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World Cup: The Mind-Heart-Gut connection?

July 1, 2018



This World Cup has been interesting. Although I haven’t been watching all the games as closely as I had in the past, but like many, I have been involved in an office pool. We are a largely international clinic, with a majority of Latin Americans, and even though there is no money involved, the stakes are high. 


It has surprising to see so many “great” teams not advance. Even to begin with Italy and the Netherlands didn’t make the tournament. That should have been a sign! Seeing Germany fall, Argentina, and now Spain! Wow! 


It has been equally interesting to follow our office pool. Most of us have struggled with who to pick. Our thinking minds went straight to probabilities based on past performance FIFA rankings. Our hearts with home countries, those countries to where we travelled, whose people stole our hearts, and of course, with underdogs. Then there is what our guts told us. Our first choice usually, only to be swayed away by our heads or our hearts. How can you pick a team against where you heart lies? How can you go against your love? Why does the mind doubt us so with past history, logic and facts? So, it has become the team we picked in our minds, the team for whom we are cheering in our hearts, often the underdogs, and then the one our gut knows will take it. 

Much has been discussed recently about the mind-gut connection, between the Central Nervous System of the Brain and the Enteric Nervous System of the Gut, and its connector the Vagus Nerve. While Enteric Nervous System cannot “think” for us, it does send the brain “bottom up” signals through its elaborate system of neurons, via the Vagus nerve, and giving us that “gut instinct.” The vagus nerve also innervates our heart and other internal organs. Over 80% of those nerves are sensory, sending signals up to our brain. So yes, you do feel it in your heart and in your gut!


We also know that our gut bacteria, the Microbiome, produce many of our neurotransmitters, which act as signals between our neurons, the cells of the brain. Changes in the makeup of our microbiome have been linked to mood and affective disorders, including Depression and Anxiety as well as other disorders including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Autism, Obesity and even Cancer.  Changes in our microbiome have been correlated to overuse of antibiotics (especially in our food supply), pesticides such as Glycosophate, and changes in the modern diet, which is low in prebiotic (foods such as onions, garlic and other soluble fiber which are ingested and digested by gut bacteria) and probiotic food (fermented foods including yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi etc).


Our patterns of thinking can also affect “top down” responses in our bodies as the research in contemplative practices such as mindfulness and compassion-based practice has shown. 


It is a complex system. The bottom line reaffirms the importance of healthy lifestyle habits such as eating a diverse diet, and practicing stress releasing self-care activities (involving exercise and meditation) for optimal health.


So who is winning the office pool? So far, it has been those who have followed their first choice via their gut. And what of those of us who have chosen otherwise? We all feel like we went against our gut and are beating ourselves up about it, albeit briefly, which is not making us feel any better, it is making us feel worse.  Time for some self-compassion, it is a game after all!


As for my choices,  I’ll declare them here. My heart is with Brazil (thanks to my time with Familia Gontijo-Maciel). My Gut picked Russia over Spain (I felt there was something about home team advantage, but my head obviously decided that was a poor choice). My mind won and we know how that ended up. My heart also cheers for Uruguay - they did so well in the semi finals in 2010. As for the final, my gut thinks Belgium. For the underdogs? Go Croatia! Go Japan! But back to my heart - I chose Brazil. After all, football is an emotional sport!


Next time, I am going to suggest we fill it out in all three categories – Head Mind, Heart Mind and Gut Mind, and see who wins! 


(Borrowing the images, I am sure they are copyrighted but could not find the source - so free advertising for the World Cup).




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