Did you know that you actually have three brains? You are already aware of your head brain, the one you’re using to read this article with right now, but did you also know you have a heart brain and gut brain? Each of the three brains has a distinct neural network that is formed when you are an embryo developing in your mother’s womb. During your third week of development you go through an amazing process called gastrulation. This process involves the formation of three distinct cell layers within your body which sets the blueprint of your body plan.
It is during this developmental milestone that your body’s inner, middle and outer layers are formed. And each layer relates to one of your three brains. The names of the three layers that form your body’s blueprint are the endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm. Your gut brain forms first in the inner layer of your body plan called the endoderm. Endoderm cells also go on to form the liver, pancreas and gastrointestinal tract. Next to form is your heart brain in the mesoderm or middle layer. Mesoderm cells also go on to form your heart and blood vessels, bone, muscle and kidneys. The final layer to form is the ectoderm and this will become your head brain, central and peripheral nervous systems, sensory organs, skin and hair.
Apart from the obvious different physical functions that each organ has the head, heart, and gut brains also perform different mental and emotional roles. For example your head brain is used for analysing information and is good at being logical. Your heart brain senses the world through emotion and feelings, and your gut brain is used for understanding your identity and who you are in the world. The gut brain also helps you learn self preservation by teaching you to follow your gut instinct. You know that gut feeling you get about certain things? Well it comes from your gut brain talking to your head brain via your emotional limbic system. These two brains must learn to listen to each other to help you make important decisions to feed you right and grow you well.
By the time you are an adult your gut will be APPROXIMATELY 8 METRES LONG. And in the inner world of all this muscle and tissue there is a vast network of neurons about the size of a cat’s brain. With an estimated 500 million nerve cells and over 100 million neurons it’s no surprise your gut is referred to as your second brain. Using your enteric nervous system (ENS), your gut is fully equipped to think, remember and learn. Your gut brain has a complete network of neurons, neurotransmitters and special proteins that help it to form memories, learn new behaviours and grow new neurons.
To help preserve and protect this valuable neuron rich area, your gut is armed with seventy percent of your immune system to keep it healthy, defend against “invaders” and digest food.
In today’s modern world we are encouraged to focus mainly on feeding our head brain with facts and figures which can lead to information overload. But we also need to use our two other brains to processes our feelings and listen to our intuition to help keep us in balance, otherwise we become very top heavy and unstable. In traditional Chinese medicine the heart brain is often referred to as the Queen or King, the head brain the Personal Assistant and the gut brain the Army General. When navigating her way in the world the Queen feels into what she would like to experience for the day, she then asks her head brain assistant who is great at networking, remembering contacts and organising details, to pull up all the necessary information about a certain experience she would like to enjoy like going for a walk in the forrest. The Queen then feels into each option presented to her by her Personal Assistant – the head brain, of all the forrest walks available in the area to sense which one resonates with her desired feeling for the day. For example, is the heart desiring the joy of lush green trees and quiet surroundings with a boardwalk or mountainous terrain with a lake and great views? When she finds a frequency that matches her original feeling for the days experience the choice is made. Then the Queen asks her Army General to follow “gut instinct” and organise the logistics of the mission including weather reports, what is best to wear to suit the terrain, food supplies, mode of transport, and the best route to take. This way all three brains get to celebrate their strengths and the ease of working together.
Becoming familiar with your three brains and how to use them in a more integrated and connected way helps to decrease stress and promotes relaxation of the nervous system. If you’re not sure where to start, it can be as simple as starting a conversation like “Good morning my Queen or King, how are you? What is your hearts desire for today?”. This does take practice but the more you become familiar with how each brain talks to you, the easier it becomes. Spend a few minutes every day sitting quietly, close your eyes and breathe into each area to activate your three brains. Start by breathing deeply 3, 6 or 9 times into your head, then move down to your chest and finally your belly area (just below your belly button). You don’t need to do anything just close your eyes, breathe and notice what happens as you bring your attention into each area of the three brains. It can also help to place one or both hands on each area as you breathe to bring a deeper sense of inner connection.
This exercise will help you to look internally for your own answers as opposed to looking outside of yourself to others for what is right for you. The more you do this exercise, which is just as important as brushing your teeth daily, the more you will begin to activate the deepest trust in your own thoughts and feelings and begin to build your own internal compass by which to navigate your way through the world with your new team mates – your Queen/King, Army General and Personal Assistant.
Take a problem you are experiencing right now in your life or a decision you need to make. To help you see more options and come to an answer that feels right for you, take a few moments, focus on the problem and then as mentioned above, begin the breathing exercise into each of your three brains.
As you breathe into your head ask yourself: What do I think about this situation?
As you breathe into your chest ask yourself: How do I feel about this situation?
As you breathe into your belly ask yourself: What are my gut instincts or inner voice telling me to do?
Write down, draw or talk out loud to yourself the answers or insights you come up with. Then follow through with what feels right for you. For example; take no action just yet and take your time, take action, ask for help, or allow more inner investigation before moving forward.
- Head – thinking brain (think)
- Heart – feeling brain (feel)
- Gut- intuitive brain (know)
- Use your thinking brain and words to express your feelings and inner voice (intuition or inner tutor) in a respectful and honest way with the people in your life.
- Listen to your heart and explore how you honestly feel. What brings you joy? Then honour your feelings by expressing or saying what feels right for you. Follow the feeling.
- Listen to your gut instincts and learn to trust your inner voice and activate your deepest courage to take action on choices that feel good for you to make in your life.
And remember, there are no right or wrong choices in life, only choices that feel right for you. And if you make a choice and it doesn’t go as planned, guess what? You get to connect back in with your three brains, digest the experience, have a different internal conversation, play with what it would feel like to do things differently and then make a new choice.
In celebration of your choices,
Tamarin Pigneguy, Dip. App Sci, TCM, Acu