The heart is an essential organ in human beings and functions as a muscular pump by contracting around a hundred thousand times a day, every day of our lives 1. “A heart of gold”, “Listen to your heart” or “You stole my heart away” are all popular sayings in our world. We all seem to innately know that our hearts hold the key to knowing whether we are exhilarated, happy, content or sad. Research now has proof that the heart indeed plays a role in generating our emotional experience, suggesting that the power of the heart is more than merely metaphorical.
Heart rhythm coherence
We all know what it is like to be in a creative space, also called being in the “zone” or “flow”. In those moments we often feel connected to our deepest selves. Perhaps you experience this when you are petting your cat, painting, listening to your favorite music or chatting with an old friend. It is that state of connectedness and harmony that is also termed ‘heart rhythm coherence’ in the world of science 2,3. This coherent state can be seen as a peaceful heart wave instead of an erratic one (figure 1).
Figure 1. Heart rates in a state of frustration versus appreciation (coherent state of the heart)4.
The heart has its own brain cells
The field of neurocardiology explores the connection between the brain and the heart. It is found that the hearts’ magnetic energy is a 100 times stronger than that produced by the brain. In addition, the heart contains brain cells called ‘neural cells’ also referred to as the hearts own brain or ‘heart-brain’, indicating that our hearts are very intelligent 1,5. In fact, current research implies that the heart knows things before the brain knows it and sends this intuitive information via the central nervous system to the brain 1.This was found in studies where participants were given calm versus arousing pictures: the heart responded with different wave patterns before the arousing pictures were shown6. In another study the participants were monitored while playing a game of Roulette: the heart waves changed to give the participant an indication of a good or bad bet 7. It was concluded that if the participants had been more in alignment with their internal heart response, they could have made better betting choices.
A grateful heart is good medicine
If the heart has an amazing magnetic and electrical field AND is intelligent, could it be that we can guide our hearts to help heal our bodies? It seems that a grateful heart is indeed good medicine. Gratitude can be defined as a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation for what one has and often includes shifting the focus to the area of the heart. Emotions such as gratitude, love and compassion enhance our immune system response, create positive hormonal molecules and help our bodies go into healing and restoration mode 8. On the other hand, emotional states such as depression, frustration or anger cause immunosuppression and the release of stress hormones. Grateful thinking—especially the expression of it to others—is also associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, empathy and tolerance of imperfections.
Practice heart coherence:
Here are some practical tips to help you practice cultivating the power of the heart:
- Start a gratitude journal: buy a journal that you really like and start making lists of things you feel grateful for. It can be about things you are grateful for in yourself or other people, places, activities or pets.
- Put on your favorite music (preferentially while writing your gratitude list): Researchers found that listening to music while consciously creating heart-based gratitude results in higher levels of antibodies, which are cells that fight off infections 9.
- Gratitude throughout the day: Choose one or two things out of that list and intentionally hold them in your heart-brain during the day. Choose an item again at night before going to bed.
- Breathing breaks: we are always breathing, but usually in a shallow way. Focus your attention on your heart area, and breathe a little deeper than normal, in for 5 or 6 seconds and out 5 or 6 seconds.
- Don’t hold this newly found appreciation to yourself: a study done on women with metastatic breast cancer experienced the feeling of being more supported after a 3-month period of practicing giving and receiving gratitude 10. So try telling a spouse, child, friend or co-worker how much you appreciate them.
Incorporate those tips that resonate with you and notice the changes in your life. It is a constant practice, so have fun with this. We all have life challenges, sometimes big and sometimes small, but you can always bring yourself back into alignment by tapping into the power of your heart.
- Shaffer F, McCraty R, Zerr CL. A healthy heart is not a metronome: an integrative review of the heart’s anatamoy and heart rate variability. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014 Sept; 5 (1040): 1-19.
- McCraty R, Atkinson M, Tomasino D et al. The Coherent Heart, Heart–Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order. Integral Review. 2009 Dec; 5(2): 1-106.
- Alabdugader A A. Coherence: A Novel Nonpharmacological Modality for Lowering Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Patients. Global Advances in health and Medicine. 2012; 1(2): 54-62.
- The Insitute of Heartmath. An appreciative heart is good medicine. 2012, Dec. internet site: http://www.heartmath.org/free-services/articles-of-the-heart/appreciative-heart-is-good-medicine.html , accessed in Jan, 2015.
- Goldstein DS. Neuroscience and heart-brain medicine: the year in review. Cleve Clin J Med. 2010 Jul; 77(3):34-39.
- McCraty R and Atkinson M. Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1. The Surprising Role of the Heart. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine. 2004 Feb;10(1):133-144.
- McCraty R and Atkinson M. Electrophysiology of Intuition: Pre-stimulus Responses in Group and Individual Participants Using a Roulette Paradigm. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. 2014; 3(2);16-27.
- McCraty R, and Childre D. The Grateful Heart: The Psychophysiology of Appreciation. The psychology of gratitude 2004;230-255.
- McCraty R, Atkinson M, Rein G et al. Music Enhances the Effect of Positive Emotional States on Salivary IgA. Stress Medicine. 1996; 12(3): 167-165.
- Algoe S and Stanton A L. Gratitude when it is needed most: social functions of gratitude in women with metastatic breast cancer. American Phsychogical Association, 2011 June; 12(1): 163-8.
This article is written by Zaira Roemer, a volunteer providing nutrition and research support at InspireHealth, Lower Mainland – Vancouver.