Of Hearts And Heads
Throughout history, philosophers, poets, and prophets have regarded the human heart as the source of love, wisdom, intuition, and positive emotions.
These important functions of the heart were recognized by many ancient societies, including the Mesopotamians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Chinese.
Four thousand years ago the Egyptians believed the heart played a role in the spiritual dimension. When someone died, they weighed the person’s heart to see how much good and evil it contained and placed the heart in special urns for burial, while the brain was discarded.
Not such a great time for Brain.
Aristotle and his predecessors were such avid pro-hearters that they believed that the human mind resided in the heart.
In fact, it looked as though Heart’s cultural adoration was going to continue in a blessed golden age … but then a certain dude called Hippocrates rocked up.
Without wanting to rain on Heart’s parade or anything, Hippocrates declared that the human mind actually resided in the brain.
Heart felt (I imagine) a little deflated.
On the other hand, Brain got up, dusted himself off, threw a disdainful glance at the Egyptians and swaggered off into the limelight.
From this point onwards, a new era began.
Brain’s ego was frothed by a cultural acceptance that He was the seat of intelligence …
… that He was the almighty source of thoughts, feelings and ideas.
As a result Brain has been truly ruling the roost.
And whilst no body is denying that we only have one Brain, science has now revealed that Brain is not the only neural network that is complex enough to guide our thinking, feeling and behaviour.
It turns out that the Gut (known as the “enteric brain”) has a neural network as complex as the brain of a domestic cat or dog and that our emotional states are communicated across the entire body via the electromagnetic field of the “cardiac brain” aka Heart.
Heart … and Gut … you may climb onto stage.
Embedded in the lining of the intestines, is the enteric nervous system, with hundreds of millions of neurons – one thousandth the number in your brain.
Gut neurons communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain to the chest and abdomen.
This ‘gut reaction’ evolved to protect us from danger.
Using the gut we could sense predators before we saw them with our own eyes.
This shows that the clearest connection between the gut and the mind is how we experience anxiety and stress. A gut instinct is when we have a reaction to something we may find fearful and need to either fight or take flight.
What does this mean?
It means that if we follow our “gut instinct”, the chances are that we’ll be making decisions out of fear or defence as opposed to inspiration and purpose.
The heart is fifty times more powerful than the brain electrically, and five thousand times more powerful magnetically.
The magnitude of this strength is such that the heart’s magnetic component can be sensed several feet away from the body.
Heart fields can also supposedly interact between several individuals, taking social communication to a level beyond language, gestures, facial expressions, and body movements, thereby directly affecting our everyday social encounters.
This brings us to the sense of intuition.
Following heart lead intuition can lead to remarkable life changes, as your decisions become about the expansion of who you are rather then limiting yourself to avoiding pain or fearful situations.
On a personal level of using heart-based intuition means you can make quicker decisions about what is right for you, which also means less stress.
It also means that you can open your heart more widely to people as you know who you can trust, making it the intuition to follow for love.
I like to believe that as neuroscience finds out more about the multiple “brains” of the body and how they work together, we’ll evolve both individually and collectively. Our capacity for increased intuition, wiser decisions and holistic intelligence can only improve the condition of our lives and planet.
If you’d like to start spending a few minutes a day looking after the health of your two “new” brains, Pranayama or breathing exercises can stimulate the vagus nerve and have a very beneficial effect both on the heart and gut. The neural information from both these activities facilitates the cortical function and the effect is heightened mental clarity, improved decision making and increased creativity.
Here’s a quick and dirty How To:
First, feel the diaphragm move down, allowing the lungs to expand and forcing the abdomen out.
Then feel your chest expand with your collar bones rising last.
Feel your collar bones dropping, chest deflating, and abdomen shrinking as the lungs collapse.
This process of exhaling should be much faster than the process of inhaling — almost like a rapid deflation.
When correctly done, your chest will expand when you breathe in and deflate when you breathe out.
Continue doing this for 5 minutes.
If you would like to learn more about Pranayama or how breathing techniques can improve your 3 brains, check out the multitude of Yoga teachers in your area. To truly experience and benefit from these techniques it is good to learn from a mistress of the art.