What Does Your Heart Tell You?

Your emotions obviously play a big role in your happiness in the moment and the more you can learn about how to manage your emotions the more you can use positive emotions to your advantage and better manage negative emotions. You probably know that your brain plays a big role in either triggering emotions and this will be discussed later in this chapter. However, your emotions are significantly influenced by your heart – I don’t mean that metaphorically, I mean it’s scientifically. 

In general conversation we refer to the heart is a source of emotion, courage and wisdom. The Institute of HeartMath (IHM) Research Center conducted research (4.2) to explore the physiological mechanisms used by the heart when it communicates with the brain and, in doing so, potentially influencing information processing, perceptions, emotions and health.

The objective was to find an answer to the question, why do people experience the feeling or sensation of love and other positive emotional states in the area of the heart and water the physiological ramifications of these emotions? During previous research it became clear that negative emotions related to increased disorder in the heart’s rhythm and in the autonomic nervous system and, thereby, adversely affecting the rest of the body. In the meantime, positive emotions created an increase in harmony and coherence in heart rhythms and improved balance in the nervous system. 

The health implications are somewhat obvious. The more interesting observation from the research was that there can be dramatic positive changes that result from the application of techniques that increase coherence in rhythmic patterns of heart rate variability. These positive changes included shifts in perception and the ability to reduce stress and deal more effectively with difficult situations. The researchers observed that the heart was acting as if it had a mind of its own and was profoundly influencing the way we perceive and respond to the world. It appeared that the heart was affecting intelligence and awareness.

Previous research has provided a scientific basis to explain why and how the heart affects mental clarity, creativity, emotional balance and personal effectiveness. Research conducted by HeartMath and others indicates that the heart is more than just a pump. It is a highly complex, self organized information processing center with its own functional brain that communicates with and influences the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways. This, in turn affects brain function and most of the body’s major organs and ultimately the quality of life that we experience.

Increasing psychophysiological coherence

The results of the research appeared to support the interesting view that individuals can gain more conscious control over the process of creating increased coherence within and between the mental and emotional systems then may have been previously believed. This in turn can lead to greater physiological coherence which would manifest itself as a more ordered and efficient no verse, cardiovascular, hormonal and immune system. 

The research also indicates that this state increased state of psychophysiological coherence is associated with high performance, reduced stress, increased emotional stability and numerous health benefits. The research indicates that the heart plays a central role in the generation of emotional experience. From a systems perspective, the human body is a vast multidimensional information network of communicating subsystems where mental processes, emotions and physiological systems are inextricably intertwined. It was once believed that our perceptions and emotions were dictated entirely by the brain’s response to stimuli from an external environment, however the more current research indicates that perceptual and emotional experience is a composition of stimuli that the brain receives from the external environment and the internal sensations or feedback transmitted to the brain from the bodily organs and systems. Therefore, the heart, brain, nervous hormonal and immune systems must all be considered fundamental components of the dynamic, interactive information network that determines our ongoing emotional experience.

Numerous experiments appear to have demonstrated that the heart sends messages to the brain that affect our perceptions, mental processes, feeling states and performance in profound ways. The research suggests that the heart communicates information relative to “emotional state” to the cardiac center of the brain stem, which in turn, eventually find its way to the nuclei of the thalamus and the amygdala. 

Next article in this series: “What We Can Learn From Children”

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