Do you wear your heart on your sleeve? Have you ever had your heart broken? Can you recall how different you feel when sitting next to someone who is hard of heart versus someone with their heart in the right place?
It’s no accident that our language is brimming with heart-based metaphors. If you’ve ever felt happiness or joy, grief, or anguish, you’ve probably experienced those emotions in the vascular organ commonly known as your heart. It’s not your imagination.
Research carried out by the HeartMath Institute shows that when you are aware of your heart during daily activities, you experience numerous benefits. Simply put, heart awareness is an antidote to stress.
What happens when you are stressed?
Stress is a normal part of life, and your body is wired to cope with it. Whether you’re running away from a bear or trying to cross a busy road, your body will produce stress hormones to trigger the fight or flight response. Your heart starts pounding, you breathe more quickly, your blood pressure rises, and you act fast.
This is all good when it comes to staying alive in the face of danger. But there are so many stressors in modern life, it’s sometimes hard to come out of the stress response. If you’ve ever made an impulsive decision when feeling agitated, you might have lived to regret it. That’s because the erratic heart rhythm caused by stress limits your ability to think clearly, reason, remember, and make effective decisions.
Rollin McCraty, research director at the HeartMath Institute says one of the most effective ways of reducing overwhelm is to access your heart’s intelligence. When your heart, mind, and emotions are aligned in harmony, you’re living in heart coherence. The important decisions you make in such a state will be infinitely better than those you make when stressed.
How to access the inherent intelligence of your heart
It may sound complicated but accessing you heart’s inherent intelligence and finding that point of coherence is surprisingly simple. The quick coherence technique® involves taking your awareness to the center of your chest and imagining that you are breathing in and out of that space.
After you’ve taken a few breaths, try to experience a regenerative feeling. Think about a person or pet you love or recall a time you felt great or achieved something. Try not to simply have an image of these memories in your mind. Instead, immerse yourself in the feelings they trigger.
You have a responsibility
Your heart produces a magnetic field that can be detected up to three feet away from your body. The information contained in this field reflects your emotional state and that of those around you. This is exciting stuff, as it means your emotions are not just inside you!
If you’ve ever thought that you can sense what another person is feeling, you’re right. But that also means that whether you’re aware of it or not, your emotions affect others. So, what do you want to put out into the world? Do you want to emotionally drain your loved ones and work colleagues? Or would you prefer to inspire them?
When you practice heart coherence, you’re also connecting to the hearts of others. Amsterdam-based yoga teacher and lifestyle coach, Tanja Wendelgelst, uses the concept of heart intelligence in her own life and teaching.
“It’s so simple,” says Wendelgelst. “But it requires absolute dedication and discipline. When I imagine the field of my heart expanding and opening as I recall a beautiful memory, I ask myself questions. I might not get the answers immediately, but I often find that intuitive thoughts kick in”.
Your heart is intelligent
There’s a reason Wendelgelst finds answers when she listens to her heart. Contrary to popular belief, your heart sends more signals to your brain than the other way round. When you’re in a relaxed state, these signals will be more coherent, and the more coherent the signals are, the more synchronized your brain activity will be.
A synchronized brain is crucial for healthy mental functioning, and it also affects your emotions. The more heart coherence you have, the better you feel. But it’s not just about feeling good.
Building resilience to stress
Stress doesn’t only feel bad and lead to poor decision making. It is also linked to a plethora of health conditions, including cardiac issues, fatigue, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, sleep disorders, and sudden cardiac death. Stress is an emotional disease, and your emotions really play a role in how you experience life.
By working on your heart coherence, you will become more resilient. You’ll be more able to prepare for, adapt to, and recover from life’s stressors, and this will help you stay physically healthy. Research shows that when you practice bringing your heart, mind, and emotions into more coherence you experience better decision making, creativity, listening skills, clarity, reaction time, and coordination.
Other ways of building resilience to stress include:
Maintaining a good work-life balance
Getting plenty of exercise and rest
Building healthy relationships
Being considerate of others
At first, you might find bringing awareness to your heart awkward. Wendelgelst understands. “Sometimes the ‘brain God’ that we worship so much in Western culture kicks in,” she says. “And if you have an outcome in mind when you practice, you might be disappointed”.
But she encourages her students to keep trying. “Building heart coherence will improve your ability to discern,” she says. “When I practice, I come more easily into the flow state. All of a sudden, ideas come to me that I didn’t have before”.
You can practice this simple technique alone. Try bringing it into your daily routine, on waking, before coming home after work, before making a stress-inducing presentation, or before going to sleep at night. And if you need more support, you’ll find plenty of help at the HeartMath Institute.
Whether you’re a health professional looking to train up, or a busy parent in search of support, working on these coherence-building skills will help you change your habitual patterns and improve your health and wellbeing, both as an individual and as part of a community.