The Harmonic Heart
Jennifer Lipski, RN
How Embodying Love and Gratitude Can Change the World
Our lifeblood circulates through our bodies via a profoundly powerful biomechanical pump known as the heart. The heart beat is created by electrochemical interactions between the heart and brain; as the dynamic conversation between these two entities changes, so does the rhythm and intensity of the beat. Research shows, though, that the heart is indeed more than just a pump; this primary organ plays a key role in our intrinsic functioning, influencing how our bodies perform, and racing and relaxing in immediate response to stimuli. But even more profoundly, “with every beat, the heart transmits complex patterns…which…ultimately determine our emotional experience” (McCraty 2003).
Throughout the ages, many spiritual traditions have considered the heart as emotive, central to perception and understanding. In western psychology, however, emotions have been considered a mere byproduct of the brain. It turns out, of course, that the ancient traditions are correct. Rollin McCraty, PhD, and others of the Institute of HeartMath have been internationally recognized for their research and education pertaining to stress reduction and healthy lifestyles. Their research has shown that our feelings are expressed not only from the brain, but also from the entire body, particularly the heart. “…emotions are thus a product of the brain, heart, and body acting in concert” (McCraty and Childre 2002).
When we embrace positive emotions, such as love, appreciation, and gratitude, we instantly experience a surge of warmth in that sacred core spot securely nestled within the ribcage. When blissful, people may use the term “my heart jumped with joy”; alternately, with melancholy, one may describe a “heavy heart.” Indeed, these metaphors accurately convey that one’s emotions are palpable and measurable phenomena. In fact, the same emotion experienced simultaneously by a group of people is easily recognized. For example, when stepping into a joyous wedding reception or celebrating the birth of a child, one can literally feel the brilliant glow of intense joy; alternately, a funeral viewing can feel very heavy, dense, and filled with wrenching sadness. These tangible atmospheres are due to the empathic heart exchanges emitted from within the groups.
It is the heart’s tap dance that sets the stage: “…the pattern of the heart’s rhythm is primarily reflective of the emotional state” (McCraty et al 2009). In fact, one study found that “the DSM-IV criteria for panic disorder were fulfilled in more than two-thirds of patients with sudden-onset arrhythmias…the arrhythmias generate a sudden change in the signals sent to the brain…which is detected as a mismatch, consequently [resulting] in feelings of anxiety or panic.” A part of the brain known as the amygdala processes emotional memory, and connects sensory stimuli to corresponding emotions. In this way, the amygdala lays a memory pathway, thus tying the disorganized heart rhythm to a sense of panic; this activity of emotional-sensory memory is “synchronized to the cardiac cycle” (McCraty and Childre 2002). The plotted graphs of arrhythmias are markedly similar in their irregularity to plotted graphs of anxiety caused by disorganized heart rhythms. Alternately, when heart rhythms are harmonized and regular, their plotted graphs are consistent and steady; and when these rhythms are concomitant with a positive emotion like gratitude, patients report feelings of security, happiness, and well-being.
The ineffable energy of the heart also unites with certain waves of the brain. The brain has four different types of waves: alpha, beta, delta, and theta; the alpha waves are prominent in a person who is relaxed with closed eyes. It is also the alpha waves that are naturally aligned with the heart, thus allowing an open communication stream between the two structures. A person who deeply embraces emotions like appreciation and compassion will experience an increased synchronization between the brain and the heart, thus heightening their exchange as well as laying more positive memory pathways.
In moods, as in life, though, there is a balance to everything. Even eternal optimists can experience negative emotions. Sometimes shifting from negative to positive flows easily, and sometimes it needs a little nudge. For example, incorporating breathing techniques to reset your heart rate; using visualization to realign your thoughts; and most importantly, learning moment-by-moment emotional self-regulation, can help to modify your mindset to be able to achieve sustained positive emotions.
Inspired hopefulness, appreciation, and good intentions are some of the affirming first steps on the path to a harmonized heart, but to emit penetrating and palpable waves of love, we must go deeper; these waves must literally originate from our very core. Genuine emotions must be actively embraced within the heart center to impart transformative energy, thus emanating thepower of the positives, providing vast and innumerable benefits. McCraty and his team (2009) have found that when a person has “emotional coherence” (that is, a continuous, self-regulated, and balanced state of positive emotions), the body functions and performs better, and the sense of well-being increases. Coherence can be defined as a coordinated consistency; thus, in the body, it refers to a harmony or synchronization among bodily systems. An example of physical coherence is when the processes of the heart and lungs become unified; when a person relaxes, the breathing rate and lung volume decrease, in concert with a slower and gentler heartbeat. Coherence can exist throughout the variable spectrum of the normal heart rate, but it is the beat rhythm that is most correlated with emotion. Some positive emotion-focusing and structuring techniques can help to promote coherence. As reported by McCraty, et al (2009): “Buddhist monks meditating on generating compassionate love…[exhibited] increased coherence…[a study] of Zen monks found that the more advanced monks tended to have coherent heart rhythms, while the novices did not…[but] approaches that focus attention to the mind (concentrative meditation)…do not induce coherence.” This is a critical point; one cannot just “think” love and have it stick—one must be the actual well-spring from which love and gratitude arise.
Related to coherence is the phenomenon of resonance, which is a stimulus-induced vibration occurring between entities. When one is in a state of coherence, an enormous synchronization occurs throughout the body, including parts of the nervous system, as well as “the heart rhythms, respirations, and blood pressure” (McCraty and Childre 2002). The heart is so powerful, in fact, “that it can pull other resonant physiological systems into entrainment with it”; and when body-wide resonance subsequently occurs, the heart rhythm produces an extraordinary surge of power (McCraty et al 2009). This resonance increases cognitive performance and makes the body more metabolically efficient; hence the “growing number of correlations documented between positive emotions, improved health, and increased longevity” (McCraty and Childre 2002).
During his presentation at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference 2013 in San Francisco, California, McCraty said that “an intention, when combined with a coherent heart, goes out like a radio wave, and resonates with the earth’s magnetic field.” This powerful statement means that we all have the ability not only to experience the benefits of coherence and resonance inside ourselves; but that by practicing compassionate love, we also have the ability to affect the magnetic fields of the earth. Imagine if innumerable people from around the world were all lovingly resonating together in this way. That is when the “I” shifts to “we,” and individual coherence becomes collective transformation. And according to McCraty and HeartMath’s “Global Consciousness Project,” emotions can decrease the randomization of events. This “science-based, co-creative project” maintains and monitors networks around the world, observing:
…non-random activity during widely shared experiences of deeply engaging events…this network displays any subtle but direct effects of our collective consciousness reacting to global events. The research hypothesis predicts the appearance of coherence and structure in the globally distributed data collected during major events that emotionally engage the world population. (Global Conference Initiative, n.d.)
In their ongoing research, the Initiative seeks to shift the state of discord in the world to one of balance. During his presentation, McCraty also stated that data from the global project suggests that it takes only “350,000 people” to effect measurable global emotive output, which thus indicates the possibility of large-scale coherence and resonance. Applying this information to the results of a recent study on empathy from the University of Virginia means that synchronized people and communities really can make a constructive difference: “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves…it’s very real” (DiSalvo 2013) Think of the ripple effect; each one of us is an intrinsic drop in the ocean of the universe, and what we think, do, and feel does, indeed, make a difference.
To fully explore the genuine expressions of our hearts, though, we must eliminate any boundaries to the sacred; “we must cease dividing our life into compartments” Our hearts are not separate from our minds; they function together, in our energetic bodies. In today’s world, it is very simple to wander outside of the current moment, letting habits and concepts of what “should or shouldn’t be” guide us. “The force of compartmentalization separates our body from our mind, our spirit from our emotions, our spiritual life from our relationships.” According to Jack Kornfield (1993), a leading Buddhist teacher and practitioner, there is a strong and persistent force that can break down these walls, and re-piece the fragments: “our deep longing for wholeness…our true nature opens us to the limitless, to that beyond our birth and death, to [an] indivisibility of all things.” When we are whole yet selfless, it is our collective reflection that we see. This selflessness is “a cornerstone of many transformative paths…manifesting [this] transformation in the world is what makes it substantial” (Schlitz et al 2007) By being the most full, creative, and generous expression of ourselves, we are woven into the energetic tapestry that connects us all. If we want the world to be a coherent, strong, and love-filled space, then inside ourselves must be a synchronized, whole, and love-filled place.
Four ways to cultivate your sacred harmonic heart, and share the “power of the positives”:
1.) Express genuine gratitude from your core! The vibration emitted by heart-felt gratitude promotes resonance, which, in turn, supports coherence. New and positive brain patterns subsequently develop, which our brains seek to match, thus reinforcing additional positive brain patterns to emerge, therefore “increasing the probability of having an optimistic outlook and maintaining emotional stability, even during challenging situations” (McCraty and Childre 2002).
2.) Intentionally cultivate love and compassion! Igniting these emotions within your heart center allows them to spark and spread, thus providing “improved cognitive performance, increased emotional stability, enhanced psychosocial functioning, increased peace [and] self-security, and sustained positive emotions” (McCraty and Childre 2002).
3.) Be wholly present! Do not let daily burdens take you away from the moment-to-moment brilliance that IS your blessed life. With each step, notice your complete, unique, and wonderfully profound self, and fill each second with your sacred breath and personal energy.
4.) Know that the voice of your heart echoes through the universe! What does your heart say, and how does it say it? Be ever mindful of the intentions that you channel through your heart, as their waves are conveyed far and wide. To make our world a more loving, peaceful, and verdant place, this transformation must first resound from deep inside your core. Nurture your own heart, and you will create a bright pathway of love which nourishes the hearts of others.
DiSalvo, David. 2013. “Study: To the Human Brain, Me is We,” Forbes.com.
Global Coherence Initiative. n.d.
Kornfield, Jack. 1993. A Path with Heart: A Guide through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
McCraty, Rollin. 2003. The Scientific Role of the Heart in Learning and Performance.
McCraty, Rollin, Mike Atkinson, Dana Tomasino, Raymond Trevor Bradley. 2009. The Coherent Heart: Heart-Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order.
McCraty, Rollin, and Doc Childre. 2002. The Appreciative Heart: The Psychophysiology of Positive Emotions and Optimal Functioning.
Schlitz, Marilyn Mandala, Cassandra Vieten, Tina Amorok, and Robert Thurman. 2007. Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Jennifer Lipski, RN is the research and development coordinator for MyMetaWorld—community-inspired consciousness. www.MyMetaWorld.com. She taps into her creative energy exploring poetry and pottery, and channels her inner energy training in martial arts. Jennifer personally experienced coherence and resonance at the remarkable WakeUp Festival hosted by SoundsTrue in Estes Park, Colorado in August, 2013; it was an experience that literally changed her life. She is currently working on her first book of poetry, Songs from the Soul. Connect with Jennifer on her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/JenniferMMW.