BALANCING THE BODY-MIND SYSTEM
As a therapist in bodywork, I am interested not only in treating the body, but the whole body-mind system. Since everything is interconnected in our body and mind – it is much more beneficial to look at health from a holistic point of view and see the whole picture. We cannot exclude one organ system, without affecting the others, or exclude the mind from the body and expect everything to be fine. It is a very inspiring subject for me to explore the body-mind system and practice therapy for restoring its balance. There are many ways how to establish balance and well-being. Today I want to talk about the power of the heart and how much it can help us not only to solve problems in our busy and stressful lives and restore balance, but also thrive.
During these stressful and fast speed modern times, and even more chaotic this year due to Corona pandemic, we need more than ever a refreshing and efficient method of balancing ourselves and achieving personal fulfillment. One entity, which has made it their purpose and work field- researching about the heart and developing heart-involved self-development tools, is Heartmath institute. I would like to present short overview and examples of their work in order to bring new perspective on living with the heart in focus.
HEART COHERENCE FOR SUSTAINABLE STRESS MANAGEMENT AND POSITIVE CHANGE
In today’s world of stress and crisis, it has become crucial to have mental clarity and emotional stability in order to maintain health and thrive. While the Corona crisis has shaken the whole world in a stressful manner, it has also forced us to reflect on the way we manage our lives. It is essential to tap into holistic understanding of our potential as humans in order to solve problems efficiently and make life more fulfilling. Sustainable stress management can be done by unlocking our inner intelligence through heart coherence, which paves the way for positive change. Research findings of the Heartmath institute in the fields of psychology, biomedics and social science, explain how powerful the electromagnetic field of the heart is and how we can use this knowledge to achieve greater capacity to tackle challenges and prosper.
WHAT IS HEARTMATH?
Heartmath is a non-profit research and educational organization, which has turned our attention to the power of the heart. They have shined a light on something we knew and felt, but with scientific proof and approach to use it more intentionally. The organisation is based in California, which was founded in 1991 by Doc Childre and a group of professionals in different fields. The institute’s research has made pioneering findings into the fields of neuroscience, cardiology, psychology, physiology, biochemistry, bioelectricity, and physics. The HeartMath system’s scientifically validated techniques have been integrated into seminars and consulting endeavors in a variety of societal contexts, including corporations, government agencies, healthcare institutions, and educational systems across four continents. The heart coherence techniques, developed by Heartmath, offer one model how to balance the body mind system and contact the intuitive intelligence of the heart. It is not the only model working, but it is relatively simple and efficient, tailored for the needs of the busy modern person. The Heartmath institute has documented over the years many cases with people, who have created a strong connection with their inner intelligence via heart coherence, and gained a greater power to manage their mind and emotions and achieved rapid personal growth.
NEW DISCOVERIES - “BRAIN” IN THE HEART
Neuroscientists have recently made an exciting discovery about the heart. They’ve found that the heart has its own “brain’’, meaning its own independent nervous system. According to the discovery there are at least forty thousand neurons (nerve cells) in the heart – as many as are present in various subcortical centers in the brain. The heart’s “brain” sends information back to the brain in the cranium, establishing a two-way communication system between heart and brain. This way many areas and functions in the amygdala, the thalamus, and the cortex get affected by the signals, received from the heart.
The amygdala, which specializes in emotional processing, assesses the new information for emotional significance. Afterwards communicates it to the cortex, which is responsible for learning and reasoning, in order to determine a suitable action to be taken. Emotions can actually give commands to the brain and dictate its decision.
RESEARCH STUDIES ABOUT THE “BRAIN” IN THE HEART
The finding that the heart has its own “brain”, affecting the amygdala, the thalamus, and the cortex-helps to explain what physiologists John and Beatrice Lacey of the Fels Research Institute realized in the 1970s. They found that when the brain sent orders to the heart, the heart was not automatically obeying. For instance a stimuli for arousal, were directly communicated and applied in all the other organs, but most of the time the heart responded differently. It was selective in its response and acting out of its own intelligence to suit best the needs of the situation. The Laceys also found that whenever the heart was sending messages to the brain, it obeyed. These findings indicate that the heart has intrinsic intelligence and power, capable to influence the brain and thereby change one’s behaviour.
Another study about the “brain’’ in the heart was conducted by Dr. J. Andrew Armour , neurocardiologist, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada in 1991. His work has shown that this heart brain is a complex network of several types of neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins, and support cells. Through its advanced circuitry the heart is able to act independent of the brain in the head. It can sense, feel, learn and remember.
Daniel Coleman made an extensive research about the impact of emotional intelligence and wrote about it in his book “Emotional intelligence”. According to his findings majority of the cases, success in life is related more to our ability to manage our emotions rather than our intellectual capacity. He points out in his book that the main aspects of emotional intelligence are: “self-awareness, seeing the links between thoughts, feelings and reactions; knowing if thoughts or feelings are ruling a decision; seeing the consequences of alternative choices; and applying these insights to choices.”
In the Heartmath institute it was observed that negative emotions cause irregular heart rhythms and imbalance in the nervous system. By contrast positive emotions trigger smooth and harmonious heart rhythms and balancing effect on the nervous system. Interestingly, positive emotions not only reduced stress, but also increased clarity in people’s mind.
HEARTMATH STUDIES – IN THE LAB AND THE WORKPLACE
Heartmath developed techniques to contact and use the heart intelligence better and tested them on hundreds of idividuals with diverse backgrounds. When these people’s heart rhythms were brought into harmony, they consistently reported increased mental clarity and intuition. With it followed, a shift in perception, thereby reduced stress, more efficient and fulfilling living. With long term practice of the techniques, people reported increased creativity, enhanced communication with others, and a richer
emotional experience. They also found that the perception of problems had shifted and opened more space for new solutions. These tests and measurements were carried out first in laboratories and afterwards in the workplace. The individuals in these studies were requested to apply Heartmath techniques for handling stressful work situations. The results were heart coherence and more balanced states, just like with the tests in the lab. Long term practice of activating heart intelligence in the workplace, brought reports about greater capacity to sustain a positive perspective, balancing their emotions, and accessing an intuitive flow daily.
So the positive shift was sustaining for long time. A key aspect of these tests is that the people were able to experience positive emotions intentionally and consistently. The health benefits of positive emotions can be accessed not only randomly when we happen to experience something good, but we can also cultivate it intentionally and it is possible through regular practice to sustain this positive state for long.
POSITIVE EMOTIONS INCREASE IMMUNE RESPONSE
Positive emotions such as care and compassion have shown to raise levels of IgA, secretory antibody that’s the immune system’s first line of defense. With higher IgA levels we are able to resist better infection and disease. Various studies have shown that feeling love for others and being cared for, actually has a greater health-increasing effect compared to physical factors such as age, cholesterol, blood pressure or smoking.
The studies, mentioned above, indicate that using the power of the heart intelligence, helps in numerous ways with essential problems. Heart intelligence affects the brain function and decision making, harmonizes nervous system, increases the immune response, reduces stress, and makes us feel overall well-being and with practice this state is sustained for long.
Heartmath techniques are a beneficial tool, because they focus on acknowledging the intelligence of the heart and its importance in decision making, reducing stress, reinforcing the heart-brain communication, energy expenditure and emotional management, activating core heart feelings, and short meditations with focus on the heart area. In order to understand the techniques well, it is useful to grasp the meaning of the following concepts:
The heart’s electromagnetic field
It is scientifically proven that the heart’s electromagnetic field is the most powerful produced by the body and it’s approximately five thousand times bigger in strength than the field produced by the brain, for example. The heart’s field radiates outside of us and it can be measured up to eight to ten feet away with sensitive detectors called magnetometers.
When two pendulum clocks are mounted on the same wall next to each other, they eventually start to swing in synchrony, regardless of the different direction they started with. This phenomenon, called entrainment, is happening in living organisms and non-living systems. This is one of nature’s way to carry out processes efficiently by synchronising. In the human body, the most powerful rhythmic oscillator is the heart, which means all the other physiological systems adjust according to it.
Coherent systems are efficient systems, where there is no waste of energy, and all components work in harmony. One way to measure the internal coherence in humans is to observe the heart’s rhythmic patterns. Coherence in people translates into thriving mentally, emotionally, and physically. This happens because less energy is concentrated on inefficient thoughts and emotions, and instead the focus is on productivity and optimised behaviour. Unlike the harmonising effect of the positive emotions, stress has harmful effect on the internal coherence.
From these studies, we can see that the heart intelligence is very powerful tool. When put into practice with the right intention for well-being and positive emotions , it can significantly improve the way we experience life for the better through coherence. When we consistently tap into the heart’s power with positive emotions, we generate positive experiences for a long period and gradually change our perception of life, and start living differently, with coherence-more efficient and positive.
WHAT IS STRESS AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT US?
When we have certain expectations in our head about events, and eventually our expectations are not matched with the actual experience, we do get disappointed. The body-mind system responds to this mismatch with stress. This out-of-sync state is expressed in various ways physiologically and psychologically: tension, frustration, resistance, disappointment etc. If we live in this state for long, we can get disabled by stress. We lose energy and overview of our lives from overload, feel emotionally empty or shut down without much vitality, and eventually get sick.
Here are some stress-related statistics:
“In a ten-year study, people who were unable to effectively manage their stress had a 40 percent higher death rate than nonstressed individuals.
A Harvard Medical School study of 1,623 heart attack survivors found that when subjects got angry during emotional conflicts, their risk of subsequent heart attacks was more than double of those that remained calm.
A twenty-year study of over 1,700 older men conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that worry about social conditions, health, and personal finances significantly increased the risk of coronary heart disease.”
OVERCOMING STRESS BY CHANGING PERCEPTION, MOVING FROM THE BRAIN TO THE HEART
So if stress is defined as a response of the body-mind system to disrupting events, we can decrease stress levels in ourselves by modifying our response. This way of thinking brings back the control to us of our own well-being. We have mainly operated from the brain so far and have experienced that we can easily get out of sync with this way of living, since stress is such a widespread state these days . And in the Heartmath studies, we see how much power and positive influence on our lives the heart has. Therefore it is a viable approach of stress management to shift our perception of a situation and see it with heart-focused clarity.
Dr. Graham Burrows, president of the International Society for Investigation of Stress, found after years of research on stress, that the problem with stress can be reduced to two basic causes: (1) problems in perception and (2) problems in communication. We can’t always change everything in life, but we can modify our perception to the events. Since stress starts with perception, we can observe its travel pathway in the body-mind system as each perception triggers biological effects, which influence the next and etc.
So paying attention to our each reaction, and also doing it from a space of heart intelligence is the key for managing stress and turning a challenging situation into a self-development opportunity. A shift like this, from the brain to the heart, can be quite empowering.
Here is an example of a Heartmath technique, about which you can read more in the book “The Heartmath Solution” by Doc Childre and Howard Martin.
FREEZE FRAME technique
“The term “freeze-frame” is movie lingo for stopping a film at a single frame to take a closer look. As you know, a movie is made up of countless frames of film. The projector showing the film runs the sequence of frames past a powerful light so quickly that we perceive them as continuous and unseamed. Together those separate frames create the movement that draws us into the story. If we want to see a still shot of one of the moments flashing by, we have to stop the projector-or freeze the frame. We can look at life as a high-speed movie. We get so caught up in the momentum of the story that it’s easy to forget that it’s made up of individual moments. From one minute to the next, we have an astonishing range of thoughts, emotions, and experiences that make up our lives.
THE 5 STEPS OF FREEZE-FRAME:
I. Recognize the stressful feeling and FREEZE-FRAME it! Take a time-out.
2. Make a sincere effort to shift your focus away from the racing mind or disturbed emotions to the area around your heart. Pretend you’re breathing through your heart to help focus your energy in this area. Keep your focus there for ten seconds or more.
3. Recall a positive, fun feeling or time you’ve had in life and try to reexperience it.
4. Now, using your intuition, common sense, and sincerity, ask your heart, What would be a more efficient response to the situation, one that would minimize future stress?
5. Listen to what your heart says in answer to your question. (It’s an effective way to put your reactive mind and emotions in check and an inhouse source of commonsense solutions!) “
This technique is an example that with simple steps by focusing on our heart, we can shift our perception and by implementing it more consistently in our daily life, we can achieve more clarity, stress-release and thriving. And since it is so simple and short, it is as well very suited for the busy modern person. It has similarities in the approach with Eastern meditation techniques and philosophies, which have been tested for thousands of years and proven to work. But the benefit of the Heartmath technique is that it is well communicated and simplified for the modern person. I have personally experienced benefits of this technique and genuinely encourage all to try it or find their own way of shifting to the heart.
BIOLOGY OF FREEZE FRAME
In Heartmath they have monitored the biological effects of this Freeze frame technique and seen positive impact on health:
The tested people experienced a greater level of harmony in their heart rhythms.
The nervous system, which regulates heart rate, blood pressure, and many other glands and organs, came into increased balance.
When the nervous system and the heart are in harmony, the perceptual centers of the brain process information more efficiently.
A spontaneous entrainment or coherence naturally emerged, which also meant more harmonious breathing happening naturally without cognitive control.
Another positive effect of the technique was a mood shift to harmonious feeling states such as care and appreciation. This positive emotion state of the heart creates coherence between heart and brain.
What is really happening during the practice of this technique and similar ones is, by using the power of our heart, we entrain our biological, mental, and emotional systems.
It is really inspiring and empowering to be able to use our heart intelligence for stress management, intentional positive change and prosperity. Just with intention and knowledge about the power of the heart, we can restore our body-mind balance and shift the perception in our lives for thriving. If coherence is a mechanism for systems to function efficiently and harmoniously in Nature, so perhaps a coherent, balanced and happy life is our natural way to be…
Doc Childre and Howard Martin (1999), “The Heartmath Solution”