It’s often said that many of us think with our stomachs. It turns out this tongue and cheek axiom is grounded in scientific validity. According to Michael D. Gerson, distinguished doctor and professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, we all have a “second brain” made up of the abdomen and all of its complex systems.
Dr. Gerson has devoted over 30 years to studying the abdomen and founded the burgeoning field of medicine known as “Neurogastroenterology.” In 1998 he published the groundbreaking book, “The Second Brain” detailing the findings of this new field of medicine.
What Exactly is the Second Brain?
According to Dr. Gershon, the gut has its own nervous system known as the “enteric nervous system.” It is vitally important to the operation of the human body and even functions without input from the spinal cord or brain.
The gut plays a vital role in our emotional and physical well-being. The feeling of “butterflies” in your stomach when you are nervous or excited or a sinking feeling in your belly when you dread something is your gut’s way of communicating with you.
How is the Second Brain Different from the Brain in our Head?
The “second brain” or abdominal brain is much different from the brain in our heads. Our cranial brain performs complex cognitive functions such as reasoning, calculations and making plans based on logic. In contrast, our second brain is intuitive and receives signals and messages regarding our bodies and the environment that it sends back to our cranial brain and vice versa.
Understanding the second brain and its functions is the answer to helping people who are plagued with gastrointestinal problems that are often dismissed by traditional medical practitioners that often label patients as neurotic.
Why is the Gut Called a Brain?
According to Dr. Gershon, the second brain contains an astounding 100 million neurons – more than the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system combined. The gut is called a brain because it controls the complex process of digestion without assistance of the cranial brain.
The second brain produces an immense amount of chemical compounds, including every type of neurotransmitter found in the cranial brain. In fact, the gut (second brain) produces 95% of the chemical serotonin. Without adequate levels of serotonin, we experience insomnia and depression.
How the Two Brains are Connected
The cranial and abdominal brains are connected by a cable known as the vagus nerve. Neurotransmission allows the two brains to be able to communicate with each other and work together so the body can operate in harmony. When these two brains connect – we are able to connect more deeply with ourselves.
The second brain shapes and forms our emotional state of being. The condition of the abdomen gives rise to depression or enthusiasm, sadness or joy, despair or fulfillment. In our gut reside all of our emotional impressions throughout our lives! Protected from our awareness this tissue holds many of our deepest secrets. At some point in our lives these secrets and internal conflicts manifest as physical symptoms.
These symptoms act as warning signals. It’s our body’s way of saying, “Pay attention to me! Pay attention to my gut!”
The Gut and our Emotional Problems
Researchers are now beginning to understand the complex relationship between the second brain and psychological disorders.
Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine, physiology and psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles, said that most patients with anxiety and depression have gastrointestinal problems as well.
Researchers are finding out that depression, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, Parkinson’s and even Alzheimer’s disease manifest at the level of both brain and gut.
Dr. Mayer stated up to 70% of his patients with chronic stomach problems have experienced early childhood traumas which affect how they respond to stress. They remain in an ongoing state of emergency with all of the body’s systems ready to deal with approaching danger - even though the original event occurred years before.
Heal the Second Brain and the Rest will Follow
Twenty years ago I was experiencing heavy feelings of anxiousness and fear. I was also stuck in my creative work. I tried every healing modality under the sun to no avail. In my quest for healing, I learned that the Taoists have known for centuries that the abdomen, and the emotions and tensions within it, are the cause of many ailments and diseases. I was intrigued.
I found a holistic healing modality based on this ancient knowledge called Chi Nei Tsang (CNT) that focuses on healing the second brain. “Chi” means energy and information, and “Nei Tsang” means visceral or internal. I decided to try it.
During my CNT treatments I was able to connect with myself in a deeper way than ever before. In time, I was able to release the negative energy stored in my gut that was producing anxiety, anger and fear. The emotional energy was released and I was free!
As I continued with treatments, my enthusiasm for life deepened and I experienced an explosion of creativity! My mind slowed, I felt calm, grounded, less reactive and emotionally mature. The years of accumulated stress had vanished. I felt at home with myself and others for the first time.
That was many years ago, and I am happy to report I am still experiencing the beneficial effects of CNT. In fact, my profound experience led me to become a practitioner of the art, which I have been practicing over the last 10 years.
I love working on the abdomen, or second brain, because it allows me to help people find deep healing on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. There is no condition, whether manifested physically, emotionally or spiritually that cannot be helped by Chi Nei Tsang.
A New Hope for Healing
Prescription drug use for gastrointestinal and mental conditions is at an all-time high. People are still suffering and walking around in a drug-induced haze. Gilles Marin, my teacher and Director of the Chi Nei Tsang Institute once stated, “Once people connect with the emotional reason why they are sick and are able to evolve and change the way they their emotions affect them internally, there is no more reason whatsoever that they can continue to be sick”.
The stagnant patterns and fear of change we hold inside ourselves are preventing the flowering of our potential. With the emerging understanding of our second brain - a revolution in healing is taking place. With knowledge of the brain in our gut; its power and function, we now have an opportunity to heal at the deepest level, to find our life purpose and to do our part in creating the world we yearn for.