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The Gut-Brain Connection
A recent study has linked gut feelings and intuitive decision-making to newly-discovered neurobiological gut-brain pathways. (1) A gut-brain pathway carries gut-based, emotionally-charged signals carried by microbes from your gut to the brain where they can affect brain function.
While “gut feelings” and “intuition” seem like terms better suited for the metaphysical rather than neurobiology, the new science linking our microbiome to higher brain functions like intuition is emerging.
According to research, intuition and gut feelings are built on a series of both positive and negative gut-brain signals beginning at birth. These include gut-brain emotions such as reward hormones (dopamine), and hunger and craving hormones (ghrelin) which train the central nervous system. (1)
Years of repetitive gut-based brain signals form memories of emotional states that, according to the research, are used for complex social emotions, including predictions about the future and intuitive decision-making. (1) In Ayurveda, predictions and intuition are similar concepts; both based on the extension of logic.
According to Ayurveda, Intuition Is Not Magic
In 1986, during my studies in India, I would follow my Ayurvedic teacher around each day as he performed his medical rounds. Dr. Raju was a pulse diagnosis and herbal expert, and I would be wowed on a regular basis by some of his pulse readings.
Once, after taking the pulse of a middle-aged man from England, Dr. Raju asked the Englishman, “Did you fall off a ladder when you were young and break a few vertebrae in your back?” The man confirmed that he had, in fact, fallen off a ladder and broken his back. Dr. Raju then contended that it was his back injury some 30 years earlier that was causing his current condition of anxiety and insomnia.
After hearing Dr. Raju make similar diagnoses on a regular basis, I asked him how he could make such predictions. I asked him if he was psychic. He gave me a strange look as if he didn’t know what psychic was. I asked him if he used intuition. He said, “No.”
He told me that intuition is nothing more than the extension of logic. He said, “When I take the pulse, it is logic, not magic. When you are a child, adding 2 + 2 is a challenge but soon, with practice, the answer comes without having to think about it. Soon, with the extension of logic, more difficult problems also come easy without having to think about them. It is just a ‘knowing.’ Taking the pulse is the same. Over time and with practice, it becomes natural to know things that seem unknowable by simply extending logic.”
According to Ayurveda, there are many explanations for intuition, higher cognitive function, and higher states of consciousness. Intuition starts with the emotional state of mind during the process of eating food. One of my favorite concepts is how food becomes ‘emotionally-charged’ as a result of the state of mind during the process of eating. Eating while angry or stressed is considered a no-no in Ayurveda. Of course, now we know that it is in fact the microbes carried by food that can be emotionally-charged that carry these emotional messages. (1) Additionally, lifestyle, stress levels, and emotions can alter the gut-to-brain signals carried by the microbes. (2,3)
Other research in support of the intuitive process has shown that the gut feelings of one person (as measured by electrogastrogram activity) increase in response to the emotions of a distant person beyond the influence of ordinary sensory interactions. (4) Interestingly, research has shown that intuition seems to be enhanced in conjunction with positive emotions, as opposed to negative emotions. (5-7)
Ayurveda suggests living a positive, loving, giving, caring, lifestyle, called a sattvic lifestyle. A sattvic lifestyle is a prerequisite for the development of intuition and higher states of consciousness. A positive, loving lifestyle also supports the proliferation of beneficial microbes, inhibition of harmful bacteria and the production of a health promoting hormone called oxytocin. (2,3,8)
According to Ayurveda, the subtle digestive nutrient fluid is called rasa and it carries the emotional charge, possibly via the microbiology, into every cell of the body. If the charge is positive or sattvic, then the nutrient fluid positively affects all the tissues of the body. The final product of digesting this nutrient fluid, which can take up to 30 days to complete, is a substance called ojas. Ojas is not only responsible for immunity and vitality; it is an essential substance required for intuition, gut feelings and the development of higher states of consciousness.
While much more research is needed to confirm the relationship between lifestyle, stress, emotionally-charged microbes, the production of ojas through digestion, and higher cognitive functions like intuition and gut feelings, there is emerging evidence that suggests that there is an intimate relationship between digestion, gut microbes, the brain, emotions and intuition. (1)
Stay tuned as I continue to explore the science of intuition and the connections between Ayurveda and microbes.