THE BRAIN IN MY GUT
The gut brain is part of the immune function, mental health & wellbeing
If the ‘gutbrain‘ does not write poetry ‘ what does it do?
The enteric nervous system that regulates our gut is often called the body’s ‘second brain’. Although it can’t compose poetry or solve equations, this extensive network uses the same chemicals and cells as the brain to help us digest and to alert the brain when something is amiss.” I would be surprised if you have not heard the phrase “gut brain”. The Harvard Medical School quote above demonstrates that it is well accepted now that we have complex, adaptive, neural networks (enteric brain) in our gut and heart.
WHAT DOES A ‘GUT BRAIN’ MEAN IN PRACTICE?
The gut (or enteric) brain consists of approximately 500 million neurons. In addition, there is a whole colony of microbes, that also impacts on our mood and behaviour. The gut brain is integral to immune function in the body and can affect mental health and wellbeing, as well as a range of other medical conditions. Looking after gut health then, is essential as part of your overall wellbeing. But I am not a nutritionist, what I want to cover in this article is communicating with your gut and learning to receive messages from it. mBraining is the new field of applied neuroscience which teaches about the head, heart and gut brains and how they communicate. mBraining seeks to align and raise to highest expression, the three brains to enable your own inner wisdom to emerge. Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka, describe the Three Prime Functions of the gut as 1. Safety and Security, 2. Mobilisation and Taking Action, and 3. Core Identity. Here is a description of the three prime functions.
1. Safety and Security
Have you ever done anything that made you feel scared? I did a bungy jump once and if you are like me, you feel that fear in your gut. We talk of butterflies in the stomach – but this was more like a rampaging rhinoceros. That feeling is present to alert you to a safety issue. On that occasion I chose to override the feelings and jump (for fun!). On other occasions research has shown that people say they knew something was unsafe, but they ignored those gut feelings and ended up getting into grief. Learning to listen to and learn how to interpret gut feelings, could quite literally safe your life. It has also been shown to improve work performance, decision making and a range of other benefits.
2. Mobilisation and Taking Action
What about the function of mobilisation? Have you ever felt stuck? Procrastinated over doing something? This is a sign that your gut is not yet willing to take action.
3. Core Identity
Core identity is that deeper sense of being you, being true to yourself, being authentic. When you sense who you really are at the deepest level – where do you experience that? Many people sense that deep in the gut, maybe slightly to the right in the lower quadrant.
HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR GUT?
What sort of communication exists? The gut communicates in many different ways; from chemical/hormonal, neurological, energetic, electromagnetic to mechanical and physiological. The vagus nerve is the main nerve route from gut to the head brain and approximately 80% of the signals in the vagus are afferent (i.e. they go from the gut to the head), showing the importance of that gut based data being transferred upwards. The gut will not communicate in long academic sentences (as language is a function of the head brain), but it will get its messages across via pictures, metaphors, feelings and sensations. Within seconds your head brain may give you a simple sentence or word to help you to interpret the communication. Often the words remain elusive, leaving you just ‘knowing’ without being able to explain why. While a severe fear response may be difficult to ignore, other more subtle communications can be missed if we do not take time to be quiet. Deliberately shut out external ‘noise’ and distractions and then using mindfulness techniques to quieten the head, the internal chatter becomes an essential part of gut communication. So, place the flat of the palm of your hand(s) over your tummy, low down and offer reassurance that all is well. And simply listen. You may be surprised at just how much information you receive.
Dr Suzanne Henwood is the Director and Lead Coach and Trainer of mBraining4Success. She is also the CEO of The Healthy Workplace and a Master Trainer and Master Coach of mBIT (Multiple Brain Integration Techniques) and can be contacted via her website.