It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of our hearts. If you’ve ever felt your heart race when you’re nervous or been left aching after a breakup, then you understand how much this organ has control over the quality of your life.
Throughout the world, and in every language and culture, there are references to the heart as the instrument of love, as a guide, as the knower of all truth. And while diet and exercise are well-known ways to keep your ticker healthy, another lesser-known habit that is tremendously beneficial and goes beyond just physical health, is heart coherence.
Coherence is essentially bringing together different parts of yourself so that your actions and reactions are in harmony with one another. This state of unity allows you to respond rather than react in stressful situations, think clearly at all times, and see the world from a new perspective.
So what is heart coherence? In this blog post, I’ll explain what it is, list 10 benefits of heart coherence and share a technique to start practicing it so you can put yourself into an optimum state of being.
The many ways your heart influences body and mind
In our modern world, the heart is often just reduced to one of its functions: pushing blood around the body. But your heart does way more than that: it actually influences your body and mind, in many different ways! Let’s explore them…
The heart as a pump
Your heart is the engine of your circulatory system. It pumps blood, delivering oxygen and nutrients to almost every part of your body.
We all know how important it is to maintain a healthy heart for a long and healthy life. There are many steps you can take to maintain a healthy heart, but one of the most important is maintaining healthy blood pressure (hint hint!).
The heart’s electromagnetic activity
With every beat, your heart emits an electromagnetic field that can be detected with instruments up to 3 feet from your body. This electromagnetic field is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brain’s field and it’s believed it is this electromagnetic energy that we pick up as a “vibe” or “aura” of a person.
This energy field changes in strength and frequency according to what you are doing and feeling. It is strongest when your heart rate is elevated, such as during exercise, or when experiencing stress, and it also fluctuates according to your emotions. These fluctuations in your heart rate have a strong impact on your electromagnetic field, and thus on the way people feel and ultimately behave around you.
The heart as a gland
The heart produces hormones, such as oxytocin, also called the “love hormone”, that influences our emotions and behaviour. It’s the hormone that helps us bond as human beings.
Oxytocin is released by a mother when she goes into labour and when breastfeeding- it helps with the contraction of the uterus and milk glands as well as strengthening the mother-baby bond. Hugging, kissing, cuddling, and sexual intimacy, also releases oxytocin and it makes us feel happy and connected.
Without having the science we have today to explain it, our ancestors everywhere knew about this. The heart has long been the symbol of love, friendship and care.
This heart hormone also has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant effects and a protective role on the heart.
Did you know the heart is sometimes referred to as the “mini brain”? It has its own nervous system, a cluster of some 60 000 neurons that allows it to set its own beat, and beating patterns. Your heart also impacts your nervous system as part of your Autonomic Nervous System (the autopilot as I call it!) which controls all of your unconscious processes like breathing, sweating, digestion, sleeping, and your heartbeat.
The heart uses this neurological network and its connection to the vagus nerve to communicate with your brain. This communication is very strong, so much so that we now know that your heart communicates to your brain at least five times more than the brain communicates with the heart.
It’s important to note that this neurological and communication activity is influenced by the way you feel and your emotions. And all this communication from the heart in turn influences the way your brain functions!
Emotions, the heart, and the mind
Your emotions have a direct impact on the way your heart beats, and the patterns it creates.
Your heart doesn’t beat at the same speed all the time as a metronome. If for example, I say my heart is beating at 60 beats/min, my heart doesn’t beat on the second. It accelerates for a few beats, then slows down again: this is the basis of heart rate variability (HRV).
You may have heard of heart rate variability if you’re an athlete or take your training seriously. HRV is a direct measure of the health of your nervous system, as you are able to measure and see the activity of the 2 branches of your Autonomous Nervous System, the sympathetic and parasympathetic: the accelerator and the brake.
The two have to work together, canceling each other out harmoniously for our bodies to maintain homeostasis: the equilibrium for optimum health.
When we look at HRV, we can see it creates patterns. These patterns create signals that go to your brain.
Decades of research from the HeartMath Institute have demonstrated that when we feel stressed, anxious or any other negative emotions such as anger, the accelerator gets engaged: this results in a big increase in the speed of the heart, without it slowing back down as much. This activity creates very erratic patterns.
On the contrary, when we feel positive emotions such as love, care, and compassion, the heart rate patterns become this smooth wave-like form that clearly shows how the accelerator and brake work in harmony: this is a coherent pattern.
As the heart picks up and responds to your emotions with its beating pattern, it sends these signals to the brain. The amygdala, the “threat centre”, is the part of the brain that controls your fight-or-flight response. This is the part of the brain that is activated the most when you are in a stressful situation.
When you feel “negative” emotions, through the signals of the heart via the vagus nerve pathway, your brain is triggered into the stress response by the amygdala- the emotional bias is strong then. Your “emotional brain” is on and cognitive functions are off. It is difficult to focus, think rationally, and solve problems. To make matters worse, when the amygdala is overactive, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
When you feel “positive” emotions, however, through the same heart-brain pathway via the vagus nerve, your brain receives the signal from this lovely coherent pattern and is triggered into the relaxation response- emotional brain and cognitive functions are back in balance.
What this means also, if you remember from my article “Why you shouldn’t dismiss emotions when trying to tap into your intuition”, is that it allows your brain to make the connection between conscious and subconscious, accessing memories and thus, giving you access to your implicit intuition.
But this is a 2-way street!
The mind also has a direct impact on the heart. The thoughts we think can induce the emotions we feel, influencing the autonomic nervous system, which in turn affects how our heart functions.
10 benefits of heart coherence
So now you should understand that heart coherence is in fact a coherent beating pattern from the heart.
It’s the optimum balance between the accelerator and the brake.
When you’re practicing heart coherence, you put yourself in an optimum state of being physiologically, emotionally, and mentally.
It’s a state in which your body is in homeostasis, in perfect balance. Stress hormones, inflammation, and disease are regulated. You’re feeling positive emotions and are choosing to. Your thinking is sharp, and you are in touch with your intuition.
There are many benefits to heart coherence, and while this is certainly not exhaustive, I’ve listed 10 of them here:
1. Heart coherence keeps you healthy and social
The release of oxytocin helps protect your cells, heart, controls inflammation and makes you feel more social and connected.
2. Heart coherence keeps you young
It boosts the release of DHEA, a precursor hormone also called the hormone of youth as it’s present at high levels in young people and declines with age.
3. It helps regulate your stress and its depleting effects
As the precursor hormone pregnenolone is used up to make DHEA, there is less available to make cortisol: the stress depleting hormone.
4. Heart coherence lowers your brain waves
Going into Alpha brain waves, a relaxing state similar to that you experience in meditation. It activates your prefrontal cortexes, enabling better decision, planning and positive thinking.
5. It makes you feel happy
It helps the release of serotonin, the hormone of “content”.
6. Heart coherence improves your sleep
To fall asleep, we need our nervous system to be in a relaxed state, and also need melatonin, a hormone produced by your pineal gland within your brain. Melatonin is made from serotonin, therefore, an increased level of serotonin means it is abundantly available to produce the sleep hormone.
7.It makes you resilient and better at regulating your emotions
It trains both sides of your nervous system, the accelerator, and the brake- meaning it has more flexibility to move from stress to relaxation.
8. It supports your heart and cardiovascular system
It helps regulate your blood pressure and it’s even used in hospital settings in England and France for patients who recover from cardiovascular diseases and surgery.
9. Your “3 brains” work in harmony
Giving you full access to your higher thinking functions, memories, and implicit intuition.
10. Regular heart coherence supports your immune system
A study done on a group of participants at one of Dr Joe Dispenza’s retreats, who uses heart coherence-based meditations, found that when practiced several days in a row, there was a very high concentration of the protein SERPIN A5 in their plasma (the liquid in which your red blood cells float).
This protein has been shown to prevent bacterial and viral infections and is of great interest for its inhibiting role in cancer growth and spread, as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases for its tissue regeneration qualities.
When you practice heart coherence, you feel like everything is perfectly okay and everything is going to be okay.
You feel at peace. Your feel calmness. You are in the moment. You feel like you are loved. You feel like life loves you. The way I often describe it, is like feeling a big “internal smile”.
But the best way to understand this is to be in the coherence state!
How to Practice Heart Coherence
So how do you bring your nervous system to be in this perfect accelerator-brake balance and focus on positive emotions?
The basic premise is to bring your attention to your heart and access the nervous system through the breath.
With each breath that we take, we are stimulating both sides of the autopilot: breathe in and you press on the accelerator, breathe out and you apply the brake. So we need to match inhale and exhale perfectly.
For most people, the optimum rhythm for it is breathing in for 5 seconds and breathing out for 5 seconds. However everyone has a different level of comfort, and if you’ve been struggling with chronic stress and anxiety, you’ve likely become a shallow breather over time and your diaphragm muscle would need time to retrain itself at breathing deeply.
Simple heart coherence in 4 steps:
- 1. Bring your awareness to your heart- you can place your hands on your chest over your heart if it helps
- 2. Start breathing slower and deeper to reach your optimum rhythm (5 in 5 out or different)
- 3. Imagine the breath flowing in and out of your heart
- 4. Invite and activate a feeling of gratitude, love or care (it can help to use the vision or memory) in your heart
Keep breathing this way for 1 to 3 mins and enjoy the wonderful “internal smile” feeling!
Heart coherence is an amazing tool to help you relax, feel more positive and connect with your intuition.
It helps rekindle the mind-body connection that most of us have lost as a result of living very busy lives and spending so much time in our minds.
It’s a tool that protects our health in every way: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
And it’s simple. It can be done anywhere, and only takes a few minutes.
Hand on heart (pun intended), I can honestly say it has changed my life. It’s something that has now become an integral part of my lifestyle, and I really feel the benefits on the physical side, but especially emotionally and mentally. It has helped me remain positive despite the challenges of the pandemic.
This is why it’s such a crucial part of my resilience coaching programs and trainings!