The body hierarchy


Understanding the order of importance for our survival that our bodies place on our various body systems can provide a road map for successful resolution of health problems.

Paul Chek has a priority system that he uses and teaches to his students (such as myself) to help us help the people that come to see us seeking treatment for their various aches and pains and health problems.

No matter what the symptom, from low-back pain to digestive troubles to fatigue, the idea is to start examining the patient/client by looking at the system at the top of the hierarchy – breathing, and progressing down until a dysfunction is found, and addressing that dysfunction first.

Breathing is at the top of our body’s priority list for obvious reasons – we can’t survive more than a few minutes if we can’t breathe. So in our body’s innate wisdom, it will sacrifice all other body parts and systems in order to make sure that we can still breathe.

Not being able to breathe through the nose is relatively common, either due to the nasal passage being too small or due to allergies or sickness. The body makes a fair number of compensations in order to accommodate mouth breathing, the most obvious one being to bring the head forward to allow for easier air-flow when mouth breathing.

Forward-head posture greatly increases the forces on the back. For every inch the head is forward, the weight of the head is added to the workload the upper back muscles must carry. Heads weigh between 8 and 12 pounds, so if the head is 2 inches forward, that is 16 to 24 pounds of work those poor back muscles are forced to do, which can lead to upper back strain, shoulder problems, and low back problems.

Because the body will always sacrifice a back in order to breathe, one can’t fix a back by only treating a back, if the person is not breathing correctly.

Hyperventilation will increase the pH of the blood which has chemical consequences in the body, such as making it more difficult for the hemoglobin to release the oxygen to the cells (not good), and it also causes more calcium to enter the the muscles and nerve tissue, making them more excitable than they should be.

Blood that is too alkaline causes the arteries of the brain, heart and body to constrict, increasing blood pressure and reducing blood flow to these tissues. Reduced blood flow results in a huge variety of symptoms, from headaches, to digestive issues, to fatigue, to cold hands and feet, and on and on.

The above are only two examples. There are many ways people breathe incorrectly and many various problems that can manifest in the body because of it. So no matter what the issue, it makes sense to check and correct breathing first. Changing how one breathes is not an easy process, but well worth the time it takes.

If you have breathing issues like hyperventilation, chest breathing, shallow breathing etc., seek a physical therapist or a CHEK Practitioner for help, or try yoga. Structural Integration (a form of massage therapy) can help open up the nasal passages if your nose tends to be blocked.

Paul Chek puts bite and chewing (temporomandibular joint and teeth) second on his totem, because if you can’t eat, you won’t survive long either. He is obviously correct, but I think the body prioritizes circulation higher than eating so I would put circulation 2nd on the priority list. After all, a severed artery or a heart attack are both emergencies that need to be addressed immediately to avoid death. I think of the CPR mantra – ABCs – Airway, Breathing, Circulation.

The circulatory system delivers blood carrying oxygen, nutrition, communications via hormones and peptides to the cells, and returns cellular waste to the liver for recycling or disposal.

Any tissue that for whatever reason is not receiving the blood flow it needs will be unable to function optimally.  The body will alter its posture in order to protect a tethered or partially plugged blood vessel.

Blood vessels should be somewhat mobile – they should slide with the tissue as one reaches an arm up overhead, or as the legs move as we run or walk.  Moving our bodies through full range of motion daily should help keep the mobility in the vessels.

However, if a blood vessel becomes stuck and is no longer able to slide (due to a fall, MVA, not enough exercise etc.) suddenly the body has a problem.  For example, if there is a blood vessel tether in the "leg pit" or groin area, the front of the hip is stretched as we walk.

From the tether on downstream the adhered blood vessel is also being stretched, which would narrow the diameter restricting blood flow.  Suddenly the body will discourage a long stride in order to prevent a serious injury to the vessel.

The body will try to adjust by tightening certain muscles and relaxing others to change the position of the pelvis, leg or foot in order to accommodate the compromised  blood vessel and improve blood flow.

The common adaptation is too much anterior rotation (pelvis-bucket pouring water out the front) to keep adequate slack in the blood vessels going into the leg. 

No matter how much that poor pelvis position might wear out a hip joint or cause facet-joint irritation in the low back, that is the sacrifice the body will make to protect its circulation.

Furthermore, no amount of hip-flexor, quad, and low back stretching will create a permanent change if there is a tethered or compromised blood vessel in the groin area. Muscles, bones and joints are the slaves of the blood.

Maybe hip and knee surgeries could be prevented if blood flow were restored before too much cartilage damage occurred.

If you have spent a lot of time stretching and you are getting no more flexible, perhaps this is the reason.

Look for an osteopath or someone that has done training to release nerves, as the blood vessels usually travel in the same channels as the nerves if you think this might be affecting you.

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Related Tips:
Respiration – the BIG boss
Cardiovascular disease

Personal communication with Annabel Mackenzie, who provides osteopathic treatments in Vancouver, British Columbia

Chek, Paul; CHEK Level 3 Practitioner course, Chek Institute, Vista California

Copyright 2012 Vreni Gurd


  1. Sue said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 10:33 am

    Thank you so much, Vreni! This is an excellent article and very helpful to me. Sue.

  2. Christine said,

    September 17, 2012 @ 4:34 am

    Hi there – when you say you get issues if your blood is too alkaline, did you really mean to say acidic as it is really difficult with society’s current diet to achieve alkaline blood. Many thanks from Confused.

  3. Vreni said,

    September 17, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    Hi Christine,

    I did meant alkaline. Hyperventilation alkalizes the blood too much, which is not good. The blood must be kept within strict pH controls (7.35-7.45) , so yes, blood can become too alkaline, which is just as bad as blood that is too acid. Ideal pH is about 7.4, which is slightly alkaline.

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