I recently wrote about the scientific reasons why you should listen to your heart and not just your brain. I reviewed data on how the heart sends information to the brain on a regular basis and how the electromagnetic field of the heart is the by far the strongest in the body.
Are there any practical implications to these facts?
Can you train your heart to control the health and performance of your body in just 10 minutes a day?
But first, let's review the concept of heart rate variability (HRV). It's the time between heartbeats, and it can vary breath by breath. HRV reflects the balance between the sympathetic nervous system (which controls the body's "fight or flight" response) and the calming, parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
An HRV pattern with little variation and erratic change is pathological and indicates an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system, favoring stress and high cortisol levels. (I've written before about how activities such as yoga can improve HRV.)
What's amazing is that positive emotions from the heart can rapidly create a more PNS-predominant and organized pattern of HRV termed coherence. Coherence indicates a higher harmony between the functioning of the heart, the brain, and the entire body and can be measured and observed on graphs.
So what can you do about this?
First, imagine breathing through your heart with slow and deep breaths that last about five seconds each and make your heart area on your left chest rise and fall. Second, add a feeling of positive emotions by thinking about a loving experience, appreciation, or calm.
By maintaining the heart centered breathing and the positive emotions (perhaps with your eyes closed and a smile on your face), you increase activity of the PNS, decrease the activity of the SNS, and cause improved HRV with a pattern of coherence showing internal harmony.
How can you do this easy exercise?
One method I use at home and with patients comes from research over the last 20 years. A program downloaded to a laptop or smart phone is coupled with a cable that attaches to the earlobe. (You can learn more and buy all the tools you need at www.heartmath.org.)
To do this exercise, you have to buy a cable, which monitors heart rate and permits immediate measurement and tracking of HRV. Colorful graphics track the degree of coherence achieved during heart based breathing with positive emotions.
I've taught people who have never heard of this system to achieve high coherence in under two minutes!
Whether you like graphs because you're an engineer, or you just love colorful scenes or psychedelic patterns, the ability to determine your state of stress and improve it in seconds is gratifying and powerful.
Many scientific experiments using this system for 5 to 10 minutes a day have demonstrated the following benefits:
1. Enhanced immune function with increased secretory IgA concentration
2. Lower cortisol levels with improved levels of DHEA (anti-aging hormone)
3. Lower blood pressure
4. Improved memory on testing in seniors
5. Improved school performance during exams in high school students
6. Improved walking times in heart failure patients
Stress is the root cause of most visits to the doctor and most medical ailments. Tools to manage stress are rarely taught in the medical setting, but can include exercise, yoga, meditation, tai-chi, and guided imagery.
I have found the heart based breathing practice described here to be another powerful tool that can be used at home, in the clinic, at work, or in school and that the cost of the equipment is a worthwhile investment.
It's been said that the “mind is your instrument, learn to be its master and not its slave.”
Now we have a method to achieve the same mastery over the heart, a powerful tool for health.