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Getting in Touch with Your Gut Brain through Belly Breathing

November 22, 2010

Dennis Lewis

Dennis Lewis

G. I. Gurdjieff maintained that we are three-brained beings: intellectual, emotional, and moving/instinctive and that we can learn how to observe these three brains in action. Modern science has mainly looked at the brain as being located in the head and being composed of three basic centers or levels. In simplest terms, these centers, each functioning as a kind of sub-brain, are interrelated networks of nerve cells, each with its own intelligence and memory storehouse.

For many hundreds of years the Taoists have spoken of the importance of the “belly brain,” or “little brain,” in health, healing, and self-transformation. It may have taken a while, but according to an article by Sandra Blakeslee in the Medical Science section of the New York Times (January 22, 1996), western scientists finally “discovered” that the gut does indeed have its own brain, referred to as the enteric nervous system, which “is located in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. Considered a single entity, it is a network of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins that zap messages between neurons, support cells like those found in the brain proper and a complex circuitry that enables it to act independently, learn, remember, and, as the saying goes, produce gut feelings.”

The Taoists believe that the gut brain processes not just food but also emotions and other experiences, and that paying attention to this brain, learning to sense it and listen to it, can have an enormous beneficial impact on our lives. And I have certainly found this to be the case.

Those of us who are able to sense our bodies in an impartial way know that a lot of our fear, anger, anxiety, and other negative emotions are stored or at least reflected in the gut. And we know that the gut brain is intimately involved in communication between mind and body. Though it’s important eventually to be able to sense our gut, our belly, in the midst of action and stress, it’s helpful to start by practicing in quiet circumstances.

Getting in Touch with the Gut Brain

Getting in Touch with the Gut Brain

To begin, simply lie down comfortably on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Sense how the earth, floor, or bed supports your weight. Rub your hands together until they are warm and put them on your belly in the area of your navel. Notice how the warmth and energy of your hands attract your breath into your belly, so that your belly begins to expand as you inhale and retract as you exhale. Now let your attention move gradually from the surface of your skin under your hands all the way back to your spine. See if you can listen to your belly as it breathes. What do you hear? What do you sense? What do you feel? What is your belly telling you? Is it tight? Is it open? Does your breath flow smoothly through both exhalation and inhalation? Once you can begin to sense your gut feelings in quiet conditions, see if you can listen to them in the midst of the activities of your everyday life. It is my experience, and that of many others as well, that allowing your breath to engage your belly in a fuller way actually increases the health and sensitivity of this “brain”.

I’ve been writing about and teaching this powerful work with the gut since 1994, both through Chi Nei Tsang (internal organ chi massage) and through my work with natural breathing. You can work with a more-complete form of this practice by visiting my belly breathing blog of February 20th, 2009. You can also find much more material in my books.

Next time you have a “gut feeling” about something, just tune in to your belly and how it moves as you breathe. This simple act of attention will reveal far more about your situation than you might imagine.

Copyright 2010 by Dennis Lewis

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Geoff permalink
    November 27, 2010 4:03 pm

    Wonderful material! I’m going to do this practice daily – I had a perineum spasm recently which caused the most extreme pain of my life – caused by internalising stress in the abdomenal area, heavy weight lifting/squatting (more stress), a physical injury to the area (from cycling on the wrong size seat) and an adverse reaction to a wrongly prescribed antibiotic. It’s awoken me to the reality of being gentle and kind to the skull encased brain and the enteric Gastric Intestinal brain.

  2. April 13, 2012 8:17 pm

    Hi Dennis, really great post and so powerful. Belly breathing and gut meditations really can have a profound affect on our decision making and help us communicate with the powerful brain in our gut. What you have shared is so simple, yet so useful. In our research over the last 2 years we’ve also found that you can connect in a similar way to the heart brain and tap into the messages and intuitions from the heart intelligence. And when all three brains (head, heart and gut) become aligned then generative wisdom emerges. We’ve just written about the research and modeling work behind this in our new book ‘mBraining’, you may want to check it out as it backs up your great work.

    best wishes, Grant and Marvin

  3. linda Robinson permalink
    December 21, 2014 7:13 pm

    Thanks for you forever interesting post. I love what you teach. I have a question if yoy have the time. I live in China and gotvery dick from the toxic foods here…organic veg is impissible to find. After 3 years of vomitting after eating (msg) meals my stomach migrated to my thorax and I had to have emergency surgery back in the UK. My stomach was repositioned back where it wad meant to be and a chunk of it was cut away to be used as an anchor to stop it happening again.Since this op 2 yrs ago I no longer get the strong “gut” intuative feeling I used to have. Do you think there is any methode of breathing that would return those feelings? I now only have feelings of being dis connected on many levels. Thanks

  4. December 26, 2014 1:26 am

    Reblogged this on Gathering of Wisdom and commented:
    The Ancients knew so much more than we do today about Being human and our connection to the Earth, the Universe, and beyond.

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