The heart sometimes gets a bad rap. Although there’s no minimizing its physiological importance to your life and health, as an organ the heart is often relegated to being a mere pump whose sole purpose is to circulate blood throughout your body. Yes, it works hard beating day in and out, but besides that, what’s so great about it?
The heart is also thought of as sentimental, mushy, emotional, tender, and otherwise ill-equipped to handle the harsh realities of life. After all, you need to be tough, strong, and resilient to get by each day and the idea of cultivating the “soft” emotions of compassion, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, and love seem at odds with the pain and suffering the world can send out.
More Than a Pump
The heart is so much more than a pump. It’s much more than the seat of your warmest emotions and deepest feelings. In fact, as science is beginning to reveal, the heart is much more powerful, healing, and transformative than has ever been imagined. In the groundbreaking book The HeartMath Solution, authors Doc Childre and Howard Martin distill over 30 years of research on the complex role the heart plays in your health, happiness, well-being, and longevity. Their research reveals the heart to be a command center of formidable intelligence and intuitive knowledge that is tied into every system and every cell of your body. Here are some of their key discoveries:
- The heart contains its own independent nervous system, comprised of more than 40,000 neurons.
- The heart’s electromagnetic field is the most powerful field generated by your body. It is projected throughout the body, and radiates several feet outside of you.
- Your heartbeat, rather than being a simple “lub-dub, lub-dub,” is a tightly compressed information stream, broadcasting its message to every cell.
- The heart provides you with emotional and intuitive guidance to help you direct your life.
- Core heart feelings (love, appreciation, compassion) down-regulate the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
- Your heart rhythms are mirrored in your emotional states. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, and hostility create disordered and irregular heart rate variability (the healthy variation in the time interval between heartbeats). Positive emotions create improved order in the heart’s rhythms.
- The heart is the body’s master oscillator—its rhythm pulls all the body’s systems into a state of entrainment or synchronization.
- Positive emotional states have a balancing effect on the nervous system by strengthening immunity, enhancing hormonal function, and improving brain function.
The Heart Is Coherent
But perhaps the most profound revelations about heart intelligence involve the concept of internal coherence. Coherence is the state of being highly ordered, organized, and efficient. In a coherent system, all the individual parts are operating in harmony and virtually no energy is lost. It is a state of least effort and maximum benefit because all the individual components are working together rather than against each other. When the rhythms of the heart become coherent, the heart’s electromagnetic field becomes equally more coherent. This strengthened coherence transmits waves of healing and transformation throughout your entire system, including your brain.
Steps to Heart/Brain Coherence
How do you create this profound and powerful state of heart/brain coherence? According to The HeartMath Solution, there are three power tools of the heart that are potent means to generate the laser-focused coherence that can create a more balanced and healthy system. Each of these tools is a gateway to a deeper, more profound connection to the heart’s intelligence. Use them with the intention accessing the healing and transforming power of your heart.
When you feel appreciation, you are tuning into the good qualities of someone or something. It is both the awareness and recognition of those pleasing people, situations, and things—as well as the gratitude and thankfulness you foster for those experiences. This is a special state and you intuitively know it, if for no other reason than because it feels good. Appreciation literally causes your internal environment to shift; it puts a hard stop on the incoherence of the stress response and reframes your mindset from one of lack to abundance. When you shift into a state of appreciation, you take your attention off what you don’t have and put it on all that you do have. And in doing so, research has shown you produce an extremely coherent, entrained, balanced, and harmonious energy field within the heart that is then radiated throughout your body.
Practicing appreciation, however, can sometimes be challenging for two reasons. First, you have evolved to look for lack, danger, and the negative situations in your life. This is a built-in survival mechanism passed down through generations from a time when ignoring those negative situations could cost you your life. Second, modern society can be a magnet for lack and negativity. You may be preoccupied with what is going wrong in the world rather than with what is going right.
Despite these factors, you can make the conscious choice to override your evolutionary and societal conditioning, rewrite your neural pathways, and look for more things to appreciate. Try one or all of the following:
- Begin and end each day with two minutes in grateful recognition of the miracle of being alive and all the joys life has to offer.
- Make a list of things to appreciate in your life.
- Consider a challenging situation in your life and look for things to appreciate that lie hidden in the problem.
- Create a living appreciation practice of looking at life through the eyes of wonder and gratitude.
In this intellectual-based society, judgment is a standard operating procedure. The mind is efficient when it comes to separating, analyzing, and categorizing information. This can be beneficial in matters of business or when making rational choices about your safety and security. However, it can often become so dominant that it creates rigid, negative, and intractable boundaries that separate you from others.
This type of judgement is the byproduct of the ego, your false self that strives to feel separate, special, and superior. It uses judgement as a wall to divide itself from others, often with partial information and prejudice as justification. This judgement also creates an enormous amount of mental turbulence and static. The end result is an unhealthy and incoherent internal atmosphere. Judgment also uses a great deal of energy in maintaining those opinions and firm barriers. So while judgement feels natural, the person who is doing the judging, rather than defining another, is actually hurting himself or herself.
Practicing nonjudgement represents a deviation from your standard operating procedure. It creates a neutral mental state in which you unplug from your preconceived notions and see things as they are. As actor and martial arts expert Bruce Lee once said: “To free one’s self from preconceived notions, prejudices, and conditioned responses is essential to understanding truth and reality.” This understanding is the key to nonjudgement. If you are to open yourself to the coherence and entrainment of the heart’s intelligence, you must let go of your definitions and see things as they are. Explore these steps to nonjudgment:
- Have the intention to practice nonjudgment. Select an hour or a day in which you commit to avoiding the tendency to judge, condemn, or criticize.
- When a judgement arises, put your attention in your body and notice how the judgement makes you feel. Judgment usually feels constrictive and limiting. Similarly, when you practice nonjudgement, notice if you feel lighter or more expansive.
- Choose to look at things, people, and situations through the lens of neutrality, knowing that things just “are” and aren’t inherently good or bad until you define them as such.
- Put yourself in another’s place. Recognize that you can never truly understand the behaviors or feelings of another without walking in their shoes. Try to empathize with others to better understand their perspective, opening doorways to your own deeper understanding.
A lack of forgiveness creates an enormous emotional and energetic debt in your system. It is one of the most subtle, yet significant, sources of incoherence in your heart, mind, and body. When you don’t forgive, you pack away a grievance and hold onto it for months, years, or even a lifetime. You are essentially choosing to hold onto anger, and as the Buddha observes, Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
In practicing forgiveness, however, you unpack your past hurts, traumas, grudges, and grievances, giving yourself permission to move on. Ultimately, forgiveness isn’t about the one who you feel wronged you; it’s about how you choose to invest your energy. Do you want to continue to make a daily or yearly deposit in the bank account of resentment and hostility knowing it creates internal discord and static that will erode your happiness and health? It’s not necessarily easy, and can sometimes involve rolling up your sleeves and wading into the muck of unforgiveness. The ego mind will try to sell you extremely convincing arguments as to why you’re justified in holding onto your anger and resentment. Don’t buy them. Step into forgiveness confident that the liberation you feel will result in the heart/brain coherence you are seeking. Remember the following insights on the road to forgiveness:
- Accept that you, too—either accidentally or deliberately—have hurt others.
- Remember that everyone is doing the best they can from their level of consciousness. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
- Look for opportunities to forgive, knowing it will allow you to reclaim your power.
- Know that self-forgiveness can sometimes be the hardest to practice, but is just as important as the forgiveness of others.
As you work to keep your heart/brain coherence, remember that they want to align. Sometimes they just need a little nudge from you to keep them flowing together.