Hold Hope. Host Heaven. Heal Hearts

The Science & Power of Your Heart Brain

(This blog is adapted from one I wrote back in 2012. The principles in it continue to be powerful and something I use everyday with myself and my clients. Enjoy!)

Have you ever stopped to consider the phrases we use to refer to the part of our body that generates our physical pulse … the heart? You can listen to your heart and know your heart, discern the heart of a matter or have a change of heart. You can be careful to guard your heart, and avoid having it broken or stolen, and then when you are with someone you love, you may give it away. You can do something to your heart’s content or halfheartedly if you decide your heart’s not in it. Or, you can pour your heart out while having a heart to heart talk. You can be known as a heartthrob, a sweetheart, or a cold-hearted heart-breaker. You can know by heart, lead from your heart, or make a fashion statement and wear it on a sleeve.

Researchers have uncovered some interesting facts that appear to be in line with how we as individuals, our popular culture, poets, songwriters, and the proverbs of old, speak of the heart. More than a simple pump, scientists have described the heart as a highly complex system with a functional “brain.”  The “heart brain” (nervous system) actually enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain’s cerebral cortex.

In other words, we do in fact “know things by heart” and the things that we know by heart cannot be ascertained via our heads. The heart actually communicates information to the brain that influences how we perceive, think, and process emotions! The information that the heart communicates to the brain and throughout the body is sent via electromagnetic signals.

While the brain only emits an electromagnetic field of about an inch, the heart’s electromagnetic field radiates five to 12 feet and permeates every cell of the body. The heart’s electromagnetic field is charged with your emotions and what radiates out can affect and potentially be discerned by others (or even animals) and affects the social climate around us.

So while you can’t read someone’s mind, you can read their heart!

In addition to affecting the emotional climate within and around us, heart brain science has proven that when we focus on strong positive emotions, like love, this has powerfully positive effects on:

·    emotional balance
·    synchronization of multiple systems within the body
·    increased parasympathetic activity (calming response)
·    harmonious functioning
·    physical health and vitality.

Be Still My Beating Heart – What’s Love Got to Do with It?

When you are sad, depressed, or anxious there is also truth in the phrase(s) feeling “heartsick” or “heartbroken.” The body has several responses to depression and anxiety including muscle tension, agitation or retardation, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, etc.

One of the best ways you can practically affect your emotional health is by addressing the connection between your physical heart and emotional health through heart rhythm biofeedback. Biofeedback is a process that helps to increase conscious awareness of the body’s reaction to stress so you can train yourself to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

A great way to address the connection between your physical heart and physical/emotional health is through a simple focus and breathing exercise designed to increase what scientists call our “heart’s coherence.” When you engage in this exercise in as little as five minutes a day, the heart rhythm reaches a coherence state which is ideal for experiencing physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. 

Step one involves heart focus. This is where you actually guide your attention to your heart.

Step two is heart breathing.  Focus on your breath and imagine breathing in and out of your heart.

Step three is the most important of them all – heart feeling. This involves focusing on or recalling a time when you felt a positive emotion like feeling loved. The goal is to re-experience that love in the current moment. This combined with heart focus and heart breathing can greatly improve your overall mental health and physical well-being.

Hunting for Hope in God's Promises

Easter time is filled with fun memories from my childhood – sunrise service, pretty dresses worn with lace-rimmed socks and patent leather shoes, baskets lovingly prepared and waiting for us in the living room on Easter morning, big family gatherings and of course, the infamous city-wide Easter egg hunt.

I really loved the egg hunt. It was always held at the sprawling lawn in the center of town. Every inch of grass was filled with candy and as a little person it seemed to stretch on for miles. Dozens of children would restlessly gather behind a chalk line, then at the sound of the horn, race towards the lawn.

The funny thing was, in all the years we as children attended the Easter egg hunts, I never came home with a single piece of candy. Why you ask? Well, hidden somewhere on that sprawling lawn was a single golden egg and whoever found that egg was promised a grand prize. For whatever reason, I always chose to go after the golden egg even though I came home every year empty-handed (and then would try to scrounge some candy from my little brother whose pockets and basket were always bursting at the seams).

The hope of something greater was what I was after. I was after the one thing. I was after the prize. Philippians 3:13 says this:

I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

This Scripture reminds us that no matter what struggle we may or may not be facing in the present moment, we can keep our focus on the “one thing” and the assurance of His heavenly promises to us.

Two thousand years ago our Creator, out of love, sent His son to bear the burdens of this life that no human could possibly bear. He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die so that we might live. Why would Jesus want to come to this earth to die, you might ask? The answer is simple. He came to die for the one thing. He came to die for the prize and you are that prize.

Easter is about new life. It is about believing in the impossible and seeing the impossible happen. It’s about bearing the grief of Good Friday because Sunday is coming.

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
— John 11:25–26

Roadtrip: Destination Destiny

Highways. I love them. I love the freedom to drive in the direction of my destination without traffic lights, stop signs, or detours. They are by far the quickest most efficient way to get where you want to go.  There is only one problem.  They can be long. Depending on the destination, highways can be long and uninteresting.  

God, are we there yet?

A few years ago I was yearning for insight regarding a particular area of my life.  I wanted to know. Is there a divine destination in all of this? Did I miss the exit? And if not, why does it seem like there is no end in sight? Like many of us get, I was inpatient, tired and frustrated. I just wanted to know. God, are we there yet?

God gave me the metaphor of a highway that day and I will never forget what He said to me --  Destiny is like a highway. Stay on that highway if you want to get to your purposed destination.  Exits are always an option. However, you can spend days, months, or even years at an inviting exit only to realize detours are costly.

Grace provides the strength needed to continue on the path no matter how long and discouraging it may appear.  Not only that, grace provides everything we need for the journey. Everything. Thereby making exits on the highway of destiny obsolete.  

We can spend days, months, or even years at an exit only to realize detours are costly.

So I have choices. I can impatiently and incessantly question in my heart the path God has chosen and settle for an exit along the way. Or, I can sit back and enjoy it with all of its twists and turns, surprises, and grace. 

Grace be with you all.

Hebrews 13:25


Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert...
— Isaiah 43:19

Photos by Sam Graves.