The Gut Brain Axis and your Hara
Recently in an inspirational talk on meditation, the teacher spoke of practicing a kind of virtual reality of imagining in our guts our true nature; I interchange Buddhist concepts and more Earth-centered ones of divinity. You can use your own definition. You may simply imagine yourself as a whole healthy human. (Personally, I have little interest in virtual reality though meditation centers like Spirit Rock are using it; look up via NY Times).
For me and for the teacher I was listening to, our guts are a center of feeling. We all know the old saying, to have a “gut feeling” about something. Well in my practice I live by those intuitive gut feelings and trust, as James Hillman suggests, that the rational thought will align and I will not try to fly off the roof.
After listening to this talk as the shower water poured over me I felt my “gut” which I know better by its Japanese name, hara and indeed I felt very good, whole and open-hearted. The teacher also spoke of doing this for at least 30 days to strengthen our “core” belief in self as perfect just as we are. I also remembered literally strengthening my core muscles in Pilates and as you may know, Pilates was and is used by dancers very effectively. Imagine yourself with the grace and balance of a dancer, moving through your days even when facing challenges. I found myself feeling delighted and remembering one of my all-time favorite books, now old but still very worthy, simply called Hara: The Vital Center of Man.
I will not go into this more except to say I highly recommend it. I find that living from the hara is especially good for men to begin to get it that thoughts and feelings are inter-woven and as Buddhists would say, co-arising. Men have been so trained to repress emotions and that I suggest this split is part of why “heart” disease was an early killer, with emotional expressive (often abused) wives surviving. (My own mentor, a world-famous teacher, and scholar told me personally that women know much more clearly as they get the big picture via their feelings of relationship energetics).
Many men are now very adept at knowing their feelings and now many are learning to able to express quite well in relationships. Feeling vulnerable and open is no longer filled with fear. In fact they learn what was long called “women’s intuition.
I want to move on to the Gut-Brain Axis. I hope you get a sense of how wise cultures that encourage the gut as the “true brain” may be healthier than ours, in which we overrun our gut instincts far too often to our detriment.
The Gut Brain Axis
For this section, I will be using the work of Chris Kresser, an MS and a Traditional Chinese Medicine integrative health practitioner in San Francisco for several reasons, but mostly for what I see in using his book, The Paleo Cure and reading his very informative blog posts. As you now have the link to his site and brain-gut axis teaching, I suggest if you have brain or gut or other issues you read straight from him. And I will also say that I differ greatly with millionare computer geek turned natural health guru, Kresse. Paleo is not for everyone.
I want to make a few points from my experience and learning. I find the words digestion, nutrition, and nourishment very evocative and metaphorical and very “referential” to the knowing of the gut. All terms of how we take in life experience as nourishment or poison are what I am pointing towards. Does your life nourish you? Are you digesting and assimilating not just food but experience? Is your personal microbiome in good shape, keeping good critters working and bad ones out? Do you have good internal and external boundaries?
I hope by this point you realize that I am mostly focusing holistically, now often called epigenetically, that is, the impact of our personal nature and nurture systems. Who said, as within, without? Let’s put it very bluntly: if you have digestion issues you probably have brain issues and Kresser will tell you more. And I believe if you have these issues, you also have emotional issues, something Kresser will also teach you. The environment you force yourself to live in will make you ill or help you heal. Since beginning my very profound meditation and healing methods, my gut issues have much improved.
I just received this video on trauma and gut issues, like IBS. Perlmutter is very respected and these findings are very profound especially if, like me, you suffered in childhood.
Here is the book he mentions. I am delighted it parallels this post, mentioning both emotions and intuition (i.e. hara!):
Getting Tested or Self Testing your Poop
uBIOME, just up the way from Stanford University, a leader in genetic research, I believe is the first pro poop testing company. When they first opened I went for it and then they offered me another for free. I definitely need more good bugs in general. As I can no longer afford this service I practice poop watch, not obsessively but as part of my general health self-care. You can easily know whether your poop is good or bad and if you do as I did under genetic guidance before uBIOME was available, I learned to use the Bristol Stool Chart. You can find many online. It is easy and you learn it very fast.
Resistant Starch; Pre and Probiotic
Now that you know you need lots of good, especially soil based, bugs in your guts and you are wanting to improve your digestion and your mood, you may want to add pre or probiotics to increase your gut flora. Kresser seems to prefer prebiotics especially resistant starch, an indigestible fiber that gives your poo great shape and good bugs. For quite a while I made a resistant starch cookie which I will share shortly but it became too expensive for me as it requires organic cashew butter and it is quite expensive. I have a friend now hooked on his own formulation of this. For now, I leave the question of probiotics up to you; many who have other issues, like “leaky gut” from antibiotics can aspirate bacteria into lungs as on friend did, getting pneumonia.
Resistant Starch Cookie Dough Balls
I learned of the resistant starch tigernut flour from outstanding nutrigenomist, Cynthia Smith in a conversation on FaceBook. As usual, I took off on my own research and found this fabulous tigernut ball recipe from https://www.mommypotamus.com/resistant-starch-cookie-dough-recipe/ I made some adjustments, using monks fruit maple syrup as it is sugar-free. I was able to find organic cashew butter locally but at ten dollars a jar, it was unsustainable. I tried sunflower butter but found I am sensitive to it. So, for now, I do not eat these. Enjoy if you can. Of course, organic cocoa nibs, please, in moderation as they can make kidney stones worse as chocolate is high in oxalates, another whole topic.
Circling Back Home
I hope you have enjoyed this highly eclectic journey, which I feel is a lovely expression of epigenetics: as within, without. You are what you eat and how you feel depends on the nourishment of food and environment. For the open-minded, here is the video that got me going down this trail. talking about virtual reality and our guts. Enjoy.