In school, we were taught that our heart was just a pump, an extraordinary muscle that beats over 115,000 times per day, circulating blood throughout our bodies. But that’s not the full story. Discoveries made by the HeartMath Institute reveal that our heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. This means our heart activity, which varies according to our emotional state, has a distinct effect on our cognitive and emotional functioning.
HeartMath has developed a range of tools and techniques, based on 25 years of research and over 300 peer-reviewed or independent studies, to assist us in reducing stress, improving our cognitive functioning, and creating harmony within our mind, emotions and body. While I want to share these techniques with you, I think it’s valuable for you to understand some of the scientific discoveries that led to the development of these tools and techniques. Shifting your understanding of the heart, from the purely mechanical to the almost magical, opens up a whole new world of possibility right before your eyes.
When making important life decisions, you’ve probably received this advice: “listen to your heart.” While some of us are able, intuitively, to tap into the wisdom and intelligence of our heart in our decision-making, most of us don’t. Instead, we jump straight to our mental faculties of logic and reasoning. Why? Because we don’t really know “how” to listen to our hearts. Neurocardiology, a relatively new science that links the heart and the brain, now proves that our heart does, in fact, possess a unique intelligence of its own, independent of the brain. Not only that, but many techniques have been developed to allow us to tap into our “heart intelligence.”
“Scientists have discovered that the heart possesses its own intrinsic nervous system—a network of nerves so functionally sophisticated as to earn the description of a “heart brain.” Containing over 40,000 neurons, this “little brain” gives the heart the ability to independently sense, process information, make decisions, and even to demonstrate a type of learning and memory. In essence, it appears that the heart is truly an intelligent system.”
The Changing Rhythm Of Your Heart
When we think of our heart rate, we compare it to the beating of a drum, pounding out a steady rhythm that varies according to our physical activity. Scientists and physicians have discovered, however, that this is far from accurate. Indeed, the time interval between consecutive heartbeats is always changing. This natural beat-to-beat variation is called Heart Rate Variability (HRV), and can offer us more insight into our emotional state and well-being.
Why Heart Rate Variability is Important
HRV is a marker of physiological resilience and behavioural flexibility, reflecting our ability to adapt effectively to stress and the demands of modern life. As such, it is an important indicator of health and fitness. HRV is also a marker of biological aging. As we get older, the variation in our resting heart rate declines. By reducing stress-induced wear and tear on the nervous system, using the techniques in this post, you can help restore HRV to a more healthy range of variability.
The normal variability of our heart rhythm is caused by the interplay of nerves within our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is the nervous system that regulates most of the body’s internal functions. The ANS functions without your conscious control. Within the ANS, there are two subdivisions. The sympathetic nervous system contains nerves that act to accelerate the heart rate, while the parasympathetic nervous system’s vagus nerve slows it down. These two subdivisions of the ANS work together, ensuring that our bodies respond appropriately to different situations we encounter.
How Our Emotions Affect Our Heart Rhythm
If the ANS influences our heart rate variability, it’s logical to conclude that whatever influences our ANS will influence our HRV. By changing our breathing patterns, physical activity and even our thoughts, we can influence our HRV. What’s even more fascinating is that the HeartMath Institute has shown that one of the most powerful factors that affect our heart’s rhythm is the constant fluctuation of our feelings and emotions.
The negative emotions of fear, anger, and frustration give rise to irregular and erratic heart rhythms. When tested using an HRV monitor, the effects of these negative emotions are clear, as you can see in the image below. Scientists call this an “incoherent” heart rhythm pattern, which indicates that the two subdivisions of the ANS are out of sync with each other. It’s like stepping on the gas and brake at the same time. It’s not good for the car and it burns far more fuel.
Conversely, when we shift into feelings of love, gratitude and appreciation, our heart rhythm becomes highly ordered, producing a coherent pattern. This brings the ANS into balance and there is an overall shift in autonomic balance toward increased parasympathetic activity.
The Benefits Of a Coherent Heart Rhythm
When subjected to a state of sustained positive emotion, our psychological (mental and emotional) and physiological (bodily) processes become more ordered and balanced. Research at HeartMath shows that when we activate positive emotions, our physiological systems function more efficiently, we experience greater emotional stability, we have increased mental clarity, and we demonstrate improved cognitive function. Simply stated, our body and brain work better. Thus, we feel better and we perform better.
This quote from Doctor Childre, the HeartMath Founder, reveals the real essence of heart-brain coherence:
“Dare to connect with your heart. You will be lifting not only yourself and those you love and care about, but also the world in which you live.”
Remember earlier when I told you about the “heart-brain?” When we shift into a more coherent state, we can more readily tap into the wisdom and intuition of our heart-brain, helping us make better decisions, which are more aligned with the greatest expression of who we are. If you’ve never listened to your heart’s guidance, it’s going to take some time to sensitize yourself to the messages it’s sending, so you actually become aware of these messages. Then it will take a whole lot of trust to take action on that information.
How To Generate More Coherence In Your Life
Now you know a few details about the science of positive emotions working with the heart to reduce stress and create more balance by directly influencing your heart rhythm and ANS. So, how do you cultivate more coherence in your life?
There are three keys to this process: breathing, attention, and emotion. When you combine all three, you will be able to shift your emotional state from one of frustration, anger, or overwhelm to one of gratitude and happiness in just a matter of minutes.
Step 1 – Breathing
The process of regulating your breathing in order to relax your mind and body is nothing new. All you need to do is engage in a simple 10-second breathing cycle: 5 seconds of inhalation, then 5 seconds of exhalation. This switches on your parasympathetic nervous system, slowing your heart rate and, generating a calm, relaxed state.
Step 2 – Attention
In executing this next step, you must shift your attention to the space inside your chest where your heart resides. Concentrate on detecting your heartbeat or on feeling the energy emanating from your heart-space throughout the rest of your body and into the space around you.
Step 3 – Emotion
The is the real key to this whole technique. In order to move more deeply into a state of coherence, focus on positive emotions like love, gratitude, compassion, and appreciation. What I usually find best is to visualize a loving relationship in my life, focusing on how it really feels to love that person and the gratitude I have for them being in my life.
During this process, you should start to feel your chest expand. I often experience waves of energy light up my entire body as I surrender to the blissful feelings flowing through me. If you consistently practice this simple exercise, even if only for 10 minutes a day, you’ll notice stress and negativity have less impact on your mood and your moment-to-moment emotional and physical states.
Is This Just The Beginning?
What blows my mind is how little we actually know about our bodies. Sure, we’ve nailed down some good science on many of our biological processes. Most studies, however, ignore the influence of our thoughts on our ability to consciously influence the regulation of our autonomic nervous system. Outdated thinking pigeon-holed our heart as a mechanical pump. Now we know it’s much, much more than that. What about the other parts of our body? Perhaps there are more secrets hidden away just waiting to be discovered!
My intention with this post is to give you a base level of knowledge and insight into science so you can understand how you can use these discoveries to benefit your life. It’s now up to you to try out the 3-step coherence technique I described above and discover the benefits for yourself. HeartMath Institute has some great technology and tools available if you want to measure and train your own heart rhythm and HRV, along with a plethora of scientific studies and articles that will take you deeper in the topics we’ve explored today. Make sure to visit their website today.
If you want to feel the benefits of heart-brain coherence, make sure to enter your name and email in the section below this post to get your hands on a Free 12-Minute Guided Meditation to help you manifest whatever you want!