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.

Photos by Sam Graves.