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The Heart

June 11, 2012

In many Eastern (and indeed Western) teachings throughout history the heart has been considered to be the seat of wisdom, love, emotion, memory, passion and mind. These ideas certainly stand in contrast to the modern Western view that these are all functions of the brain while the heart is little more than a sophisticated, muscular pump.

Since the heart is constantly referred to as a centre of consciousness in medical and spiritual teachings from The East it is interesting to have a brief overview of recent developments in the field of heart research.

Of course it has long been known that a significant shift in thoughts and emotions will trigger predictable changes in heart rate and blood pressure. In other words, the brain’s psychological processing influences the heart and the entire body. For example, when we are aroused by a perceived threat the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system is activated (the ‘fight or flight’ response) and when we feel safe the parasympathetic division is activated (the ‘rest or digest’ response ).

However, it is only over the last few decades that neuroscience has observed the direct influence of the heart on the brain. The heart may communicate with the brain and the body neurologically (through transmissions of nerve impulses), biochemically (through hormones and neurotransmitters), and biophysically (through pressure waves). Electromagnetic field interactions are also considered to be highly significant.

Neuroscientists have recently found that the heart has its own complex, independent nervous system known as the intrinsic cardiac nervous system – “the brain in the heart.” There are at least forty thousand neurons (nerve cells) in the heart (Armour J A (1991), Anatomy and function of the intrathoracic neurons regulating the mammalian heart. In: Zucker I H and Gilmore J P, eds. Reflex Control of the Circulation. Boca Raton, FL, CRC Press: 1-37.). This number is equivalent to many subcortical brain centres and there is a suggestion that the heart has its own capacity to learn, remember and feel.

Some of the heart’s nerve pathways enter the brain at the medulla and travel up into the cortex where they may influence perception, decision making and other cognitive processes (Armour J. A. (2004), Cardiac neuronal hierarchy in health and disease, American journal of physiology, regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology. Aug; 287(2):R262-71).

We also know that during heart transplant surgery the normal connection between the brain and heart (via the vagus nerve and spinal cord) is temporarily severed but the transplanted heart maintains functionality through its intrinsic nervous system (Murphy D A, Thompson G W, et al (2000), The heart reinnervates after transplantation. Annals of Thoracic Surgery; 69(6): 1769-1781).

The heart generates the body’s most powerful and most extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field. The heart’s magnetic component is about 500 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body. This raises many questions regarding the resonant effects of the heart on the brain, the rest of the body and the surrounding environment (including other people). There is also speculation that the heart may have the capacity to receive information from a wider field {McCraty R, Bradley RT, Tomasino D (2004), The Resonant Heart, Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness; 5:15-19}.

Intriguingly, there are also documented testimonials of many heart transplant patients who have suddenly adopted the personality traits of their anonymous donors. See Dr Paul Peasall’s questioning of 150 heart transplant patients which was published in Near-Death Studies magazine in 2002 entitled “Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients That Parallel the Personalities of Their Donors”.

So there is certainly much to consider when we explore further teachings about the heart………………..

Spencer Joseph

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