Sincedawn of civilization, humans have always expressed love, feelings and emotionalpain coming from the heart and basic feeling or intuition coming from thegut. Hence the expressions broken heart,gut feeling, etc. has been used in describing emotions. Rationalists andscientists have scoffed at these expressions saying they are only metaphors, butrecent researches suggest that they may have scientific explanations.
Itseems both heart and gut have a mind of their own and besides communicatingwith the brain about their activities they might also be helping in braindevelopment, reducing depression and just increasing the level of well-being ofa person and happiness.
On an averagea brain has nearly 100 billion neurons and is the seat of all our thinking .The gut (digestive system of the body) has close to 500 million nerve cells and100 million neurons and is almost the size of a cats brain . Not only does thegut talk with the brain chemically (by releasing chemicals which are thentaken to the brain by blood) but also by sending electrical signals via the vagusnerve. Vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves inside the body whose centralpurpose is to relay the information and status of internal organs like gut andheart to the brain  and vice versa. It is a communication highway for allinternal organs. It starts from the head and after going through all the organsends near anus.
Most ofthe gut neurons are used in the daily grind of digestion . Gut system is anextremely complex chemical processing machine which breaks down the food,absorbs nutrients and moves the waste down (via muscular contraction) towards anusfor expelling it. Thus the autonomous nervous system of gut allows it to workindependently of the brain.
Neverthelessrecent researches have revealed that there is a tremendous amount ofinformation flow from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve and this flow ismostly one sided almost all of it is from the gut to the brain and not theother way around . This is how itshould be since gut works continuously whether we are aware of it or not.
Thereverse interaction (from the brain to the gut) is when we get hunger pangs andthe brain tells the body to get food or when something goes wrong in the gutlike pain or diarrhea, necessitating medicines for its cure. Sometimes thesesignals go haywire. For example even if there are hunger pangs the brainoverrules the gut and this leads to Anorexia!
Recentscientific evidence also suggests that a big part of our emotions are probablyinfluenced by the chemicals and nerves in the gut. For example 95% of bodys Serotonin is foundin the gut . Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter which is a wellknown contributor towards feelings of well being. Sometimes it is also called ahappiness hormone.
Similarly researches have found that a bacteria-free gut in early childhood leads to adults with less anxiety and general cheerfulness. Interestingly the effect of early childhood gut bacteria has the maximum impact on the developing brain and peters off by the age of 2-3 years just when the brain expansion also starts slowing down. Recently scientists have also discovered that the genesis of Parkinsons Disease is in gut . Keeping gut clean and healthy produces a healthy brain.
Apparentlythe ancients knew something about the gut-brain connection. Hence the colon cleaning process of Ayurveda (includingenema etc.) or gut wrenching exercises of Nauliin Hath Yoga help in cleaning the gut thereby increasing the feeling ofwellness. Similarly the yogic exerciseof Mayur Asana,where the body is balanced on the navel and this pressure on itstimulates the vagus nerve, helps improve the brain-gut connection.
Thereare also many instances of people experiencing extrasensory perception (ESP) orclairvoyance after colon cleansing has taken place. One of the reasons for thiscould be that a clean gut frees its neurons to help the brain increase itsprocessing power. This extra neural power may help the brain process moreinformation and help it in Samadhi orSanyam. In nature every process hasmultiple uses. Though the gut neurons are used most of the time for gutactivity, they also interact with the brain via the vagus nerve.
InPatanjali Yoga gut occupies the center of body-universe! It says that by Sanyam on navel (Nabhi,gut etc.), a yogi gains the knowledge of the constituents of the body!
Heartis one of the most important organs of the human body. Life starts when itstarts beating (21 days after conception) and ends (clinical death) when itstops. Heart has nearly 2 billion muscle cells and 40,000 neurons. The heart neuronsare very few in number compared to those in the brain (100 billion) or gut (0.1billion). Nevertheless these neurons transmit hearts signals and its conditionto the brain.
Theheart-mind interaction takes place both by electrical signals (via the vagusand the spinal chord nerves) and through chemicals (heart is an endocrine glandalso).
Recentstudies have shown that heart sends signals to the brain that are not onlyunderstood by it but also obeyed. Scientists have discovered neural pathwaysand mechanisms whereby input from heart to brain inhibits or facilitates brainselectrical activity just like what gut is capable of doing. Thus both gut and heart mind help in overallthought process and creating well-being.
Besidesthe electrical signaling, heart is also an endocrine gland releasing peptides whichhelp in blood pressure modulation and improving the functioning of kidneys .These peptides also stimulate the pituitary gland thereby helping it to releasehormones like oxytocin commonly referred to as love or bonding hormone.Oxytocin also helps in increasing the well being of a person. This could be thebasis of saying that happy feelings emanate from the heart!
Neverthelessthe point of interest is the rhythm patterns of the heart which result when twobillion muscle cells are triggered by AV and SA nodes which are like electricalswitches. These nodes which are inside the heart send electrical signals to theheart muscles for contraction and are one of the most important organs of theheart. When they do not function properly the electrical signals to the musclesgo haywire and the heart starts to flutter. A pacemaker attached to these nodesstreamlines the signals and can restore the proper working of the heart.
Thespeed of heartbeat or its contraction changes depending upon our emotions. Forexample when we are aroused either by passion or anger then the heart speeds upand in more quiet times or in meditation it slows down. This electrical inputto the AV and SA nodes from the brain comes via the vagus nerve and isreflected in the ECG patterns of the heart.
Pranayamaor breathing exercises can stimulate the vagus nerve and this could have a verybeneficial effect both on the heart and gut. Similarly the chanting of mantrasor deep throat singing as practised by Buddhist Lamas also stimulates the vagusnerve. It has been shown that this stimulation helps in reducing blood pressureand improves the rhythm patterns of the heart. The neural information from boththese activities facilitates the cortical function and the effect is heightenedmental clarity, improved decision making and increased creativity.
Similarlythe stimulation of the vagus nerve helps the gut to perform better and improvesthe cleaning process of the colon. For example the ancient Indian custom ofapplying pressure on cheeks by fists while sitting on toilet seat helps in thebowel movement. The pressure on cheeks stimulates the vagus nerve since itsbranches pass through the face. This could also be the basis of childrenscheek pinching by adults!
Recentlyscientists have also discovered that heart is involved in the processing anddecoding of intuitive information . Tests done on the subjects showed thatthe heart appeared to receive the intuitive information before the brain. This could be the basis of saying Follow youheart and you will never go wrong.
Thisbrain/heart interaction was also known to the ancients. In Patanjali yoga it is written that by Sanyam on the heart a yogi acquires thecomplete knowledge and contents of his mind.
Thus in order to produce deep thought which helps in producing happiness and improving the well-being of a person , it is necessary that the gut and heart brains work together with the main brain. When all of them work together harmoniously then it creates a healthy body and a powerful mind.
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