You might intuitively have a sense that the heart is connected to your emotions. When you get anxious the heart starts racing. In a happy moment, your heart may take a jump! When someone tells you bad news, your heart feels heavy… Most people have an intuitive knowing that the heart is wise and that it can guide us. Then it may not come as a surprise to hear that our heart contains its own independent nervous system, the ‘heart-brain’! 40 years of heart research has shown that the heart contains 40,000 neurons that can sense, feel, learn and remember, and it constantly sends information to the brain.
The heart sends more signals to the brain than the other way around!
These signals from the heart have a significant effect on the brain’s function and influence emotional processes. When our heart is calm and we feel good, neural signals to the brain promote mental clarity, easy decision making and high memory function. When we are stressed, however, the heart’s signals to the brain result in lack of concentration, forgetfulness or indecisiveness.
Our heart rhythm is naturally variable.
The Institute of HeartMath in California has done extensive research on stress and heart intelligence. Their findings show that our heart doesn’t beat regularly like a metronome. Instead, there are natural beat-to-beat variations. These changes in the heartbeat are regulated by the autonomic nervous system, namely the sympathetic branch that promotes acceleration of heart beat, and the parasympathetic branch that slows the heart rate.
Heart coherence is an optimal state of mental clarity and emotional stability.
If you are calm and relaxed the heart rate will go up and down in a coordinated, regular way. This is called heart coherence. In this state, there is increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, this part of the brain that activates our higher brain functions such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. Our improved brain function has a profound effect on how we feel: more peaceful, loving and caring. When our heart is coherent, our heart and our brain are aligned: We are connected to our heart’s wisdom, our intuition and inner guide. Moreover, our hearts create a powerful electromagnetic field that affects people around us!
Stress limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions.
During stress and negative emotions, the heart rate changes more chaotically, and we see an incoherent and erratic heart rhythm. Then neural signals travel directly to the amygdala, the area in the brain that activate the stress response inhibiting learning and memory and other higher cognitive functions. The heart’s input to the brain also has a profound affect on emotional processes and trigger emotions such as anger, fear or aggression.
Improve your heart coherence and live a healthier and happier life!
Fortunately, we can learn to generate heart rhythm coherence by consciously focusing on our heart. Here I introduce ‘Heart-focused-breathing’ to you. With this technique, you can vastly reduce your stress levels, and live a more conscious life aligned with your heart! It helps you to feel more centered, present, focused, and emotionally balanced which has a profoundly positive effect on your health and your daily performance.
Take 5 to 15 minutes to listen and talk to your heart. This technique can be done as a short practice any time of the day, or it can be part of a longer meditation. Also try it when you are in a stressed situation or a moment of challenge.
Sit in a comfortable and stable position. Close your eyes and shift your attention inwards. Notice your breathing … Just be aware of your inhale and exhale, and notice how your breathing slows down as you pay attention to it.
Now focus on the centre of your chest. Maybe place your hand on your heart. Allow your palm to be soft and open and feel your heart just underneath your hand. Just be still and listen to your heart as you are breathing in and out.
If your breathing is shallow, just simply pause for 3 – 4 seconds after the next exhale. Then let the next inhale occur naturally. Allow your breathing to be light and easy. Imagine the air entering and leaving through your heart space. Soften your heart.
Stay with this for a while… Quiet your mind and be with your heart.
Now remember a moment in your life when you experienced love, gratitude or compassion. Think of a situation where you felt really good such as feeling loved while someone was hugging you… a deep sense of gratitude while watching a beautiful sunset… or feeling compassion towards a friend or family member that went through a hard time… or any other situation that comes to mind. Take some time to connect to that moment. If you cannot remember a situation now, just imagine one. Feel this moment in your heart. Sense into it. What did it smell like, taste like, feel like? Be open and breathe calmly and softly.
To find out more about the research and other coherence techniques, visit www.heartmath.com