The “Second Brain”

I studied T’ai Chi for a year and enjoyed it immensely, I hope to go back to it when my back is better. A fellow class mate had introduced me to Mantak Chia, a master of Taoist philosophy and healing. I sincerely hope that Western medicine, which I believe is just starting to open itself up to Eastern/Chinese medicine, will continue to open its mind to and absorb the immense genius of these Arts. I bought and read one of Chia’s books, Tan Tien Chi Kung: Foundational Exercises for Empty Force and Perineum Power (Destiny Books, Rochester VT), in which he discusses balancing and healing principles based on chi, which he defines as “energy” or “life force”, and kung, meaning “work.” He defines the “lower tan tien”, located in the lower abdomen, as the “energy reservoir” of the body, also referred to as the “ocean of Chi.” I’m not even going to begin to try to explain any of these things, but I did want to mention one thing I found very striking, regarding what Chia refers to as the “second brain.”

According to Chia, in Taoist theory, there is “an upper mind, or brain”, which is thought to be logical, and a “lower brain”, located in the gut, which is intuitive. As someone who grew up in Western society, I was completely blown away by the wisdom of this ancient concept. Chia refers to a New York times article from 1996 by Susan Blakeslee, which discusses the “new field of neurogastroenterology.” Several Google searches on this topic did not reveal much about the link between the brain in the gut and obesity. I searched for “neurogastroenterology” and “obesity” (both as abstract or title words) on PubMed and found a total of 1 article, published in 2001 (Näslund E, Hellström PM, Kral JG. The gut and food intake: an update for surgeons. J Gastrointest Surg. 2001 Sep-Oct;5(5):556-67). I find this pretty incredible. It could be for one of several reasons: the pharmaceutical industry is working on top secret medications based on research in neurogastroenterology and keeping it all top secret until their drug is ready for clinical trials; or the western medical establishment is still too biased against obesity to even think this is worth looking into.

One thought on “The “Second Brain”

  1. While I have never heard the term ‘neurogastroenterology’, there have been trials using antidepressants to treat inflammatory bowel disease. And the connection between irritable bowel syndrome and stress is well known. I strongly doubt that the medical community is purposely ignoring this field – if there is money to be made, someone is studying it – but rather that it is not being framed the same way it is in eastern medicine.

    I don’t want to get sucked into an all-night PubMed search, but what about searching for neurotransmitter and obesity, etc. There are certainly plenty of articles regarding peptides, hormones, something called an endocannabinoid system (!?!) and lord knows what else. Are these closer to the studies you’re looking for?


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