something ancient. Different health teachings from all over the world consider body and mind as a unit as a matter of course. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), for example, has evolved for more than 2,000 years. Here, a basic assumption is that emotions manifest physically, such as anger in the liver. From about 500 BC, Ayurveda developed in India, which also conceives of health as a unity of body, senses, mind and soul. Further examples can be found in the Tsalagi system of the North American Cherokee Indians or the energy model of the Incas. From the perspective of Western science, these health teachings are often labeled as esoteric or pseudoscientific. In recent years, however, we are seeing more and more scientific evidence that these traditions are often correct after all.

Example 1: Trunk

From their own experience, many exercisers know that trunk stability can be impaired when the intestines are inflamed. We thus directly feel a connection between an organ and the muscles. We now know that organs have direct interactions with muscles. Each muscle is connected to a specific organ via nerve pathways. If the function of this organ is disturbed, the connected muscle reacts with over or under tension. Thus, in this example, there is a muscle-organ connection between the small intestine and rectus abdominis, as well as the rectus femoris. Why is knowledge of this connection so important? Possibly, small intestine problems weaken the rectus abdominis. Activation of the straight abdominal muscle probably does not solve the small intestine problems. Only regeneration of the intestine will heal the complex of muscle and organs holistically. However, it should also be noted that improved function of the straight abdominal muscle can improve small bowel function. The muscle-organ connection referred to is based on the innervation of nerves emerging from a defined vertebral segment. If this vertebral segment, in the example of the small intestine and rectus abdominis this is the lower thoracic spine, is irritated or immobile, organ or muscle function may be impaired. Therefore, it is useful to examine the correlated vertebral region.

I would like to use this example to show the interaction between the emotional-mental level and organs. We know that "stress hits the stomach" and that stomach problems make bad moods. Meanwhile, the so-called gut-brain axis is well known. Science has shown that the intestine has its own nervous system: the enteric nervous system. Information is constantly exchanged between the intestines and the brain. If, for example, the intestine is irritated due to inflammation, this message is passed on to the brain and processed there. This can lead to mental and emotional symptoms such as concentration problems and exhaustion, and even depression. I believe that in the coming years our Western science will find more and more evidence to support the concepts of alternative traditional healing teachings.


Integration of the systems

In the previous example we have seen that muscles, vertebrae, organs and emotions are directly connected. How do we now manage not to lose the overview? Paul Chek has developed a helpful model for this, in which he systematizes interrelationships. He divides the body into zones, with specific vertebral segments, body areas, muscles, organs, glands, functions, and emotional and mental issues assigned to each zone. I call this overview the "integral body map".

Example 2:

Upper thoracic spine 

Using the upper thoracic spine as an example, I would like to introduce the connections. The upper thoracic spine includes the vertebral region T1 to T5. The body parts in this area are the upper abdomen, the solar plexus, but also parts of the arms. Symptoms in the aforementioned body parts could consequently be due to dysfunctions in the aforementioned vertebral segments, as the body parts are nervally innervated via the vertebrae. 

Consequently, at the organic level, problems in the heart, lungs, and thymus may also affect the other systems in the zone. These organs have relationships with correlated muscles through the muscle-organ connections mentioned above. For example, the lungs are coupled with the deltoid. The organs perform specific functions in the body. For example, the heart represents the regulation of blood pressure, the lungs represent breathing, and the thymus gland represents the immune system. If a client has problems in the upper thoracic spine, it may be useful to ask about immune disorders, blood pressure problems, or breathing problems.

To take it a step further, emotional and mental issues can be assigned to the upper thoracic spine. Emotions and mental issues affect and manifest physically. This idea may seem far-fetched, but they can be experienced directly. For example, everyone has probably had the experience that when thinking loving and compassionate thoughts, the thoracic spine rises, whereas when thinking about a strained, difficult relationship, it curls up. The main emotional-mental issues, with correlation to the upper thoracic spine, are love and relationships. Therefore, if there are problems in the upper thoracic spine, one can look for symptoms such as melancholy, dependency, lack of trust, lack of self-love, and difficulty in contact. Of course, the trainer should allow feelings to prevail here.


Work holistically

In summary, knowledge of these holistic relationships can make our work with our client more effective. I like to compare the "integral body map" to a bulging toolbox. The more tools we have in our suitcase, the more likely we are to have the right tool for the problem. If, on the other hand, we have only one hammer, everything is a nail. Of course, as trainers we should not start to exceed our competences in parallel as psychologists, osteopaths or visceral therapists. But awareness can help to refer to other experts or to give valuable impulses to the client. A valuable message for trainers is that exercise does much more than make you faster, stronger or more supple. We always affect the whole person.


Tim Böttner

Holistic health and fitness coach and personal trainer. He shares his knowledge in the podcast "Think Flow Grow Cast with Tim Böttner", 1:1 coaching, workshops and online courses. www.thinkflowgrow.com

This article first appeared in Trainer Magazine: trainer-magazine.com