With President Obama’s pledge this week of $100 million to the BRAIN Initiative to study the human mind, I have to wonder how the mind is defined. That may seem like a strange response but, as a meditator and embodiment practitioner, I tend toward noticing that the mind extends beyond the brain.
And this week I want to suggest that we keep an eye on the enteric, or gut brain. I’m committed to the gut brain because its complaints led me to yoga almost 15 years ago. There’s a world of wisdom in there.
As part of a wonderful conversation in The Sun Magazine about embodied consciousness and coming home to our bodies, Paul Shepherd describes the brain in our bellies:
The enteric brain is a web of neurons lining the gut. But it perceives, thinks, learns, decides, acts, and remembers all on its own. You can sever the vagus nerve, which is the main conduit between the two brains, and the brain in the gut just carries on doing its job.
Knowledge of the “hidden brain” isn’t new. Clicking around online, I found this 1996 piece in the New York Times about how the gut brain talks to the head brain, and this more recent (2010) Scientific American article references M. Gerson’s 1998 book, The Second Brain.
There’s a reason they’re called gut feelings. There’s a brain in the viscera, doing its job. Not only that but the belly-brain is directly connected to the head-brain via the vagus nerve… we’re networked! And whole.
“I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix.”
(Arthur Conan Doyle)