Have you ever followed your heart or had a gut feeling? Neuroscientific research has demonstrated that there is a reason why we rely on the heart and gut when we make a decision. Yes, the brain in your head is ultimately responsible for the actions you take, but you also have a heart (cardiac) brain and a gut (enteric) brain and information flowing between the three of them is essentially how human cognitive function is optimised.
The heart, head and gut are connected by a complex system of neural pathways, and each has its own set of neurons that work independently. Each brain is able to receive and process information and communicate it to the other brains – how amazing is that?!
The left brain in your skull is analytical, logical and your centre of reasoning and the right brain in your skull is the house of our creative mind and artistic expression. This is where perception, cognition and conscious thought live. Where we plan, dream and strategise, much like the Liver’s Ethereal Soul, the Hun, a fascinating topic for another time.
The heart brain experiences the world through emotions and it communicates to the other brains what you value, what’s important to you and the emotions you are experiencing. This explains why someone who is struggling with strong emotions, either positive or negative, for a long period of time is at risk of heart disease.
The gut is a more primal, self-preservation brain that provides that immediate, practical response to a situation; a gut feeling. The gut brain generates instinct and intuition and it has less interest in your emotions, it simply wants to protect you now, in this moment, and send you signals aimed at survival. These threat signals are received by the amygdala in the head brain and the latter sets off a chemical response.
Your head, heart and gut brains communicate through the vagus nerve; the long nerve that runs from your head to your abdomen. While it’s easy to assume that your head brain sends all the information out to the organs in the body, some research has shown that most of the information travels UP your vagus nerve TO the brain and not the other way around, suggesting that the head brain receives signals from the heart and gut brains and is influenced by them before sending out the message for action to be taken.
Some decisions just feel right. You know, an innate kind of knowing that you physically feel, you KNOW that it’s the right course of action. For that to have happened. Your gut has triggered some intuition, your heart has communicated how you feel about it and your head brain has made the balanced decision as to the most appropriate action for the situation. And that has all happened in the blink of an eye! Sometimes, one brain gets dominance and we may ignore our gut feeling, ignore rationality and make a decision based purely on emotion. Or our analytical brain takes charge and our instinct and feelings about something are minimised by logical thought. If however, we can tune into all three brains and improve the communication pathways, we can make best use of all of the information our body and brains have to offer.
As the vagus nerve is the communication centre for the three brains, stimulation of the vagus nerve can improve our decision making and help the flow of information to and from the head brain. Because the vagus nerve has two branches, one that stems out of the skull just behind the right ear lobe to descend to the enteric system (digestive system) and one that stems from the skull behind the left ear lobe which descends to the heart, this magical nerve is accountable for digestion and heart function and acts as an axis for the three brains as said above. This is one of the reasons why bilateral brain stimulation and Neuro Rocking (check out my recent article on the subject) has such a positive effect on our health, especially on emotional dysregulation cases such as CPTSD and anxiety and depression. Acupuncture is another great way to help the nervous system reset to healthy parameters and strengthens the communication bridges between all three brains. Many people report feeling much relaxed after an acupuncture session, no matter what the treatment was aimed for. I like to call it an accidental positive side effect.
As always, I am here to help and happy to do so. Get in touch to discuss how I can help. We all deserve feeling good in our own skin.