Mindful Mondays: Listening to the Body by Listening to Your THREE Brains
It’s Teryn again here on the blog to talk about another topic surrounding yoga, the body, and the mind. Many times in yoga, we talk about listening to our bodies and listening to ourselves in deeper ways. So I thought I’d explore this topic more today on the blog.
While there are many components to listening to ourselves in deeper ways, one component is listening to our three brains. Yes, you read that right: The human body actually has three different brains—not just the brain residing in your head. Science has been discovering that the human body has three different areas where neurons gather in such high numbers that there are actually functioning ideas, wants, feelings, and wisdom residing in these areas.
Your three brains are located in the head, the heart, and the gut.
The Brain in Your Head
This is the most obvious one, so we’re going to spend less time on it. But the brain in your head has more than 100 billion neurons residing in it. Your head brain is where most of your cognition, thinking, and perception happen. Your head brain is responsible for language, finding meaning, and making up the stories and narratives that you translate your life around.
The Brain in Your Heart
The heart brain is made up of about 40,000 neurons. This means that there are enough neurons here that your heart actually can sense, feel, learn, and remember. This area is where you may feel those entangled emotions of love, hatred, anger, and happiness the most.
Ever heard of the expressions “I’m heartsick” or “my heart broke”? Ever had an intense feeling of love that seems to radiate from your chest? Those are actually inherently important moments when our heart brain is responding and reacting to the world around us, our relationships, and what we’re truly feeling.
The Brain in Your Gut
This is where it gets really interesting. While you may be more familiar with the head and even the heart, your gut holds 100 million neurons. In fact, there are so many neurons here that scientists have begun calling this area our “second brain” when it comes to the ways we function and make choices in our lives. It’s that important.
The gut is where we find our core identity: who we are, who we’re not, what we truly value, what our deepest purposes are. It’s also the domain of safety and self-preservation, fear and anxiety, action and follow-through.
Have you ever had a “gut feeling” about something even though you didn’t know why? Or have you ever done something that “took guts” to complete? Well, this is because there is validity to your deepest gut feelings and intuitions, and those neurons of the second brain are housed here in our abdomen.
Why Is This Important?
For a long time, the Western world has worshipped the head brain. We are obsessed with our heads. And while our heads are very useful things, don’t get me wrong, we often can lie to ourselves, create false narratives and stories, be overly rational, and be overall sort of… well, self delusional, if we’re honest.
On another note, sometimes those “Just follow the heart!” sentiments can seemingly lead us astray, too! How many of you have felt something so deeply, acted impulsively, and just assumed it was real only to realize afterwards that a lot of it was fake and you should’ve kept your head on straighter?
The head simply can’t tell the full, complete story of your life. It can’t be the only place where you’re tuning into and listening. Nor can the heart. And nor, frankly, can the gut. And this is why really tapping into all three brains is so important. Because it takes alignment of all three brains to help you make healthy, wise decisions for yourself.
Let’s just take a real-life example for a moment. Say you fall for someone. You’re crushing hard. Your mind may start telling you stories as to how this is going to be great, you might develop expectations as to what this person is going to do for you and be to you. You may even feel something intensely in your heart. And whatever feels good is good, right?
And yet…maybe you’re feeling a ton of fear and anxiety. Maybe you just can’t place your finger on it, but something feels off deep down in your gut. Try as you might, there’s something about this that feels off no matter how much your head is justifying it or your heart is feeling it. You can’t find peace, and you’re feeling a little crazy.
This means something is out of line in your three brains. And your gut with its deepest instincts is warning you of something—something you can’t see but you instinctively know. And warnings are always important to heed.
On the flip side, say you’re making a hard decision about a career change. Logically, everything in your head is telling you to play it safe and stay in your current career. It makes no sense to change careers. You have a great paycheck, a comfortable life.
However, you heart is actively feeling the stir of learning something new or following a passion, and your gut just keeps telling you that you’re truly miserable in your current situation no matter how much it logically seems better to stay at your current job. No matter how safe or comfortable you are, something deeper inside is screaming for release.
Maybe this inner turmoil is beginning to affect your sleep and your work. And maybe your heart and gut might be navigating you into deeper areas of fulfillment and a greater understanding of who you are and what you’re meant to do—while your head is playing catch up because, well, it doesn’t make logical sense.
This takes listening more deeply to your body than you ever have before! Which is why yoga and meditation are great—because you are actively cultivating that deeper inner listening to your body.
As it turns out, it’s much more difficult than you may have thought, but it’s also empowering to begin realizing these things so you can start checking in with the different areas of intelligence in our bodies to find a way forward that brings you true peace and alignment from within.
Take a few deep breaths and think about times in your life you listened to the heart, the head, or the gut. Maybe jot down a few notes on what it was like to be only listening to one area of the body and what ended up happening as a result. Think through ways you can try to incorporate full-bodied listening in your present life when it comes to a difficult decision you’re making.