In addition to having a second brain in your heart (see post: The Heart Of The Matter), you have a third brain in your belly called the enteric nervous system. The Chinese have long known this and refer to it as the “monkey brain.” Hawaiians traditionally reference it as the na’au which includes the bowels, the mind, and the heart.
The enteric nervous system consists of a network of some 100 million neurons lining the gut which is more neurons than are in the spinal cord. The enteric nervous system can function without any input from the central nervous system and actually transmits information to it. While this brain down below is not the seat (pun intended) of conscious thought, it does exert powerful influence on our physical bodies and emotional states.
The gut brain uses over 30 neurotransmitters including dopamine and serotonin just like the brain above, and a big part of our emotions are influenced by this brain. Recent studies link 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, heart, and gut and to allow all of them to integrate and have input in directing our lives and creating our realities. In western culture, we’re commonly taught early on to solely rely on the brain in our heads and to ignore other internal sources of wisdom.
In my own experience, the brain in my head bossily took over, spouting not-so-nice and anxious nonsense incessantly, until I was completely cut off from any other form of innate knowledge. I’ve since learned to calm the brain in my head and shut it up long enough to let the others have input.
It’s also each person’s challenge and responsibility to take care of each brain in a healthy, respectful manner through a healthy 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 experience a gut feeling, give it more importance and attention. Your body has a many ways in which it’s trying to communicate with you. Listen.
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/106746736@N06/