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Our “abdominal brain” and its relationship to the pulses

15 SEP 2021

In my practice there seem to be more and more people who are suffering from what might be called ambiguous digestive issues. They will ponder whether they are gluten intolerant or suffer from some other food allergy. Some suggest that they may have a parasite. But all, in my diagnostic opinion, have ongoing emotional states that are either causing or exacerbating their symptoms. Proper digestion is one of the keystones for improving overall health so a common goal of treatment for me is to improve digestive functioning. Out of curiosity more than anything, I decided to keep my pulse diagnosis records in accordance with where in the abdomen the pain was felt by the patients to see if there was a pattern with regard to the pulse diagnosis and the location of the discomfort. Interestingly enough, the pulse patterns matched the emotion felt and the area of discomfort located in what is called our “abdominal brain” or enteric nervous system.

We used to rely much more on our gut feelings than we do now. Sometimes we ignore the gut feeling because it is thought of as being too emotionally based and we’d rather base decisions on facts. Therefore we ignore the gut feeling in favor of gathering information. We leave the feeling that “it feels right” behind and make decisions based on research and what we think of as a sound methodology. But it may not be valid that giving ourselves more time to think about a decision, more time to gather information or alternative ideas, or more time to theorize will make the decision have a better outcome. We may also call our gut feelings intuitive judgment or unconscious intelligence. Meditation is letting our conscious thinking mind go to a centered, focused place in our gut where we just feel rather than allowing our conscious mind to over-think.

Back to my little study about emotions, area where abdominal discomfort is felt, and the pulse diagnosis picture. First let’s look at the upper part of the gut and see what emotion lives there: anxiety. When patients who are anxious come in you may feel their anxiety in the pulses in the heart position or in the kidney position. But you may also feel it in the liver position. You might ask – “well, which one?” Each of these feelings in the pulses coordinates with the gut brain’s anxiety area. It’s a given that anxiety will be felt in the SI/Ht sector of the pulses which coordinates with the discomfort in the upper abdomen due to the qi stagnation preceding the expected flow if it into the upper jiao (i.e., heart/Shen/senory area of the qi flow). When flow of qi to the heart is disrupted all organs are affected. Why would we feel anxiety in the kidney position? Because chronic anxiety depletes kidney qi. That coordinates with the patient’s feeling of discomfort, pain, stuckness etc. in the upper belly because the kidneys are too affected perhaps to the point of depletion to course the qi up the channel thereby creating upper jiao stagnation based on deficiency. Naturally, the upper abdomen discomfort may be attributed to Liver Qi Stagnation due to our body’s innate capability of preventing perverse qi from getting to the heart/Shen. The problem with all of this prevention is that the heart, Shen, Spirit doesn’t receive proper, if any, qi support which may perpetuate the anxiety state. The upper right side of our gut brain becomes uncomfortable when we suffer from anger. In the pulses this is clearly felt as the liver qi rises in an attacking motion toward the heart. This is a fairly strong movement that distinguishes it from the emotion depression. A complicating factor is that the stagnation of gallbladder energy from repressing the anger adds fuel to the movement if you will. And lastly, the ultimate “fuel” for this movement comes from the kidneys and is weakening the kidney qi as the anger continues. This pulse movement perfectly resembles the stagnation that the patient is feeling in the upper belly.

The upper left side is where worry is held. Worry creates a particularly interesting movement in the pulses: the spleen qi goes backward toward the kidneys. Even though this movement is felt on the right wrist, your patient will report discomfort on the left side of the abdomen. There are several negative effects of worry on our energetic systems. First of all, it messes up our digestion by reversing the flow of our digestive qi; it weakens our ability to make qi and blood. That’s why worried people are tired when they wake up in the AM; their body is not making adequate qi. Additionally, worry may weaken lung qi and then our ability to make qi and blood is further impacted because the lung qi isn’t available to support digestion.

Fear: the worst enemy of our kidney qi is felt in the lower abdomen and is relatively easy to see in the pulses. Fear feels like the kidney position is going “poof” under your finger. It feels like a number of rising little dots against your finger, a weak set of fireworks going upward. This is anxiety or fear that is rocking the patient’s core beliefs about themselves or their life. I just felt this recently in a patient (CE) of mine who comes weekly and is generally doing well. He asked what I was feeling and I told him that it felt as though he had experienced some sort of shock to his system. He said that he is ill equipped to do his new job and is extremely anxious about it. He’s also suffering digestive issues like loose stools and early morning diarrhea. Yes, feeling inadequate at work could certainly impact your self image (core beliefs) in a negative fashion. CE is nearing 70 so it is vitally important to maintain the flow of his qi to and from the kidneys.

In conclusion, believing our gut is important. The future of healing not only depends on technology, it depends on our individual ability to heal ourselves, to listen to our bodies sometimes without regard to what our intellect is telling us. Facts only go so far and facts don’t drive healing: our body does, our gut does. We can use our thought processes for both activities – researching to help us make better decisions regarding our health and believing that our body can help itself, that it has the capability to be balanced. Yin and Yang carry the innate wisdom of balance if we will let our body listen.

Submitted by Martha Lucas, Ph.D., L.Ac.