Remember a time when you had one of those strange, but sure gut feelings? You know, that eerie, strong, undeniable certainty of something you could not possibly know based on thinking and logic. I am sure there have been plenty of times when you had that unmistakable flutter of “butterflies” in your stomach or felt green and queasy sick to your stomach as an emotional response to something.
There is a valid basis for all this colorful, folksy speak. I have told you about a second brain in your heart, but did you know there is also a third brain in your belly? The Chinese have long known about this and refer to it as the “monkey brain.” Hawaiians have traditionally referred to this as the na’au which includes the bowels, the mind and the heart.
Technically known as the enteric nervous system, this brain consists of a network of some 100 million neurons lining the gut. That is more neurons than in the spinal cord. It can function without any input from the central nervous system and sends information to it. While this brain down below is not the seat (pun intended) of conscious thought, it does exert a powerful influence on our physical bodies and emotional states.
This gut brain uses over 30 neurotransmitters including dopamine and serotonin just like the brain above. A big part of our emotions are influenced by this brain. Recent scientific studies are linking this brain to stress, depression, autism and even osteoporosis and may have possible implications as to how these are treated.
Our challenge is to learn to listen to the perceptions and the information of the brains in our head, our heart, and our gut. To allow all of them to integrate and have input in directing our lives and creating our realities. In western culture, we are taught pretty much early on to solely rely on the brain in our heads and to totally ignore any other source of wisdom.
In my own experience in the past, the brain in my head greedily took over, running wild, chattering not so nice and anxious nonsense incessantly, until I got completely cut off from any other innate sense of knowledge. I have since learned how to calm it down, and shut it up long enough to let the others get in a word.
It is also our challenge to take care of each of brain in a healthy, respectful manner through diet and exercise. As you can imagine, the brain in our gut and hence, our emotions, are strongly tied to what we put in our bodies. Eat junk, feel like junk.
So the next time you have a gut feeling, give it a little more importance and attention. Your body has a many ways in which it communicates with you. Sssshhhh! Listen.