We all know what a negative impact stress can have on our health but it can be challenging to avoid it. Today’s hectic lifestyles, pressures of work and family life, money worries, illness, difficult relationships, negative thoughts, worries, to name a few, can contribute to an overload of stress hormones flowing through our bodies. Our bodies were designed to activate the stress response in times of danger back in the day when our biggest threat was to be eaten by a wild animal.
Nowadays, we don’t have to worry about wild animals attacking us in the street BUT because our lives have become so complicated, the stress response is over-activated and turned on far too often resulting in a number of detrimental effects to the body, more info on that here. The problem is today we have so many things to think about it can become overwhelming. The central nervous system does not know the difference between a real and perceived stressor, so just thinking about something stressful puts us into fight or flight mode. One of the most apparent effects is the inability to think clearly due to a reduction in cognitive function.
So what is heart coherence and how does it reduce stress?
Heart coherence is a measure in the pattern in the heart’s rhythm, independent of the amount of heart rate variability (HRV) that reflects an orderly and harmonious synchronisation among various systems in the body such as the heart, the brain, the respiratory system and blood pressure rhythms. HRV is the normal, naturally occurring variations or changes in the amount of time between heartbeats.
We can enter a state of heart coherence when we pace our breathing and imagine we are in fact breathing through our heart. Once we reach this coherent rhythm it entrains the brain to slow down and match the heart rhythm. When the brain entrains with the heart in a coherent state it reduces our mental chatter, negative thoughts, fears and worries, which in turn, reduces or even blocks the secretion of stress hormones.
Heart coherence can be achieved through the intentional self-generation of positive feelings such as gratitude which happens to be a very good starting point, compassion, care and love whilst focusing on the heart and slowing the breath. When we raise these positive emotions, hormones such as serotonin (happy hormone), dopamine (reward), oxytocin (bonding), endorphins (the rush from exercise) and anandamide (bliss) are released and we feel satisfied, secure, bonded, blissful and serene.
We are often out of coherence due to the negative thoughts and feelings we regularly experience. This is only natural because for our ancestors’ hypervigilant negative thinking gave them a survival advantage by keeping them attuned to possible threats from the environment. This negativity, derived from fear, has been passed down to us even though now, we do not risk death on a daily basis.
Heart coherence is a reliable marker of overall physical heath. It reduces cortisol secretion, entrains the brain and organ systems such as circulation and digestion and boosts the immune system. Heart coherence increases alpha waves in the brain. Increased alpha brain waves create what is known as the Alpha Bridge. The Alpha bridge bridges the conscious mind frequencies of beta with the subconscious and unconscious mind frequencies of theta and delta.
Heart coherence is how we achieve heart intelligence. According to the HeartMath Institute website, ‘Heart intelligence is the flow of intuitive awareness, understanding and inner guidance we experience when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment with the heart. It can be activated through self-initiated practice. The more coherent we are, the more we pay attention to this deeper intuitive guidance, the greater our ability to access this intelligence more frequently. Heart intelligence underlies cellular organization and guides and evolves organisms towards increased order, awareness and coherence of their bodies’ systems’.
How can we know if we’re in heart coherence?
You should be able to feel all of those positive emotions and an ‘energy-derived wellbeing in your heart’. It might not be so easy to get there though at first. The HeartMath Institute has developed a biofeedback system that can tell you if you are indeed in heart coherence and if not, it can help you to get there with training. Another method is EcoMeditation which is known to work without the use of technology. Focusing on your heart energy is the determining factor to get into heart coherence. It works because I’ve done it. When I checked with biofeedback I was already there to a degree!
Heart coherence has another important benefit. It can help us to meditate. We all know meditation has numerous benefits for our health, see here for more information. Because heart coherence changes the brain’s state to entrain with the heart, this greatly reduces stress, the biggest blocker to a deep meditative state. Practice regularly and you can produce all kinds of beneficial brain waves:
Gamma (4-25 Hz), created by compassion, facilitates neural organisation, heightened awareness, creativity, flow, activates the microglia (brain immune cells) to break down beta-amyloid a contributor to Alzheimer’s, activates the production of stem cells, mediates stress genes, increases the growth of bone cells and up-regulates anti-inflammatory genes.
Alpha (8-12 Hz) is an optimal state of relaxed alertness which facilitates gene expression. Enough Alpha creates the Alpha Bridge, joining the conscious mind frequencies of beta with the subconscious and unconscious mind frequencies of theta and delta.
Theta (4-8 Hz) is characteristic to REM sleep: the recollection and processing of emotional experiences, this brain wave is considered the subconscious state. Those under hypnosis, healers, those in trances and highly creative states tend to produce high levels of theta brain waves.
Delta (0-4 Hz) considered the unconscious state is characteristic of deep sleep. High levels of delta appear in those able to disassociate their consciousness from the body, elevated delta brainwaves are found in the brains of serious meditators, intuitives, healers and add in some gamma and these brainwaves have been associated with psychic abilities.
Meditation though heart coherence, has numerous health benefits and if you go deep enough, it can unlock parts of the brain and produce brain waves that could open the door to another world…;)