In Carl Reiner’s 1983 hit, The Man With Two Brains Steve Martin plays Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr, a pioneering neurosurgeon who falls in love with a disembodied brain in a jar. Many of the film’s best jokes revolve around Dr Michael’s desire to find a new body for the homeless brain and his inability to kill to get hold of one.
Fast forward to now, and sometimes I feel the best and brightest minds would love to separate their brain from their body. The body merely gets in the way of being more efficient, focussed and productive.
But consider this; we often act like they are separate.
Every day people in our clinic point to a back, neck, knee or shoulder and say “It hurts when I do this’.
After we assess their issue, to ensure they are in the right place, we break the news gently.
‘It’s most likely a sign your body is fed up with being ignored and it’s shouting at you.”
For some, the disconnect between mind and body is so significant that little niggles can quickly become debilitating back pain, migraines, anxiety bordering on panic attacks, upset bowels, a stroke, never-ending illness and worst of all, insomnia.
These are ‘crises’ of the ‘body brains’.
Here’s how it works.
Your thinking brain, your top two inches, known as you cortex, is only 2-3 million years old. This guy sets us apart from the other mammals on the planet. Good at critical thinking, problem-solving, language, and building things like cars, rockets, Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
Sixteen billion individual nerves make up the cortex. These nerves connect to the next layer down your feeling brain. Also known as the limbic brain, it’s a lot older in the evolutionary context at 150million years old. It’s the seat of motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. Most of your behaviour, what you do, is driven by the limbic brain and its number one goal of safety and survival. The limbic brain wants consistency. Food, shelter, being loved and not dying are top of the list. If you are feeling pain or emotional, it is because your limbic brain is sensing a challenge to its safety.
Your limbic brain connects down to your doing brain, the brain stem. It’s 500 million years old and runs all automatic functions in the body — heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, balance and about a billion other things every second. With thermostat like accuracy, the brainstem regulates the balance of all the bodies functions against the environment. Get too cold, and the brainstem cranks up the shivering. Overheat, and the brainstem starts the body sweating. Simple, reflex-like and a genuine genius piece of evolution the brainstem is the link between higher-order functions (playing candy crush and doing tax) and your physical body. Yes, your brain connects to your body. Literally by wires called nerves. Crazy hey!
These wires connect to your gut-brain. Yes, your gut is a brain. Your gut contains 500 million neurones which connect to your brain through the vagus nerve. Your gut directly talks to your brain stem and limbic centres. Here is a direct connection between the body and the mind. It’s a bi-directional messaging system. So, if you are stressed, properly stressed, like in a pandemic, divorce, debt or death, then your brain sends messages to the gut that make it leaky and not ready to digest food. Equally, if you put dodgy food in the gut, don’t chew properly and let Zuckerberg play with your head while you eat your gut sends unhappy messages to your brain stem and limbic centres. Do this long enough, and bad things happen to your health.
The superhighway of information connecting mind to body and body to mind means your body is not just a vessel to carry your thinking box to work.
Your body is your thinking box. The health of our body brains drives how well we think, how resilient we are, and how long we can deliver on our talent.