The Body Knows Before the Brain Does
Ever heard of the expression, “You could cut the tension with a knife”? You may have noticed this when you’ve walked into a room and (energetically) sensed that something’s “in the air” without anyone speaking. Your mind is not usually having this conversation with you but you “feel” something inside your body that immediately tells your mind, “OK, this is awkward” and that when you can’t quite put your finger on it (figure it out in your head) your body is busy trying to have a conversation with you.
It’s awkward because your body told you it was awkward and you may want to consider listening.
Here’s how it happens. We have brain cells in the small intestine. In fact, according to the Journal of Neuroscience (2018) we have 100 million neural pathways as well as neurotransmitters inside the small intestine, which means the small intestine has its own nervous system! How cool is that! One scientist, Professor Nick Spencer of Flinders University calls the gut “the first brain” ; that it has evolved long before the brain in the skull does (2021). .
What does this have to do with your mental health? I’m hoping by now you’re aware of the direct connection between your emotions as well as your physical body. This enteric nervous system (outside of the brain skull) of the intestines has everything to do with disease as well as mental health so if you’re eating well, nourishing your body with foods that make it work optimally, the signals that output to the microbiome (all living organisms in your gut) as well as the brain messaging work well, too. Simply put, you are (most definitely) what you eat.
More specifically, our microbiome affects how serotonin (the well-being, relaxation hormone) will interact with the Vagus Nerve (which, when stimulated, causes us to feel good) which can both cause and reduce depression/anxiety-like symptoms. So in order to feel good and make sure your gut is working properly for you, including that intuition, consider eat well and fueling your body with lots of nutrient dense foods such as produce, eat slowly so these nutrients feed your cells, tissues, organs, etc., and then, when you have a very important decision to make, check in with your brain, heart and gut. Keep reading in order to figure out how to do that.
So What About the Heart?
The heart has this neural network as well. These brain cells are found in the heart’s protective cover known as the pericardium. It is through this “interoception” that the body has the ability to connect messages from the brain, to the heart and to the gut, then back to the brain. That said, we know today that understanding and decision making are “strongly influenced” by deep bodily (somatic) messages. Because we receive certain types of feelings when we are consciously making decisions (Ohman, & Dolan, 2004) our brain cells that are found inside the gut and pericardium of the heart send out signaling us to feel a certain way. This is why emotions live in the body, not the head. This is why when we are sad, our brains don’t feel sad, our bodies do. We are “e”nergy in motion - “e-motions”. It is this relationship we have with our body’s and our feelings why it’s vital we check in with ourselves and feel the emotion when it comes up for us. Our feelings are our barometer on how to live; they enable us to move forward in life by making new decisions and taking action. If, due to one’s personal experiences, it’s too uncomfortable and we decide to ignore it because it’s so painful, that’s when the energy inside has to lie dormant and take up space. This is how one can begin the building blocks to what experts term as mental illness in which a person loses the sense of who they are because they are unwilling to feel the uncomfortable parts of life. It is my opinion that mental illness is a way of coping with that un-comfortability.
This is also why physical body work like yoga, myo-facial release, massage therapy and other modalities make us feel so good. They can release those dormant energies that have been hanging around, ultimately changing heavy feelings of depression and anxiety to lighter vibrations of peace and contentment. You may want to consider trying one of these modalities (first) if you have a big event or decision coming up in your life. Then see how much more clear your mind is and then move forward.
Below is a link for a meditation using all 3 brains so next time you’re stuck on what decision to make, try this great meditation from “The Mindfulness Summit” and let me know how it works for you!