By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
There are not that many things about the human body that surprise me but this one did. Your brain actually ranks your other body parts in terms of priority. Of course, in the order of things, your brain obviously ranks itself first. That is why as you die, all of your body's resources are diverted from whatever they are doing to your brain to keep it alive. But what really surprised me was learning that, other than your brain itself, one of the most highly brain-ranked body parts are your toes. The toes? -- are you kidding me?
No, I am not kidding. Here is the proof.
Meet the Map of Your Body Inside Your Brain
Inside your brain, the brain keeps a map. The map corresponds to your body parts. But here's the thing: not all of the parts on this map are the actual size that they are on your body itself. Some parts of the map are a lot bigger than they are in reality and some are smaller.
It reminds me of those gag maps of the US that are sold in New York where New York City is giant-sized buildings and the only other city that show up large enough to be visible is Los Angeles. All of the states in between as shown as tiny little nameless squares. The map doesn't accurately represent reality, just someone's distorted view of the dominating importance of our two coastal magnets.
But that is precisely what you would find if you saw the map of the image of your body in your brain. The first body part represented is not your heart or your liver or kidneys or stomach. The first part represented are your toes.
This internal brain map is called the "cortical homunculus".
Which begs the question, "why the heck would our brain place so much important on our toes of all things?" Why does the brain track our toes so closely?
The position of your toes on the brain map is adjacent to the position of your genitals on the map. That's how important those toe digits are to your brain. There's toes, Number One, and sex Number Two.
Your Toes Are The Closest Body Part to Low Crawling Enemies
Your toes actually have a fairly large concentration of nerve endings, which is why stubbing your toes hurts so much.
There is a good reason your brain tracks your toes so closely from an evolutionary point of view. The human species may be millions of years old. We modern humans are old the result for the last 50,000 or so years of that development.
All those many years ago, we lived in caves. Since the opening of the cave would have been the way that predators entered our safe space, it would have made sense for us to sleep with our heads farthest away from the cave opening and our feet closest to the opening. In fact, most of us still sleep that way, with the head of our beds farther away from the door than our feet.
In this position, our feet become our sensors during the night. A predator trying to sneak up on us as we slept would first cross our feet. It would make sense, therefore, for the brain to place a huge amount of importance of the sensations felt by our feet. Is something breathing on my feet down there?
Your toes are your night-time alarm system, your neighborhood watch and your security guard all rolled up into one. They are your 10 little sentries patrolling the wall 24/7.
This Brain Map Gives You a Great Tool to Relax Fast
Now that you know how important your toes are to your brain, you can use that knowledge to help yourself to relax deeply.
In the mornings, before you go to work, take 2 minutes to massage your feet and toes gently. You will find that it takes a bite out of the stress of getting ready for work. Have a bad argument with your spouse or partner? Just take a 5 minute pause, go to the bathroom and massage your toes gently. You will feel relaxed immediately. You will have no choice. Your body is built that way.
At the end of the day, always show your toes some love. Soak your feet in a warm sudsy water, then oil the with sesame or olive oil.
In fact, I have discovered something strange. Just thinking about massaging your toes induces a relaxation response. Try it. Think about rubbing your toes gently for two minutes. You will find yourself taking a deep, exhale, as though a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.