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Heart Intelligence

June 11, 2012

A new wave of scientific evidence shows that the heart exerts a strong influence over the brain and the entire body. As mentioned in my last post, the heart is now understood to house its own autonomous nervous system.

Research has shown that the heart’s afferent neurological signals directly affect activity in the brain’s amygdala, a key emotional processing centre in the brain that coordinates the body’s response to perceived danger and possible threats. The amygdala compares incoming emotional signals with stored emotional memories and then makes instantaneous decisions about the level of perceived threat. It is able to activate the autonomic nervous system and emotional response in the body before the thinking, analytical centres of the cortex even receive any sensory information to process (Rein, McCraty and Atkinson, 1995 & McCraty et al, 1995).

The heart is also now considered to be an endocrine gland (part of the hormonal system) that produces atrial natriuretic factor (ANF) as well as noradrenaline, dopamine and oxytocin. The suggestion is that the heart is therefore a highly complex chemical signaling centre that may influence many human functions including cognitive, social and relationship skills.

Following extensive research at The Institute of HeartMath we are now also aware that the level of heart rate coherence is a very strong indicator of emotional well being. When heart rhythm patterns are coherent, the neural information sent to the brain facilitates cortical function. This may be experienced as increased positivity and creativity, which would perhaps explain traditional associations between the heart and love.

Coherence indicates a state of smooth, harmonious function where there is optimal use of energy and ordered, rhythmic patterns in the heart. It also relates to harmonious connection between different systems of the body such as the respiratory, circulatory and immune systems. The potential benefits of a coherent state include relaxation, improved energy levels and a stronger immune system.

Closely related to the state of coherence is Heart-rate variability (HRV). This is a measure of the normal, naturally occurring variations in the amount of time between heartbeats and when our heart-rate variability operates within healthy limits we can achieve a coherent state.

Our thoughts, feelings and breathing patterns all influence these moment to moment, beat to beat, heart-rhythm patterns. The opposite is also true. So our heart and brain, thoughts and feelings, breathing and circulation are all interconnected.

Perhaps we are starting to establish a scientific picture of the heart to explain its elevated status within the traditional medical and spiritual teachings of The East which I will explore soon……

Spencer Joseph

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