The Three Brains: How to Awaken Your 3 Intelligence Centers
There is in the body, a current of energy, affection, and intelligence, which guides, maintains, and energizes the body.
Discover that current and stay with it.
– Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Philosopher & Author of “I Am That”
It can be quite humbling to understand the true depth of your beautiful body’s wisdom.
You were created to possess three intelligence centers (brains).
Each of these three centers is a highly complex information-processing hub with its own circuitry.
This may be surprising considering that we typically only hear about one brain – the head brain.
You also have a heart brain and a gut brain and when they work in union (yoga) with the head brain your intelligence increases three-fold:
– Cognitive intelligence (“May I know the truth.”)
– Emotional intelligence (“May I feel the truth.”)
– Digestive intelligence (“May I process the truth.”)
Activating all three brains awakens your intuition and insight, creativity, well-being, and vital energy.
Each of these three brains is a powerhouse of computing potential via the heavy concentration of neurons and neural networks located in each hub:
Neurons are super-intelligent electrically charged cells that send and receive information through electrical and chemical signals.
Each Brain has its own Nervous System:
“The three brains are like an orchestra, with billions of neurons cooperating to produce a harmonic symphony – harnessing together an ever-changing network of neurons that work in synchrony.”
Karen Jensen, author of “Three Brains: How the Heart, Brain & Gut Influence Mental Health & Identity
1- The Cranial Brain:
The brain up in your head constitutes the Central Nervous System along with your spinal cord.
It houses approximately 86 billion neurons and uses up about 20-25% of our total energy budget. (1)
It also contains its own version of ‘three brains’ as you’ll see in the next section.
2- The Heart Brain:
The study of neuro-cardiology was formed when it was discovered that there was a “little brain in the heart,” called the Intrinsic Cardiac Nervous System.
It’s estimated that this heart brain is made up of about 40,000 neurons. (2)
3- The Gut Brain:
Our third brain is located in our gut, deep within the folds of our intestines.
It is called the Enteric Nervous System and is comprised of 200-600 million neurons. (3)
This is an image of enteric neurons located in the lining of the gut:
The Triune Brain: The Three Brains Inside Your Head
The triune brain is a model of the human brain created by neuroscientist Paul MacLean.
This model tells the tale of our brain’s evolution throughout history as defined by three brain structures:
1- The Primitive Brain (Reptilian Brain)
Located in the innermost part of the brain, aka brain stem.
This brain oversees our most basic survival functions such as heart rate and breathing.
The affirmation of this brain’s consciousness is: ‘Stay alive’ for the sake of self-preservation.
2- The Emotional Brain (Paleomammalian Brain)
Located in the middle part of the brain called the limbic system.
This instinctual brain oversees the fear and stress responses as well as our emotional memories.
The affirmation of this brain’s consciousness is: ‘Avoid pain, seek pleasure’
3- The Thinking Brain (Neomammalian Brain)
Located in the outermost part of the brain called the neocortex.
This brain is what allows our prefrontal cortex to experience ‘metacognition’ or ‘thinking about our thinking.’
It’s what allows us to move beyond knee-jerk impulses so we can experience imagination, inspiration, and creativity.
Think of it like this:
Take your hand and form a closed fist with your four fingers wrapping over your thumb.
This is the Triune Brain:
How Your 3 Brains Communicate to Each Other:
These 3 Brains process different kinds of information from both your inner environment (the world inside your body) and your outer environment (the world happening outside of your body).
Communication between the 3 Brains is a non-stop two-way street.
You might think that the Cranial Brain is the one calling all the shots, and bossing the other two brains around, but actually, research suggests that both the Heart Brain and the Gut Brain send more information up to the Cranial Brain than vice versa:
“There is more information going from the heart to the brain than the other way around, and this information influences regions in the brain that affect decision making, creativity and especially emotions.
The general idea is that the body is a downward system, but 85-90% of all neural fibers carry information from the body to the brain, and a major part of this information comes from the heart via the vagus nerve,” says Dr. Rollin McCraty, director of research at the Heartmath Institute. (4)
Heartmath Institute (HMI) is world-renowned for their cutting edge research to explore and understand the physiological mechanisms by which the heart and brain communicate, and how the activity of the heart influences our perceptions, emotions, intuition, and health.
In the book “Science of the Heart: Exploring the Role of the Heart in Human Performance,” IHM outlines the mechanism through which the Heart Brain’s intelligence functions independently of the brain:
“The heart-brain, as it is commonly called, or intrinsic cardiac nervous system, is an intricate network of complex ganglia (group of nerve cells), neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells, the same as those of the brain in the head.
The heart-brain’s neural circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain to learn, remember, make decisions, and even feel and sense.” (4)
The Gut Brain also acts in a similar way:
“Ninety percent of the signals conveyed through the vagus nerve travel from the gut to the brain, while just 10 percent of the traffic runs in the opposite direction, from the brain to the gut.
In fact, the gut can handle most of its activities without any interference from the brain, while the brain seems to depend greatly on vital information from the gut,” says Dr. Emeran Mayer, gastroenterologist, neurologist, and author of “The Mind-Gut Connection.” (5)
So, according to science, both the Heart Brain and the Gut Brain seem to be able to function independently of the Cranial Brain.
Both “talk,” share, and communicate with the Cranial Brain more than the Cranial Brain “talks” or shares information with them.
This means that both your Heart Brain and Gut Brain are scanning your environment and reporting back to ‘central command,’ or the Cranial Brain.
Wake up Your 3 Intelligence Centers:
When we activate and optimize these 3 Brains simultaneously, we balance our whole nervous system, calm the mind, strengthen the body, and gain access to three important forms of intelligence:
1) Cognitive Intelligence:
A brain that is holistically turned on and synchronized across all levels has the ability to:
- focus/ concentrate
- remember/ recall
- process logic and reason
- choose/ decide wisely
- be inspired
2) Emotional Intelligence:
- monitor and become aware of your own emotions
- perceive the emotions of others in a way that allows for deeper authentic connection
- manage your moods more efficiently
- anchor into authentic gratitude and appreciation for your life and those in it
- more resilience in the face of adversity
- be able to sit with your pain and transform it instead of numbing or suppressing
- deepen your heart’s intuitive capacity
3) Digestive intelligence:
Think about it – digestion is really a mirror of how we ingest, chew, break down, process, absorb, and release ideas and emotions.
Digestion is about the input that goes into our bodies, which then eventually becomes the output.
Digestive intelligence involves:
- optimize your nutrition according to your specific bodily needs
- intuitive and mindful eating practices that are proven to aid gut function
- balance out excesses and deficiencies through proper nutrition
- strengthen your digestion by nourishing your gut (good health begins with a healthy gut)
- increase immunity (80% of your body’s immune function happens in the gut)
- align your body’s processes and rhythms so that your whole system operates efficiently and optimally
- understand how your mental and emotional state impacts your digestion
Does the Gut Influence Mental Health?
Your Gut Brain doesn’t exist just to help you digest your food.
Research suggests it also plays a key role in mental health and emotional well-being.
Chronic digestive disorders have been linked to anxiety, depression, and even insomnia.
3 Ways to Activate Your Three Brains:
1 – Breathe with your belly & adopt a regular breathwork practice.
Deep belly breathing helps to send soothing safety signals to your body by activating the calming, relaxing branch of your nervous system.
Your three brains thrive when you (your body and mind) feel safe.
2 – Meditate daily.
Meditation is not only excellent for your head brain it also helps activate the other two brains!
Mindfulness and mantra meditation, for example, help to re-wire your head brain while also activating a coherent state in your heart and gut.
3 – Chant out loud.
Chanting a mantra out loud stimulates your Vagus nerve – an important nerve that runs from the base of your head down your ear, face, throat, heart, and along your digestive tract.
Humming or chanting out loud helps to activate this nerve which turns all three brains online.
4 – Adopt a daily gratitude practice.
Feeling genuine gratitude and appreciation activates your body’s healing defenses and impacts each of your three brains.
Gratitude can re-wire your brain and impact your heart.
When this happens every system in your body enters coherence – everything is in sync and the result is more well-being, more fulfillment, and more joy!
(5) Emeran Mayer, MD, The Mind-Gut Connection, 2016