The Head, Heart and Gut Brains

Katelynn H. Czechowski, MA-MFTI,CYT

The truth is, like our personalities, our bodies are composed of parts that create the whole of what is ours: our physiology.

Imagine gazing through a kaleidoscope of color, or giving way to smashing a bottle, and as you pick up the pieces, or stare into the winding rings of pigment, you notice each

segment as being separate.

Perhaps you try and glue the bottle back together by collecting the fragments of glass.

Each shard contributes to the whole, yet can appear to be fragmented; displaced, crooked, and uncertain.

As you read this, you may notice sensations arising in your body, like a sense of unease.

So I invite you to check in with your body and notice your experience. Can you notice the sense of twisting in your gut? Pressure in your chest cavity? Lightness in your headspace?

These are just examples of common sensations found in the human body. Sensations are signals to the deeper inner workings of what it means to be fully human and can indicate to us what we are experiencing on an emotional level.

Here are some phrases that may sound familiar to you:

  • “When I heard the news, my heart sank.”
  • “I was so disgusted by what happened that my stomach was in knots.”
  • “As she told me she was leaving, I felt like I was being stabbed.”
  • “I was so ill with stress that I wanted to vomit.”

Traditionally, it was believed that the psyche wasn’t multifaceted, which we now know is false. Our identities, how we feel, and how we think, are brought forth in layers.

This is also true for the bodily system and its contributions to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

The head, heart, and gut are separate entities sustaining and generating material that’s comprised of their distinct neurobiological processes but contributes to the whole of who we are and signals us to our experiences.

Here is an opportunity to ponder these questions:

Can you think about a time when you noticed that your mind told you a different story than your heart?

Can you think about a time when you ignored your gut response?

What were the effective consequences of this separateness?

What bodily system are you more prone to listening to (head, heart, or gut)?

An easier way to digest the complexity of the body and what it means to be human is to consider that you have not one brain, but three. Each brain works independently and dependently.

When each brain is aligned and working together, we experience reality for what it is.

There is movement, fluidity, and clarity, even with painful information that we may normally seek to avoid.

For example, perhaps I had been in a relationship for years that wasn’t working for me or my partner.

During those several years together, I may have noticed that my heart longed for something more, or that my gut told me that it was time to leave after putting in my efforts to grow with that person, but my mind kept whispering the need to stay.

Many people have had this experience.

Eventually, if I can pay closer attention to my heart and gut messages, and not just the narrative of my mind, then the chatter of my mind will slow down, and the three brains will unite together in the direction of the truth of my reality.

My deeply felt emotional sense (heart) and intuition (gut) will no longer be blocked by my cognition (head).

When these brains align, magic is possible. There is life: Ethos.

The body and my emotions no longer stay contracted and rotting in place, despite a breakup which normally comes with sadness. I can feel sad and alive, and I can make decisions that are congruent with me: my three-brained network.

The head-brain is comprised of approximately 100 billion neurons, the heart-brain of 40,000 neurons, and the gut-brain of 500 million neurons. This information eludes to each elaborate circuitry as having its own nervous system.

Additionally, the heart is comprised of a magnetic field generating a force of over 500 times more than the brain, allowing for its detection to be found several feet away from the body.

Considering this, it is no surprise that we can often “feel” the emotional quality of the person, space, or other living organisms around us (modern-day slang: what’s the vibe?).

The heart’s logic signals to the brain a message via electrical impulses, which the brain normally obeys. These signals influence perception, cognition, and decision-making.

Regular heart patterns are associated with positive feeling states that tend to be felt in the chest cavity, like love. Likewise, the heart and its rhythms directly affect the amygdala, which is responsible for threat detection.

Feeling states can therefore affect the threat-response system, cascading the body to enter protective states. My heart may beat slower if I’m sad, which may then trigger my alarm center (amygdala), telling my body to shut down.

As my heart rate and cognition slow down, so does my digestive tract. The more that my body enters a shut-down state, the more likely it is that my gut microbiome will be affected, which may have negative implications on my mood and health, such as inflammation leading to depression, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Gut microbes also affect immune function, which, when activated for long periods, can create inflammatory toxins that have been associated with other more severe brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's and schizophrenia.

The gut is composed of more serotonin receptors than any other part of the body. It also houses a neurotransmitter called GABA, which mitigates feelings of anxiety and fear.

Better gut health ultimately equates to a reduction in anxious responses.

So what does all of this mean to you, your partner, friends, and/or family members?

Each brain functions solely, yet is in constant communication with the others.

The thought of eating can make the gut produce digestive juices even before the scent of food infiltrates the nostrils.

Each brain is fundamentally powerful.

No matter who you are, or where you come from, the reality is that all of our bodies are inherently intricate, complex, sensitive, and interconnected: intrinsically and extrinsically.

This information is an invitation to be curious and to be soft with yourself, and others.

This is an invitation to take care of your body and to pay attention to your emotional cues, and body sensations. To deeply listen, instead of turning away.

Here is an offering to respect the three brains that work so hard to sustain you, and to give life that is congruent with your authenticity.

If you are feeling unwell, there is an awareness that the brains may be functioning improperly. It may be that your heart seeks safety in the presence of another to sort through emotional grievances (co-regulation).

It may be that your mind needs to rest, meditate, or dump all of its contents onto a page.

And if you are to do that, perhaps you can invest in a quality probiotic either before or after you start or finish.

This is an invitation to trust, no matter how scary or painful it may seem.

Your brains are not broken, and neither are you.

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