Your 3 Centers of Intelligence

by Steven Kessler

This is an old teaching, but it's fundamental to understanding people, so I wanted to make sure you're aware of it.

The basic idea is simple: we have three centers of intelligence in our bodies, not just one. These three centers are the Head, the Heart, and the Belly. And each one has its own kind of intelligence – they are not the same, and their areas of expertise do not overlap. They are really organs in our energy bodies, but because we cannot see our energy bodies, we refer to them as parts of our physical bodies.

The Head is concerned with thinking, with logic and reason and facts and all that we commonly think of as the mind. It is the place of words and numbers and maps. This is where we divide one thing from another and how we notice patterns and rules and systems. It compares things to each other and establishes ranks and hierarchies. It tries to put things in order. It perceives the world mostly through concepts, and since concepts generally arise in opposing pairs (up and down, right and wrong, now and then …), our minds also tend to emphasize differences and oppositions. This is useful and natural. It is the nature of the intelligence of the head.

The Heart is a very different king of intelligence. It knows the world through love, through connection and feeling. Love wants to be closer to what it loves, immersed in what it loves. If you love a person, you want to be closer to them. If you love singing, you want to sing. If you love mathematics, you want to do mathematics. The heart does not care about good and bad, or right and wrong. It does not care about rules and forms. It simply feels the pull of love and wants to move closer to whatever it loves. There is a fluid, flowing quality to the heart and a softness and fuzziness to the heart's intelligence, as opposed to the sharp, dividing clarity of the head's intelligence. (The heart we are referring to here is not the heart muscle that pumps blood through your body, but rather the energetic organ known as the heart center or the heart chakra, located in the center of your chest.)

And the Belly has a third kind of intelligence, the intelligence of the body. It is the intelligence of the physical world, the world of space and time, of motion and action. Sports, dancing, martial arts, and even driving a car all engage the intelligence of the belly, because in all those activities, you have to put your attention on where you and others are in space, how everyone is moving, and what will happen next. Just throwing a ball back and forth engages your belly center. Just standing up from your chair does it. When athletes speak of being 'in the zone', they mean times when they are not thinking or feeling, but just doing – times when the mind and heart are quiet and the belly center is running the show. (The belly center is located about 2 inches (5 cm) below your navel.)

So our three centers of intelligence each have their own domain, and in their own area, they are very competent. Their kind of intelligence is the best kind of intelligence for navigating that domain. However, they are not good at navigating either of the other domains. For instance, when driving down a crowded street, counting the other cars will not help you avoid an accident. Loving them and admiring their beauty will not help, either. Similarly, when filling out your tax forms, just entering whatever number “feels right” won't work – you have to do the math.

How things can go wrong

When we apply the wrong kind of intelligence to a task, things can get messed up. But we often do that – we often apply the wrong kind of intelligence to a task – because we have favorites. Our first favorite is the one we trust the most and use the most. We've practiced this one a lot, and we're pretty skillful at it. Then we have our second favorite. We may be pretty good at it, too, but it's not quite as developed as the first. And then there is our least favorite, the one we have practiced the least and where we often are not that good.

So take a minute and ask yourself, which is your favorite? Head, Heart, or Belly? Which one do you trust and rely on the most? Do you mostly trust your head and try to think your way through life? Do you mostly trust your heart and try to feel your way through life? Do you mostly trust your belly and try to push your way through life? None of these is right or wrong; each has its place. The problem is only in being so wedded to one kind of intelligence that you apply it to every problem, whether it fits or not.

Ask your self the same question about your second favorite. Which one do you trust and rely on to support your favorite? Is it a close second or a distant second? How much skill have you developed in this area, compared to your first choice?

And what about your third? Many people don't really like their third one. They don't trust it, and they use it as little as possible, so they never develop much skill with it. It may feel like the orphan child in the psyche, ignored and undeveloped.

As you get used to thinking about people in this way, you may be able to see pretty quickly who in your life is primarily Head-centered, who is primarily Heart-centered, and who is primarily Belly-centered. Does this help you understand them better? Does it help you understand how they are different from you and why the two of you sometimes see things differently? Can you use this awareness to interact with them more skillfully?

How the three centers shape groups and cultures

Now let's shift our attention from individuals to groups of people. If you think back to high school, most of the star athletes were probably Belly-centered, right? And most of the kids in the Math Honor Society were probably Head-centered. And what about the kids who were Heart-centered? A little harder to find their niche, right?

To see why, lets look at our culture as a whole. You may live anywhere in the world, so your culture may be different. I live in the USA, which is more Head and Belly centered. We acknowledge and value Head and Belly skills more than Heart skills. Most of the high-paying jobs require Head-centered skills, skills like analysis, planning, and design. Some of the Belly-centered jobs pay well, like major league sports, but many don't, like laborer. And, on the average, Heart-centered jobs, like care-giver and nursery school teacher, pay the least. There are exceptions, of course, but these trends are generally true.

So we see that our culture here in the USA generally uses the Head center first, the Belly center second, and the Heart center a distant third. How does that affect individuals living here? Well, if you also favor your Head, then Belly, then Heart, you fit right in. You feel at home here, because you and the culture are aligned in this area. What if you're more Belly-centered? Life here may be a struggle. You may be able to find a Belly-centered way to shine or you may not, but you will probably always feel that you're not smart enough. And what if you're more Heart-centered? You probably feel that you don't fit in, don't know why, and think you're somehow deficient. But in fact, it is not that you lack value. It is just that you live in a culture that doesn't value the Heart much. If you move to a more Heart-centered culture, like Italy, you may find that you fit right in. In my therapy practice, I have seen this problem repeatedly. The same situation arises any time you join a group or take a job that requires a whole set of skills that you have not developed. In order to function well in that situation, you need to develop whichever of the three centers you have been neglecting.

How do you develop a neglected center of intelligence?

You use it. You intentionally move your attention to that part of your body and you do things that require you to practice those skills.

To develop your Head-center, intentionally move your attention to your head and practice thinking about things, putting them in categories, seeing differences, seeing patterns, analyzing trends, putting them in order, and so on. Focus on logic and reason, cause and effect, maps and charts and graphs.

To develop your Heart-center, intentionally move your attention to the center of your chest and do things that focus on love, connection, beauty, harmony, and the like. Maybe poetry, singing, dancing, painting, or sculpture. Maybe music, stories, or creating in general. Anything that focuses on feeling and expressing that feeling.

To develop your Belly-center, intentionally move your attention to your belly and practice activities that involve moving through time and space, activities like playing catch, running, swimming, dancing, sports and martial arts in general. Doing these activities competitively will push you even further in developing your skills.

Integrating the three centers of intelligence

You may have noticed that all three of these centers are located within the Core of the body. One of the great benefits of developing a felt-sense of your Core is that you begin to integrate the three centers. Doing the Core practice* will help you see where along the column your attention is strongest and where it is weakest, and it will help you strengthen your attention where ever that is needed. Ideally, a healthy, mature adult has developed all three centers and has integrated them into one coordinated whole.


* For more information on Core, please see

For recordings to help you develop Core, please visit

    • My understanding is that intuition can come through any of the three centers or any combination of them. Intuition through the belly center (2nd chakra) is more likely to arise into consciousness as a ‘gut feeling’. Intuition through the heart center (4th chakra) is more likely to arise into consciousness as a feeling of desire or a pull toward or push away from something. Intuition through the head center (6th chakra) is more likely to arise into consciousness as a seeing or visual experience. Intuition through the 7th chakra is more likely to arise into consciousness as a simple knowing, without any sense perception leading to it.

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