By Monica Nolasco, Ed.D.
You’ve probably heard the expressions “Mind over Matter” and “When in Doubt, Trust Your Gut”. How do we reconcile these two expressions – especially in our professional lives, where we regularly face two mutually exclusive approaches to handling a situation – one we believe (or have been taught) is business-appropriate and the other more reflective of our personal (read “private” or “individual”) views?
First of all, let’s make a distinction between your “first brain” (the one that resides in your skull) and the “second brain”, as your intestinal system is sometimes referred to by experts in human anatomy (such as the well-established publication, Scientific American). The brain in your skull, in fact, is sometimes described as “3 brains in one” (see the psycheducation.org website). So, in some respects, you can see yourself as actually having 4 brains.
You can look into the publications I link to at the end of this article if you are more of a details person. For purposes of this article, it is important to know simply this: Your mind is connected to your body through your brain(s). It has been that way for a very long time for human beings. This connection is at the base of the term “psychosomatic” (“psycho” meaning “mind” or “mental” and “soma” meaning “body” or “part of a body”).
A medical expert no less than Johns Hopkins’ Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, has this to say about the gut brain and the skull brain, “The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.”
And that brings me to the notion of mindfulness and that conundrum I presented in the first paragraph of this article. If you have found yourself more divorced from your gut in making decisions in your professional life, have you also found that this process is causing a rift between your professional and personal lives? Do you find yourself making choices that go against your grain? If so, you might realize that those choices aren’t doing you, your family and friends, or the company you work for any good.
You will, perhaps, see the usefulness of mindfulness techniques in re-establishing your mind-body connection. An easy check-in activity you can use throughout your work day, but especially when you are feeling overwhelmed or are facing a challenge that needs immediate resolution, is a short meditation practice that will help you see the disconnect between your individual growth and your contribution to this company.
Mindfulness Meditation: Focusing on Body Tension Messages
Take yourself out of the pressure cooker situation and still your thinking brain so that it can reconnect with your gut brain. An empty conference room or even your car will do. For 5 or 10 minutes, sit with your feet as flat on the floor as you can, hands palms up on your knees. Close your eyes and take in three deep breaths, inhaling through your nose into your diaphragm (so your abdomen pushes out as your lungs fill with air) and exhaling through your mouth. As you continue the deep breathing, notice where your stress is most focused. Unclench those areas, one at a time, by relaxing the muscles on your exhale.
Making this short mindfulness meditation a regular practice, especially in the midst of tumult, will help your brain get the messages from the rest of your body and relay them to your mind so that you can make effective decisions. It will also help you get into the habit of being aware of the sensations and feelings that you’ve been in the habit of ignoring. As you get used to taking your body messages into consideration, you should find that your performance, professionally and personally, will improve.
If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness and meditation in support of your career development, contact me via email. Or you can call me at 925-337-1840.
“The Brain-Gut Connection”. The “Healthy Body” section of the Johns Hopkins medicine.org website. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection
“Brain Tour”. Website of the Alzheimer’s Association. http://www.alz.org/braintour/3_main_parts.asp
“The gut-brain connection”. The “Healthbeat” section of “Harvard Health Publications” on the Harvard Medical School’s .edu website. http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
Hadhazy, Adam. “Think Twice: How the Gut’s ‘Second Brain’ Influences Mood and Well-Being”. Published on the Scientific American website. February 12, 2010. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
“Human brain”. Wikipedia site. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_brain
Phelps, James R., M. D. “‘3-Brains-in-One’ Brain”. PsychEducation.org website. http://psycheducation.org/brain-tours/3-brains-in-one-brain/
Sonnenburg, Justin and Sonnenburg, Erica, PhDs. “Gut Feelings—the ‘Second Brain’ in Our Gastrointestinal Systems”. Excerpted from “The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood and Your Long-Term Health” and reprinted on the Scientific American website by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. May 1, 2015. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-feelings-the-second-brain-in-our-gastrointestinal-systems-excerpt/