The Mind Gut Connection – Chris James
‘The state of your guts affects how you feel in your mind.’
To understand the Mind Gut Connection, you firstly have to understand the roles of the gut in the body.
The multiple functions of the gut interact with each other and with the food you eat to regulate your nutrition, metabolism, mental function, weight, energy and your susceptibility to illness.
- Your gut has its own nervous system, the enteric nervous system (ENS), which has as many nerve cells as your spinal column and has constant contact with your brain. This has a direct impact on your mood and mental function.
- Your gut is also home to about 100 trillion microbes and lives in a symbiotic relationship with favourable bacteria, yeast and fungi, viruses and an occasional worm. This is called the ‘microbiome’.
- Over two-thirds of your body’s immune system is found in the lining of the small intestine. Thus your gut is the largest immune barrier to the outside world.
- The gut is also an organ of detoxification. Much of this responsibility rests with the liver, but the intestinal lining cells are themselves rich in detoxifying enzymes.
The mind gut
The state of your guts affects how you feel in your mind. It can be either a source of suffering or of extraordinary wellness. The gut is home to an unimaginable number of nerves and it commands fleets of signalling substances and connections.
Just as the brain has its own nervous system, the central nervous system (CNS), the gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS). Both systems originate from the same embryonic tissues and in life share a certain synchronicity.
The ENS has a number of key functions. It:
- Controls the immune system in the gut
- Coordinates the release of hormones as food arrives
- Helps to open up the gut to circulation after you eat, which help absorption of nutrients
- Choreographs and coordinates the contraction of the muscle cells that line the intestines to keep everything moving in the right direction (i.e. out of the body).
The ENS is autonomous. If the connection between the enteric nervous system and the brain is severed at the vagus nerve, the gut will continue to function as if nothing has happened. It will even continue to digest food – imagine that! This is unique to the ENS and is found nowhere else in the body.
The gut is affectionately referred to as the ‘second brain’ and the conversation that takes place between the first brain and the second brain is actually a two-way-highway conversation, although it has to be said that 90 per cent of the conversation is from the gut to the brain. The vagus nerve is responsible for this. The vagus nerve works like a telephone cable between the switchboard, or brain, and the gut. This makes the gut the largest sensory organ to the outside world.
Listening to your gut
The gut is not only the seat of your health, it is also the seat of your intuition; a huge matrix that senses our inner life working on the subconscious mind. Human beings have an innate ability to process information about what’s going on around them and put a response into action separate from the brain and the central nervous system.
Listening to your gut is a very visceral activity; it is like having a sixth sense. In fact, listening to gut feelings is the most powerful guiding ally we have – ignoring them often leads to suffering. Cooperation between the gut and brain begins very early in life. When we are children we have not yet evolved the analytical brain to override what we are truly feeling and are adept at responding to the impulses from the gut, but as we get older we experience the world more through our senses.
You don’t have to be a gastroenterologist to be aware of the more subtle feelings in your stomach that accompany emotions such as excitement, fear and stress. The second brain consists of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of our gut, or alimentary canal. The second brain contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. It is this multitude of neurons in the enteric nervous system that enables us to ‘feel’ the inner world of our gut.
‘Listening to your gut is a very visceral response; it is like having a sixth sense.’
As adults we have to practise letting go of the analytical and over- thinking mind and trust in our intuition, especially when it comes to assessing potentially threatening situations. The process of making decisions based on gut feeling may involve the gut recalling how it felt in similar situations in the past. This is why yoga and meditation are such good, effective practices – because they allow us to step back, drop the analytical mind and tune in to our intuition.
As I have developed my yoga and life practice, I have become convinced that as we humans have become increasingly more ‘civilised’, we have forgotten how to listen to our instinctual self. The net effect is that we have become distanced from our physical bodies and our guts. We have lost our connection with the rhythm of life and with our own internal rhythms and the rhythm of our own body mind.
When these three elements (mind, body and gut) are fully connected, you awaken a deeper connection to your authentic self; to the inner knowing of things that are not learned but are an innate part of you, encoded in your DNA: your real human nature. In this connected state you can begin to care for yourself and stop abusing your own body.
My first book ‘Mind Body Cleanse’ by Chris James (Penguin, 2017) the 12-Day Plan to Heal Your Body and Re-Energise Your Mind. Available on Amazon, Waterstones, and Borders and all leading book stores.
Bio: Chris James, health wellness expert / author BA, Kings College London, AKC BWY dip
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