The research done by the Institute of HeartMath (<http://www.heartmath.org go to the Research tab, then Research home, scroll down to the 72 page article on The Science of the Heart) affirms what those of us who have been meditating for a long time already know. When we are in an expanded state of being or what the HeartMathr researchers call a dynamic of coherent heart rhythms that come about because we are experiencing gratitude, appreciation, love, caring, happiness and joy, our bodies respond in some remarkable ways.
While trying to understand the role of the heart in relationship to the brain, the researchers discovered that the heart is like a mini brain with it’s own neuronal network. There are also cells in the heart that are like the cells in our brains. The heart in fact sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. It also has an energy field 60 times greater that any other organ in our bodies including the brain.
When our hearts are experiencing positive emotions, there is a profound physiological response. The heart sends a signal to the brain. The brain responds by directing the body to release DHEA, a rejuvenation hormone, along with a host of neuropeptides into our bodies that create health and well-being. Our immune system is boosted. Our heart rate is normalized. Our feelings of anxiety and stress become non-existent. Our vision is expanded allowing us to see a variety of possibilities and choices. As a result we are far more creative. We can problem solve much more effectively and we are resourceful.
On the other hand if we are in an incoherent emotional experience feeling stressed, fearful, angry, irritated, frustrated or hateful, the heart sends a very different signal to the brain. When received the brain responds by sending out the troops. Adrenalin floods our system along with cortisol, which puts us in a hyper alert, fight or flight place. We no longer have time to think about choices, we are in danger and there is one way to respond now. Our immune systems are suppressed, heart rates are increased, as is our breathing and pulse rate. In this state we no longer have time to consider creative options, nor do we problem solve particularly well.
This response is fabulous. Our human bodies are so complex and amazing. Back in the day if the saber tooth tiger was breathing down the back of our necks, we needed this response immediately to save our lives. The same is true today. If you are in a dark alley and the hackles go up on the back of your neck you know immediately danger is at hand. There may be no time to think out what your options are but an immediate and powerful response is required. In a very good documentary by National Geographic (2008) called Stress: the Silent Killer, one of the researchers says, “The problem with today is that we act as if that saber tooth tiger is breathing down the back of our necks all of the time.” This presents a huge problem to the human body. Our bodies in general are being over worked and constantly stress, resulting in heart attacks, cancers, back and joint pain, tight muscles, grinding down our teeth, etc. We all know how it feels and it does not feel good.
In the book, The Thinking Body: a Study of the Balancing Forces of Dynamic Man (1937) Mabel Elsworth Todd proposes that we have not fully evolved as a human species to an upright posture. She believes that we have to use our bodies with conscious awareness and good exercise in order to maintain a healthy supple body. The practice of Hatha Yoga as does, Qigong, Tai Chi, the Feldenkrais and Alexander methods to name a few are also built around these principles.
I have adapted a meditation from the Institute of HeartMath’s technique called Quick CoherenceR that is particularly useful to shift us out of an incoherent, negative state into a coherent, positive, life promoting dynamic and made into an expanded meditation. Here are the instructions for the meditation.
Close your eyes, shifting your focus from the space around you to your internal body space. At first just notice what you are experiencing. How does your body feel? What are you aware of? Are there certain parts of you of your body that feel more tension than others? Do you experience variations in temperature? What is happening with your breath?
Begin to deepen your breath by exhaling all the way and inhaling for a count of 4 or 5. (This count has been found through research to be a particularly effective way to help induce a coherent experience.) Exhale for 4 or 5 counts. Continue this breath rhythm throughout the entire meditation.
Now continuing to breathe also focus on your physical heart. How are you experiencing it right now? There are no right or wrong answers, just be present to your experience.
Begin to recall an experience that you have had in the past that brought you a felt sense of joy or happiness. It could be a walk on the beach, the smile on your grandchild’s face, your favorite cat in your lap, a walk in the woods on a beautiful spring day, etc.
Look carefully at your experience as if it is happening right now. What are the colors, the shapes or textures? Are there other things or people in this experience with you or are you alone? Be in the experience and notice these things without judgment. They just are what they are. Are there sounds like voices, music or bird songs? Is there any particular smell that is in the air or taste in your mouth right now? How are you feeling as you immerse yourself in the experience right now?
Now express internally your deepest appreciation or gratitude for having this experience that brings you such joy and happiness. Pay attention to your heart and feel how it feels.
Feel your heart broadcasting this sensation as an epicenter of gratitude, appreciation, joy and happiness moving out to the rest of your body. Feel it spreading out to your ribcage and lungs…to your diaphragm and belly. Feel the sensation of gratitude and appreciation moving up into your shoulders…and down into your hip joints.
Focusing back into your shoulders what is it like to experience joy and happiness cascade down into your upper arms…your elbows…your lower arms…your wrists…your hands and out to the tips of your fingers.
Bring your awareness to your hip joints and feel gratitude and appreciation flowing down through your thighs…your knees…your calves…your ankles into your feet and out to the tips of your toes.
Now from the souls of your feet let your awareness travel slowly up your body experiencing what you are feeling again with no judgment. Bring your focus up through your throat and neck…to the palate at the back of your mouth…and up into your brain, your crown, your scalp, forehead, eye brows, the muscles around your eyes, your cheeks, your jaw, ears, chin and mouth.
Now bring your awareness to your whole body. Rest in your awareness. Pay close attention to how you are feeling right now. Sustain the feeling and your attention for as long as you want to. Bathe in the delight of the feeling of gratitude and appreciation, joy and happiness. If your mind wanders simply bring it back to your heart.
Take the time to compare it with what you felt like in the beginning. Did anything change for you during the course of the meditation? How? Focus your attention on your heart and your breath. What does your heart feel like? Bring the energy from your heart up behind your eyes and open them. Take a couple of minutes to look around. Do things look differently to you, feel differently?
A client of mine had for most of his life been experiencing a great deal of anxiety and depression. He would first feel the anxiety as a knot in his stomach. Quickly it would spread to a paralyzing anxiety that would stop him dead in his tracks. We had done breathing exercises that helped him lower his level of anxiety until the next time. We went over the roots for his feelings and certainly found many connections to childhood trauma. He tried medicine to calm him, which it did for a price. He felt numb and foggy. It wasn’t the quality of life he wanted although some medicines he found were helpful.
I taught him this meditation and asked him to practice it. He went through the entire meditation several times but soon found that as soon as there was a hint of a knot in his stomach all he had to do was breathe into it and it disappeared. He came to sessions smiling. What a change.
He found that it was also affecting his experience both at work and at home with his wife. He was able to stay heart centered even with his very difficult boss. This changed their interactions. The man who had always been the bane of my client’s work life was not so difficult to deal with. Work became much more enjoyable and so did his wife.
This book will be filled with stories of what happens for folks, families, communities, workplaces, our global community and the Earth when we develop and share heart centered living. We can learn to easily move into a heart centered awareness in a variety of ways: the guided meditations like the one above adapted from HeartMath’s Quick Coherence technique and the Heart Bud meditation, prayers of gratitude, mantras and spiritual practices that emphasize love as Source. I hope that you will be inspired to find ways that work for you and reap the positive rewards that come from living from the heart.