One of the most amazing things that our bodies do, is move. Think about it like this. We take fuel, or nutrients, convert it into chemicals and then use it to create a mechanical movement. No need to plug in or turn it on or even think about it. We want to move, and we just do it. What is even more amazing is how we regulate movement. We go to grab a mug of coffee that we expect to be full but it’s not, and, as we pick it up, we nearly throw it over our shoulder because it’s so light. On the other hand, we pick up a mug we expect to be empty and it’s not, it’s so heavy for a millisecond that we almost drop it. Somehow, our brain had determined that as this cup is full and will weigh (how much more?) that we will need to engage just a few more muscle fibres in the task of picking it up. Just those few extra fibres that weren’t necessary make for a mighty forceful lift. Or the full cup, bum, we didn’t engage enough, so on initial pickup the mug tilts wildly as our muscle and brain recalculates and gets enough lifting bits into action to lift it evenly. And then we manage to carry a full cup, without it spilling, up a flight of stairs in the semi darkness. All fine, and we don’t spill a drop, until you think about it. Then the wobbles set in.
In my very first muscle physiology lecture, whilst I was listening to talk of myosin, actin and myofibrils and I drew this:
Muscles it seems,contain millions of tiny critters, nibbling at the actin molecule with a tasty binding site to which the myosin cross-bridges (hereinafter referred to as caterpillars) can attach thus forming a contraction of the muscle as the darling things nibble and let go, nibble and let go. The strength of the muscle pull just depends on how many caterpillars are recruited for the job. The caterpillars are of course, clever creatures, and very obedient. If the brain says stop. the caterpillars, or just those instructed, stop immediately. Not like your average household pooch that can take 3 good yells and a schmako to make it stop.
I guess I want to make two points here.
ONE: Every single movement, every single breath we take is truly a miraculous event. Making art is wow, just so wow.
TWO: This silly sketch, and a wonderful metaphor has helped me remember more about muscle physiology than I will ever have use for.
Finally, I’d like to point out that this highly automated system sometimes works too well. I had my glass behind me on the bedhead and managed to pick it up, with my little finger to the rim of the glass instead of the usual pointer and thumb (try it behind your head!). Of course my brain decided once the glass made it almost over the top of my head, that something was terribly wrong and my hand did an auto correction, bringing my pointer and thumb to the upper position and pouring the entire contents over my head. Mid-way through this spectacle, I attempted a reverse correction, but just slowed the pour enough for my husband to look up. Seeing me gently pouring iced tea over my head, he thought I’d finally flipped my lid. At the conclusion of the incident, and my pithy explanation, he fell out of bed laughing!