Have you ever heard the saying “go with your gut instinct?” Why do we feel nervous or uneasy in our guts at the exact moment we feel fearful or anxious? What wisdom has been passed down from us by hundreds of generations before that translates into the reasoning for listening to that sinking feeling? For this we need to go deep into the body, and find the crossroads between built in inner wisdom and learned cognition.
You may be very familiar with your fight and flight sympathetic nervous system, but let me introduce you to your enteric nervous system.The enteric nervous system is all about connecting emotions of the mind to the core neural network found in the abdomen. It is controlled by two key structures . One is the hippocampus of the brain and the other is a large nerve, the vagus nerve, that starts in the brain and extends down into the torso. The vagus nerve is not just one nerve, but rather a bundled collection of many nerves. One structure that consists of many strands and behaves like a terminal for neural input. It produces a truly “guttural reaction” when activated, and no amount of thinking can get it to calm down. The vagus nerve reports directly to one of the brain’s largest memory centers, the hippocampus. Even when there is no motor function in the torso, due to paralysis, this bundle of nerve fibers can still function. It is the big boss in town when it comes to connecting the brain to the body. It is a byproduct of some very ancient wiring.
So what does it feel like to experience the enteric nervous system at work? Think about times when you get that funny uneasy feeling because you are pressured into doing something that might not be secure or safe. What happens to your body when you interact with someone who just gives you the creeps? What about when you’re trying to make up your mind about something, and you just feel that one choice is right or wrong. It keeps you both physically and emotionally aware and reactive. This is the wisdom of the enteric nervous system, the brain and body working as one to access and react to both positive and negative emotional situations. The memories that can lead to great joy or anxiety are stored and used later on when similar stimuli is presented. When collected over a lifetime it guides our species through hundreds of “gut instinct” decision making. People always feel better about choices they make when they “go with the gut” choice.
When I’m working with my clients I make sure to listen to their needs and how they describe their anxieties and stressors. My job is to help relax their body and give them a break from their stress. I trust my gut and find that hidden piece of feedback that leads to the best results for my clients. In conversations with them, I often help them tune into their enteric nervous system, letting them know that their body is wise and very useful when navigating their anxiety.
The enteric nervous system is in play whenever you hear that little voice inside your head, that pulling feeling in your gut, that lump in your throat, or that moment when your heart skips a beat. It can work almost like intuition, to help us navigate and prepare for whatever is to come into our lives. It is worth listening to what your brain and body are trying to convey. I encourage you to trust yourself, trust that moment of pause and checking in. It won’t let you down, and it might just make your life a little easier or wonderful in ways you can’t imagine