"Listen to your Heart." "Trust your Gut." "Use your Head."
How can our heart, gut AND head help us with our art!
Whenever I heard "listen to your heart" and "trust your gut" growing up I thought they were just metaphors. I was convinced that you can only use the brain in your head to "think, create and learn." Then I learned that the heart, gut AND head have "brains" of their own.
In the Sage Journals, Australian and New Zealand researchers Grant Soosalu, Suzanne Henwood and Arun Deo discuss how the heart, head and gut brain work.
So, what did they find out?
The head brain has 86 billion neurons and deals with cognition, perception and communication.
The gut brain has 100 million neurons. This brain deals with digestion, metabolism, regulates hormones, blood pressure and processes information in your sleep. Scientists always thought that the brain communicated with the gut, but the gut also communicates with the brain! One study shows that the gut sends 400 more messages to the brain than vice versa. Research also shows that the gut plays a key part in our emotions. 95% of the body's serotonin, or the happy hormone, is in the gut.
The heart brain has 40,000 neurons and sends emotional signals to your brain though chemical and electrical signals. So think of your heart as the “emotion brain.”
So what does all of that mean and how does it help with our art?
With performance, it is so important to have access to our emotions (heart brain), follow our impulses (gut brain),and to know the technical material (head brain).
Sometimes, as artists, it can feel so difficult to do all of those things at the same time. Luckily, our vagus nerve connects our heart, gut and head brain. The vagus nerve also makes us more resilient to stress, which is also pivotal for any artist.
So how can we use the vagus nerve?
There are multiple ways to strengthen and stimulate the vagus nerve, and my favorite way is to SING! We can also meditate, exercise, practice slow breathing, laugh, use cold exposure and massage.
Now we may not always be able to do all of those things during or right before a performance, but you CAN do all of those things before you sit down to craft your acting choices or before a practice session.
And the more you practice using all three brains the easier it will get over time.
Connection to our bodies is a fantastic way to learn how to connect to our emotions. As we all know another word for an emotion is a feeling and we FEEL in our bodies.
We can even practice mind, gut and heart connection throughout our day by simply noticing what is happening within our bodies.
And when there is a day when it's harder to connect to our emotions, our impulses or we are struggling with the interpretation of a song, scene or monologue, take a slow breath or laugh out loud or simply hum a song in the moment to help connect your heart, gut and head. Your ART and your HEART will be better for it.