Much of my life I saw my heart as the enemy. From my first physical at the University of California, as a freshman of 17, and after running up a few flights of stairs, I was told I had a heart murmur and began to view my heart as something to fear.
It didn't help that my father, who was 40 years older than I, had a heart attack when I was only 11 years old. I haunted the halls of the hospital, held on to my mother's hand. It scared me, but actually it was very mild and possible misdiagnosed. My father lived another twenty years and I'm sure he'd have lived another decade or longer with the medications and techniques that are commonplace today.
I internalized my father's heart problem. Although my heart worked pretty well, it had intrinsic issues that I was born with - including a hole, that wasn't discovered until I was in heart surgery. My heart skipped beats often (called premature ventricular contractions) and I seemed to get out of breath more easily than most of my friends. Despite this, I kept up with everybody and managed to have a full and active life.
Still, I remained anxious about my heart health. And my anxiety could be debilitating and held me back from all I could do in life, as did my emotional reactivity.
That's why I began to look into HeartMath, a program out of Boulder Creek, California, where researchers have recognized that the heart itself has a brain. Does this surprise you? I was astonished. In the next coupld of posts, I'd like to share with you how your heart's brain can help your heart - and you - live a healthier physical and emotional life.
According to studies done by neuroscientists, your heart has neurological tissues and a brain 5,000 times stronger than the one in your head. This heart brain acts much like a musical conductor, to create system wide order and harmony, which could create positive changes in gene expression, biochemistry, and self-healing.
The science coming from the field of neurocardiology, much of it from the work done at the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, California, is demonstrating the healing power of the human heart.
Says Stephen Templin, D.O.M, and heartmath researcher, the heart has the power to enhance our intelligence and intuition, while lowering stress, anxiety, anger, and blood pressure. Yes, you read that right - your heart! The heart has been shown to strengthen our immune response by raising circulating levels of the IgA antibody. It also has the power to create emotional clarity, enhance creativity and balance hormones. It’s the heart’s balancing influence on the brain and the autonomic nervous system that explains in part, the comprehensive healing impact of the heart.
"A significant discovery is that the beat-to-beat changes measured in the heart rhythm (known as heart rate variability) reflect emotional states more accurately than changes in skin measurements or even brain wave changes," says Templin.
Negative or stressful emotional states produce a more random or disorganized beat pattern, while positive emotions create a very orderly, or ‘coherent’ heart rate variability pattern. It’s the coherent pattern that inhibits the stress response, or the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, while activating the parasympathetic division that’s responsible for the healing benefits mentioned earlier.
For me, a most important finding is about emotional reactivity. I have always reacted to emotions powerfully, particularly fear and anger. My body has followed my reactions with even stronger cardiovascular activity. Nearly four years ago, I was hospitalized due to heart failure caused by an emotional reaction to a stressful event (called a stressed induced cardiomyopathy.) So if you find yourself with a pounding heart, skipped beats, breathless, headachy or weepy after emotional events or encounters, HeartMath may be a way for your to train your mind and body to respond in a healthier way.
You can tune in to your heart's brain by cultivating a coherent heart rhythm. How do you do that?
"Our perception can be habitually routed through the amygdala, a portion of the brain that’s assessing incoming perceptions based on past emotional threats. This is the style of perception that triggers emotional reactivity and ‘stink’n think’n’," says Templin. In fact, we can be reacting to imagined or remembered threats that are no longer appropriate.
A coherent heart rhythm, on the other hand, allows new perceptions to bypass the amygdala in favor of the pre-frontal cortex, where perceptions can be evaluated and responded to free of unwarranted emotionality. The pre-frontal area helps us to appreciate just being in the moment, just being here now.
Your heart's brain produces electromagnetic signals …. similar to homeopathic remedies …. that guide your health for better or worse.
In my next SharePost, I'll show how HeartMath and your heart's brain can turn your emotional and cardiovascular life around.