Gut Instinct

WANDERING YOGI COLUMNIST: Centuries of social etiquette and rules have made us more civil, but we may have sacrificied our ‘gut instinct’ in the process. Here’s how to get it back says Lee Carsley.

ANZA Singapore yoga gut instinct

“I knew there was something wrong!”
Most of us have experienced this sense of ‘knowing’ before we know – you hesitate at a green light and miss getting hit by a speeding truck; on a whim, you break your no-blind-dates policy and meet your life partner.

Our gut instinct is very real, and managed by the most vital cranial nerves in our body – the vagus.

Unlike the other Vegas, what happens in this vagus doesn’t stay there. The vagus nerve is a long meandering bundle of motor and sensory fibres that links the brain stem to the heart, lungs, and gut. It also branches out to touch and interact with the liver, spleen, gallbladder, ureter, female fertility organs, neck, ears, tongue, and kidneys. It powers up our parasympathetic nervous system and controls unconscious body functions, as well as everything from keeping our heart rate constant and aiding food digestion, to breathing and sweating. It plays a major role in fertility issues and orgasms in women. There are two of them; in yoga we tend to focus on the left hand-side vagus nerve.

This vagus is the major emotional highway in our body transporting feelings from our brain to our heart and to our gut via the enteric nervous system (it’s like a major feeder road onto the highway). This ENS is sometimes referred to as our second brain. Western medicine now believes this nerve is an overall indicator of our longevity and quality of life. Traditional Chinese Medicine knew this for centuries. Which is why taking good care of your gut is so important.

Gut problems are epidemic – just check the stats. We know the physical steps we need to be taking for the gut – better diet, drink more water, less alcohol, no sugar. We also need to rid ourselves of those biases and experiences that no longer serve us. That way our instinct will serve us not just as a way to survive, but to thrive.

Just like fixing the set of traffic lights at the feeder road, and not bothering to maintain the highway, unless you get your vagus nerve (and your gut instinct) into shape, emotionally and mentally, you may end up on the road to nowhere.

Here are some simple things you can do to improve your gut instinct:

Compassionate meditation:
Sit silently, think compassionately about others, and repeat positive phrases about friends and family. Shown to increase positive emotions like serenity, joy, and hopes, which improves the vagal function.

Take a cold shower:
Studies show that when your body adjusts to cold, your fight/flight (sympathetic) system declines and your rest and digest (parasympathetic) system increases. Any kind of acute cold exposure including drinking ice-cold water will increase vagus nerve activation.

Gargling:
Another home remedy. Gargling stimulates the muscles of the mouth pallet, which are fired by the vagus nerve. You may tear up a bit which is a good sign and if you don’t, keep doing it until you do. It’s said to improve working memory performance.

Sing that bop-py song out loud:
Humming, mantra chanting, hymn singing, upbeat energetic singing; they all increase heart rate variability, acting like a pump to the vagus nerve.

Foot massage:
Stimulate your vagus nerve by massaging your feet and your neck along the carotid sinus, located along the carotid arteries on either side of your neck. Foot massages lower your heart rate and blood pressure and activate all energy meridians in the body (kind of like servicing for a car).

Do Yoga with the ANZA Wandering Yogis!
It increases vagus nerve activity, tones your parasympathetic system, clears the energy meridians. And it increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in brain. Especially helpful for those who struggle with anxiety or depression.

Lee Carsley is the ANZA Wandering Yoga founder teacher, and Yoga Alliance CE trainer. When not teaching yoga to students and other teachers, she also leads meditation workshops and bespoke yoga retreats. Be the light, show the light, and travel light.