Our Three Brains: The Head, the Heart and the Gut
Why three brains?
The first thing that comes to our mind when talking about brains is probably the one in our head. We pay a lot of attention to the head brain every day. A new field in applied neuroscience called mbraining found out, that there are actually three brains within our body:
“Why brains? The literature defines brains as complex adaptive neural networks (…). Each brain has its own memory and can adapt from within, without having to communicate with the head brain. (…) Each of these brains has its own habits and learned patterns, which can be aligned, or not aligned. How our multiple brains communicate and operate with each other is vital for our congruence, success and happiness.”
The three brains in more detail
The Head Brain
As the rational brain, the head brain expresses through the 2 dimensional analytical view of the sympathetic nervous system. It’s a binary view that asks questions like: Left or right? Good or bad? Right or wrong? Yes or no?
The head brain looks at problems in a logical and analytical way. Listing pros and cons or weighing strengths and weaknesses. It supports the management of our day to day challenges and decision making with intelligent concern and reasonable doubting.
When my head brain speaks, it might say
Decisions I take from the head brain might start with “I think I should” or “I think I shouldn’t”.
Keywords related to the head brain are: Knowledge, measure, scoring and proving.
The Heart Brain
As the emotional brain, the heart brain expresses through the 4 dimensional giving and receiving of the intracardiac nervous system.
The heart brain looks at circumstances through passion, feelings and creativity.
When my heart brain speaks, it might say
Decisions I take from the heart brain might start with “I desire” or “I am longing for”.
Keywords related to the heart brain are: Circulating, relating, sharing and caring.
The Gut Brain
As the intuitive brain, the gut brain expresses through the 3 dimensional connection of the enteric nervous system.
The gut brain sends us messages without explanations – an unreasonable knowing. These are momentarily snapshots.
When my gut brain speaks, it might say
Decisions I take from the gut brain might start with “In this moment I want” or “right now I choose”.
Keywords related to the heart brain are: Ancient emotion, connection, grounding, nature and nurture.
Why is it supportive to listen to all three brains in our bodies?
Have you ever made a decision based on a pro and con list, where the pros highly dominated the cons and still the decision just didn’t FEEL right? Or just when it was time to speak out your decision, there was an “inner voice” telling you to “change your mind”?
This can happen when we make a decision solely based on our analytical head brain – causing a feeling of inner conflict. It might lead you to not trusting in your ability to make “right” decisions. Whereas when we involve all three brains in the decision making process, it most likely feels more aligned with your true, authentic self.
Practice listening to each of the three brains
Consciously decide to pause and take time for listening. Take a few deep breaths until you feel present in your body. You can have your feet flat on the ground and close your eyes if that feels comfortable.
Now you can bring your awareness to the brain you want to listen to. Maybe you want to place a hand at that area and direct your breathing there.
The head brain finds a reason for your Why through looking at pros and cons. This can be very helpful, when this analytical view is needed in your decision process. If your head brain is overly stimulated, it often tells stories around a situation and repeats itself over and over again. It tells you what you “should” or “should not” do.
Your heart speaks to you through feelings. Joy for example might feel light, opening and inviting. Anger might feel hot and raging. Maybe you feel a physical sensation somewhere in your body. You can bring your attention there and allow room for this feeling. Your own values will also influence your heart’s decision making.
Your gut sends you messages and doesn’t give a reason for your Why. They might not even make sense at this exact moment. Don’t try to question those messages. Intuition is like a muscle that needs training. You will learn to listen to your intuition by actually listening to it and learning from your experience.
Through simply bringing your awareness to the different voices that are talking to you and the messages you are receiving, you can build and strengthen your own inner guiding system.
An example for a decision process
Imagine me sitting in front of a menu in a restaurant trying to decide what to eat. Let’s hear my different brains talking:
“You should definitely take the green salad. There is no other option. You shouldn’t take the pizza as it contains so much fat and this isn’t good for your body. But maybe the salad won’t make you full. So you should eat a little bit of carbs. Potatoes are the best options on the menu, because you definitely don’t want to eat the fries as here we have the same problem with the fat.”
“I am longing for the pancakes, for something sweet (saying this with a big smile and sparkle in the eyes). It reminds me of that day when we had a picnic by the lake. That was a wonderful day.”
“I’ll just take the smoothie bowl.”
How to decide now?
Well it depends of course on your personal situation and what is important to you. My head might have reasonable arguments and I choose, if I want to listen to them. It might remind me of an allergy I have. Or that every time I eat raw garlic, my belly aches. But if it’s just telling me a fear-based story about why I shouldn’t eat what my heart desires, I would probably say “no thank you” to those thoughts.
As I was so used to making decisions by only listening to my head brain, I consciously choose to first listen to my heart and gut.
I might silently ask myself “what does my heart desire?” while placing a hand on my heart space. And then I would check in, if my head comes up with any reason for or against it, that I want to consider.
Especially if I had a really strong gut feeling against a meal that my head or heart want to choose, I would listen to that. Our intuition is strongly connected with our immune system. And as I said before, our gut just KNOWS.
We can practice with these trivial seeming decisions, to get an idea of how it feels to make aligned decisions.
Balancing the three brains through Kundalini Yoga
In today’s world our head brain is highly stimulated. Through the practice of Kundalini Yoga we can bring all three brains into balance. All of them are important for our inner guiding system.
With the Adi Mantra for example, you open up the three chambers – the three brains – in your body. You can find an audio practice in this blog post here.
When the heart and the gut brain are activated, the head brain can find relaxation. Then there is room for feeling our emotions and listening to our intuition. It requires focus and awareness and comes with dedication and practice.
I invite you to reflect on what resonates with your own experiences and what doesn’t. What I’m writing here is what I know so far and what feels true for me in this moment. It might be a partially or even completely different truth for you.