Revolutionary research shows that the brain in the mind is only one aspect of our thinking mechanism. And that the heart is much more than a device that pumps blood.
The heart. For centuries poets and philosophers have sensed that the heart is the very center of our lives. Throughout the ages, the heart has been referred to as a source not only of virtue but also of intelligence. Even today we use phrases like, ''I know in my heart it's true,'' indicating that we know the heart is more than merely a pump. Even our gestures indicate the importance of the heart. When people point to themselves they generally point to the area of the heart.
Looking at the heart biologically, it's an amazing phenomenon. It can beat on its own without any connection to the brain, and beats 100,00 times a day and approximately 40 million times a year. It starts to form in the fetus before there is a brain. Scientists still don't know exactly what triggers this self-initiated heartbeat.
The Intelligent Heart
Currently some of the most revolutionary research on the heart is coming out of the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) in Boulder Creek, California. In The HeartMath Solution (HarperSanFrancisco 1999), Institute of HeartMath founder Doc Childre and co-author Howard Martin take a provocative, in-depth look at the heart and it's alliance with the mind, body and spirit. They depict fascinating information on how every beat of our heart carries intricate messages that affect our emotions, our physical health, and the quality of life we experience.
In recent years, neuroscientist Dr. J. A. Armour made the exciting discovery that the heart has its own intrinsic brain and nervous system. This has helped to explain what physiologists at the Fels Research Institute found in the 1970s -- that the brain (in the head) was dutifully obeying messages being sent from ''the brain in the heart.'' Doc Childre and colleagues at the Institute of HeartMath take these discoveries even further. HeartMath researchers have established the heart's capacity to ''think for itself.'' Their aim was to determine how the heart formulates logic and influences behavior (for references, see HeartMath Bibliography.)
HeartMath researchers believe that the heart communicates with the brain and the rest of the body through four biological communication systems. Through these systems, the heart has a significant influence on the function of our brains and all our bodily systems. IHM's extensive research led to a number of published studies in medical journals such as The American Journal of Cardiology, Stress Medicine and Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science.
The Emotions and the Heart
IHM studies found a critical link between the heart and emotions. The studies explain how the heart responds to emotional and mental reactions. As we experience emotional reactions like anger, frustration, anxiety, and insecurity, heart rhythms become incoherent or more jagged, interfering with the communication between the heart and brain. Thus, negative emotions create a chain reaction in the body -- blood vessels constrict, blood pressure rises, and the immune system is weakened. This kind of a consistent imbalance can put a strain on the heart and other organs, and eventually lead to serious health problems.
When we experience heart-felt emotions like love, caring, appreciation, and compassion the heart produces coherent or smooth rhythms that enhance communication between the heart and brain. Positive heart qualities produce harmonious rhythms that are considered to be indicators of cardiovascular efficiency and nervous system balance. They've also been shown to produce beneficial effects that include enhanced immunity and hormonal balance.
The ability of the brain-in-the-head to process information and make clear decisions is affected by how we react emotionally to any given situation. According to Childre and Martin, as we learn to become more heart- intelligent and increase our emotional balance and heart/brain coherence, we may well be surprised by new and enhanced levels of mental clarity, productivity, physical energy, overall attitude, and quality of life.
Solutions at Work
Based on these findings Doc and his colleagues have developed The HeartMath Solution, a systematic approach to maintaining coherence and emotional balance and developing the heart's intelligence. This may sound as though it would be complicated, but the Institute of HeartMath has successfully created a very user-friendly approach that considers today's challenges and time restrictions.
''We recognize that one of the biggest stressors in people's lives today is the lack of time,'' Howard comments. ''We knew the Solutions would have to be so simple you could learn them during your commute to work, listening to a tape in the car. The Solutions would have to be easy to remember, and not interfere with people's lifestyles or schedules. I really feel we've done this.''
Numerous HeartMath case studies have illustrated the effectiveness of heart intelligence at work. One study with Motorola showed that tension, anxiety, nervousness, and physical stress symptoms significantly decreased. In this study, 25% of the participants began with high blood pressure. But after only six months of using HeartMath techniques their blood pressure had normalized, and no conventional medical interventions were used (see Motorola Study).
Another study, at Hewlett-Packard, said HeartMath techniques made an amazing difference to team morale. Before the program, 46% said they often felt exhausted. After the training, this figure fell to 9%. Organizations like Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Royal Dutch Shell (UK), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong) are repeat clients, as well as many state and federal government agencies throughout North America. HeartMath Solutions are presented to more than 20,000 people a year (see Corporate Studies).
Based on HeartMath's breakthrough discoveries, we now know that the heart is the control tower of our body and connects us deeper with our life experience. The HeartMath Solutions reveal the vital importance of the heart's influence on our health, and offer user-friendly techniques for restoring balance in our lives during these rapidly changing times.
-- from the HeartMath Institute
Heart Centering Exercise
The HeartMath Solution describes in detail many exercises you can use to relieve stress and painful emotions. Here's a sample exercise adapted from the book. We've chosen it because if has value in boosting your immune system!
Arrange not to be disturbed. Take a comfortable position, close your eyes, and relax.
Start breathing in and out very slowly. As you do this, feel, imagine, or visualize that your breath is going directly through your heart. Do this for about 15 seconds.
Think of someone whom it's very easy for you to love and cherish -- a friend? a child? Whomever you choose, make sure it's someone for whom you feel great love and appreciation. And start to focus on the love you have for them. Think of times when you looked at them. Picture them with love. Remember the sound of their voice, and your own voice speaking to them. Think of times when you held or were held. Think of touching them. Think of being touched by them. Keep thinking of all of the exchanges of love and appreciation with this person. Do this for as long as fifteen minutes, but at least for five minutes.
If outside thoughts come into your mind, gently let them go and draw your attention back to breathing through your heart. Then go back to your love for this person.
If outside emotions intrude, or you feel blocked in feeling the love, picture the heart softening. Tell yourself it's not important that everything go perfectly this time, it's okay just to be doing this. Breathe through your heart, and see, feel, or imagine your heart becoming soft. Ask yourself, ''What would it be like to be soft and yielding and totally relaxed.'' It's okay if it doesn't all happen perfectly today. You are just doing something good for yourself. It's okay.
Now, go outside yourself, and see or imagine yourself sitting there, in your relaxed position, doing this exercise. And take this love that you have felt for the other person, and send it to yourself.
Now send the love to others. First, send it to other people you find it easy to love. If you feel ready, you can try sending the love to others, even people it's difficult for you to love. If you can't feel the love, say to yourself, ''I want to be able to feel this love and send it to this person, and meanwhile I am willing that they will receive it from God and my higher self and the universe.'' Just be willing that they receive love.
When you are ready, feel, picture, or imagine yourself completely wrapped up in a blanket of love, and open your eyes. Write down your experiences, intuitions, thoughts, or feelings of inner peace. Tell yourself that you are going to remember to act upon these feelings in your life.
For more exercises and scientific studies backing up the information in this article, please visit the HeartMath main website, and especially the HeartMath Research website.
Top of Page Print Version