How do we maintain a healthy gut so that it is working in coherence with the brain strengthening the mind body connection?
If you’re like me, and functioned with fight or flight for a long time, your gut feelings were suppressed or tangled and your heart was closed off.
If you grew up in a chaotic home or with family members who ignored their “gut feelings,” you might need to untangle the residue of confusing emotions and thoughts. And if you have lived through war or trauma, it’s going to be difficult to turn things around, but possible! Always possible! You just have a little homework.
There is little calm until there is coherence in gut, heart, and brain. Why? Because the gut and heart are keys to tuning into who we are, what we want, and what makes us happy. They are keys in the mind body connection.
Tuning into the Gut and Improve Mind-Body Connection
What does it mean to listen to the gut? I discuss in my book how I buried the emotional discomforts of my gut with food, over-exercise, and excessive travel. Coincidentally, I had digestion troubles and weight problems for a long time.
When I finally took moments of stillness to listen to my gut and slow down, I was confronted with a hurricane of emotions swirling inside me.
One way I cleared up the confusion in my gut was to practice “presence” which Eckhart Tolle discusses in his books. This practice began to slow down the spinning thoughts and worry in my mind. By being present to my senses, my surroundings, and my breath, the noise of my brain and the tenseness in my gut abated.
I also practiced “focusing” where I listened to specific body sensations that arose so that they dissipated. For example, if I felt depressed or tense, I could go to that place in my body, notice it, try to give it a one word description which “fit.”
Often, if I sat with the sensation and was able to name it, it released.
These were some approaches that helped me tune into the gut. It also helped me to understand the biology around it as well. And since I suffered from gut illnesses, I had to look into the nutrition and biology to find a fix.
Neurotransmitters, Neurons, and a Healthy Gut
The gut affects the brain, our ability to think clearly, and our mood. Ninety percent of serotonin which controls our mood is manufactured in the gut and a lot of the dopamine too. Dopamine affects emotions and the brain’s reward center. How can we manufacture these happy neurotransmitters if the gut is not heard and healthy?
In addition, the gut (or the enteric system), has been called the Second Brain because of its roughly 100,000,000 neurons which communicate with the brain. (Gershon)
Plus, we’ve got about 2-3 pounds of live cultures—it’s a biodome of bacterial activity in the enteric system which also affects our health and brain chemistry. We have evidence that these bacteria in our gut play a role in autism, depression, anxiety, and more. In one famous study, mice decreased anxious behavior after receiving two strains of good bacteria including lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. (Atlantic) We have some evidence of good bacteria alters people’s moods.
Scientists are examining how antibiotics and genetically modified foods affect the terrain of the gut and asking how these new technologies of pharmaceuticals and GMOs affect the good bacteria that contribute to the health and mind of the gut.
New York Times bestselling author, David Perlmutter, MD, has written many books on the foods which can alter the gut biome and how to bring balance and health back. He is a big fan of the grain-free diet. I think it varies slightly from person to person, but I did eat grain-free diet for a time and it helped strengthen the gut and balance my mood.
The way we eat also affects our gut and mood.
Eating, Our Mood, the Healthy Gut and Weightloss
When we see food, the enzymes in our stomach begin to work. The brain begins production of HCL and pancreatic digestive enzymes before eating. However, if we are stressed, worried, fearful, guilt-ridden, we are so busy manufacturing cortisol that we don’t have a lot of digestive enzymes available. The biodome (the bacterial composite) is compromised too along with neurotransmitters and your brain and mood are affected.
If you live in the U.S. or other developed countries where it’s not about finding food to eat but about trying to be thin and in shape, you may have a negative relationship with eating. Maybe you feel guilty or have fears around food. I notice an improvement in my health, mood and digestion when I eat mindfully with a positive attitude and when I slow down.
The relationships between the neurotransmitters, bacteria, digestive enzymes, thoughts and emotions are interrelated. We are giant biodomes of thoughts, emotions, physical and chemical reactions.
Back to the question, how do we live with more presence, more joy?
It can help to tune into the gut, and maintain balance in the gut. This can create coherence between your gut and brain making it easier to make good decisions, follow through too.
Experiment with tuning into your gut, noticing when you are tense, being mindful while eating, experimenting with foods that make digestion easier.
There are many issues and components involved to being whole coherent and happy. Strengthening the Mind Body connection can improve with this awareness about the gut.Next post, we’ll look at the heart and how it is involved with happiness. In the meantime, let me know your experiences with tuning into the gut.