At the Heart of The Matter
It’s no surprise to us the importance of the human heart in our daily functioning. What is interesting though is that what most of us take for granted only scratches the surface of what this amazing organ really does and is capable of. What we were taught at school is simply not enough to help us understand this complex organ.
A while ago I came across an Institute in America that is devoted entirely to the heart and its importance and relevance. Although it can make for quite scientific reading at times it is extremely interesting and enlightening stuff. I’ll attempt to highlight in everyday terms some of the most remarkable findings here, as they can have such a positive impact on all of our lives.
The Institute of HeartMath is a research and education organisation, founded in 1991 by Doc Childre.
It outlines some simple techniques and tools that we all can use to not only help relieve stress and tension but also to move into greater levels of awareness, improving creativity, intuition, a sense of fulfilment and general levels of personal balance. More than that, it also highlights research and reasons why we would want to find and attain such balance and the overall importance of the heart.
This goes further than just realising that the heart is the major organ in our body and is the pulse that keeps us alive. There is evidence that the heart has a profound and unique affect on our bodies. It has been suggested that the heart almost has its own mini brain and nervous system that communicates with the greater nervous system of the body. This is based on scientific research not happy clappy feel good whims. Apparently the heart sends messages up to the brain, which the brain then acts upon.
“.. the heart is far more than a simple pump. The heart is, in fact, a highly complex, self-organised information processing centre with its own functional “brain” that communicates with and influences the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways. These influences profoundly affect brain function and most of the body’s major organs, and ultimately determine the quality of life.”
What we do know is that stress, anxiety, tension and negative emotions affect our systems in a negative way but what may not be so clear is just how they do that. Over years of research, the institute has discovered that the variation of heart rate or the heart rhythms are one of the clearest ways of signalling inner emotional states and stress.
” It became clear that negative emotions lead to increased disorder in the heart’s rhythms and in the autonomic nervous system, thereby adversely affecting the rest of the body. In contrast, positive emotions create increased harmony and coherence in heart rhythms and improve balance in the nervous system.”
What is remarkable is the positive and dramatic changes that occur when certain techniques are used to increase the coherence in the rhythmic patterns of the heart. Such changes include the ability to deal with tricky situations more effectively, reduced stress and shifts in perception and insight. It was noticed that the heart acts as if it has a mind of its own and influences the way we perceive as well as respond to the world around us.
We are familiar with the notion that when we are stressed, frightened or angry that our bodies go into the fight/flight mode but what many people assume is that it is our brain that is responsible for picking up and giving out such signals and commands. This research shows that the heart is in fact very much involved too. It is perceiving and sending messages up to the brain that stimulates a reaction. The vagus nerve is one of the routes that it uses to directly communicate to the brain. “The heart appeared to be sending meaningful messages to the brain that it not only understood, but obeyed.”
There is a branch of science, neurocardiology that looks specifically at the nervous system within the heart and how the brain and heart communicate with each other.
As it can deal with information independently to the brain, which is why heart transplants are possible. Usually it communicates to the brain through the nerve fibres in the spinal column and the vagus nerve. These connections are obviously cut during a heart transplant and take some time to reconnect after surgery. The heart functions in the new host body because of its own inner nervous system.
“Its elaborate circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain – to learn, remember and even feel and sense.”
A lot of what is felt and detected in the heart – from circulating hormones, information regarding rate and pressure, and neurochemicals is then translated into impulses and sent to the brain stem, this then can then flow out into the nervous system and some will move up into the higher areas of the brain, where it can influence perception and decision making.
It is widely accepted that emotions are powerful things and one of the reasons why may be to do with the fact that there are more neural connections going to the brain from the emotional centres than going the other way. This is why we can feel so compelled to act on an emotion. Emotions can easily transform your day where as a thought by itself wont usually be quite so powerful.
So why is this so revealing and important?
Well it explains why if we try and deal with things just in our head – it doesn’t always help. It’s not our head responsible for the emotions necessarily – it may well be our heart. So we need to direct more attention to our heart and deal with things there if we want sustained balance and harmony. But for most people, that’s not something we have learnt to do, our modern society has leant far more towards the focus being on the mind and intellect.
What seems to be most important is gaining some coherence in the communication between the heart and the mind. There are ways we can learn to do this consciously thereby positively affecting our health and lives in general.
Some music and meditation and relaxation can obviously help. There are various techniques outlined on the website , some very simple things such as just noticing your emotion, mentioning and expressing what is disturbing you and then focusing on letting that emotion ease which then allows your system to cool down.
One of the quickest ways to bring coherence and calmness back is to focus on your heart and the area surrounding it, call to mind someone or something you love, who loves you and breathe in that good feeling, imagine breathing it into your heart and letting go as you breathe out. Do this a few times and you’ll feel much better. Sometimes it’s nice to put your hand lightly over the heart area, it can help to focus the mind.
The specific techniques they recommend are:
Freeze Frame: a simple technique to take you out of your mind, away from any negative thoughts you may be having or experiencing. You shift your attention as I mentioned above away from your thoughts and down to your heart. You call to mind a positive image, person or experience, so you can feel positive things like appreciation, love, kindness or caring. You do this right in the moment, which is why it is so effective and powerful. This interrupts the stressful signals, reactions and changes in your body’s systems.
People using this technique have noticed marked shifts in their perception, allowing them to think more clearly and to act appropriately. Ultimately allowing them to live more positively.
After a few trial runs – you can do this in less than a minute and it is used very successfully at home, at school and the workplace.
Heart Lock in: This “promotes physical, mental and emotional regeneration.”
This teaches you to literally lock in the positive enhancing, feel good states. It can retrain your physiology to sustain longer periods of coherent rhythms between the heart and brain. Thereby flooding your body with positive hormones and reactions which are beneficial to long term health and well being. It can help to stabilise your emotions with repeated practise.
Cut Thru: This is to stop any recurring negative responses you may have. Just as we have certain ways of sitting, walking and standing etc, we also have particular ways and habits we have of responding. The cut thru works in the moment and restructures a more positive emotional route and response.
What’s also interesting is the power of the energy field of the heart – apparently it is about 60 times greater than the electrical activity generated by the brain and its magnetic field is 5000 times greater. This is what can be felt and picked up even standing a few feet from the body.
So what’s clear is the need to be aware of and take care of our hearts – not just in the exercise and 5 a day sense but in appreciation of a truly amazing phenomenon – regardless of whether we fully understand it or not.