Why “Leading With Your Heart” Can Improve Your Health
As I write this, I'm flying from Detroit to San Francisco to give a lecture to hundreds of medical practitioners. One of the topics I'll be speaking about is something called heart intelligence. Heart intelligence is an evolving field of science that appreciates that the heart is endowed with a nervous system of its own. In fact, the heart actually supplies the brain with more information than the brain sends to the heart.
The discovery that the heart has its own nerve cells has led to an exploding field of research with immediate practical implications. Interestingly, some of this research indicates that self-love and self-appreciation, what I call “masturpreciation," can help you advance in performance, health, and resiliency.
The term “leading with your heart” may actually have anatomical and physiological support.
The breakthrough in the research was identifying that the heart has its own neurons, known as the “little brain." If you've ever heard of the vagus nerve or vagal reactions (rhymes with bagel), you should know there are actually more nerve fibers in the vagus nerve from the heart to the brain than the opposite. These fibers play a huge role in providing feedback from the heart to the brain—meaning that the term “leading with your heart” may actually have anatomical and physiological support.
"Coherence" is a term often used in the study of heart intelligence. The best way to understand it is by thinking of coherent and incoherent speech. The incoherent pattern is meaningless, nonsense, and disorganized, while the coherent is united and consistent. There's a similar pattern in heart-brain interactions. When your heart and brain are synchronized, the two systems are working in concert with stability, efficiency, and connectedness.
So how can you achieve coherence? Self-induced positive emotions like love, appreciation, and calm (often centered on the selfless love of a pet), combined with a breath pattern focused on breathing in and out through the heart region, shifts the intrinsic nervous system of the heart into a more globally coherent and harmonious physiology.
- Middle school students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder demonstrated improved short- and long-term memory, ability to focus, and improvements in home and school behavior.
- Fighter pilots demonstrated improved performance and lower frustration when taught coherence.
- Soldiers with PTSD demonstrated improved cognitive function.
- Heart patients have shown improved function and blood pressure, lower stress and cortisol, and reduced health care costs.
- Correctional officers demonstrated lower blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, stress, anger, hostility, frustration, fatigue and hostility.
You can learn more about achieving coherence from companies like HeartMath, Relaxing Rhythms (Wild Divine), and Stress Resilience Training System. In my cardiac longevity center, I often prescribe daily short exercises on coherence. Using a smartphone or computer, patients can learn emotional self-regulation and pleasure, which will contribute to improved performance and overall health.