We often hear or talk about body, mind and spirit and their alignment in connection to wellbeing. That we are interconnected systems in a continuous exchange with our environment is clear. Research, as well as our daily experience, confirms for example that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind in so many ways.
I study and work on resilience, our innate capacity to stand strong and stay flexible in the face of adversity and challenge, and our capacity the grow from what life throws at us, into our highest potential. The alignment of body, mind and spirit is a condition for being more resilient, more grounded, more centred, more responsive, and more mentally agile. But as I worked on my own framework to help people realising their highest potential as human beings and overcoming often self-imposed limitations, it occurred to me that one aspect was missing: the heart.
Growth in my own personal experience has implied that I learned not to just protect and defend myself but that I also that I opened up my heart to life. The question is, do science and research back up this intuition? I base my work on evidence – based approaches, so I started researching with great curiosity this subject. As I did, the case for the heart playing an important role in our resilience and wellbeing became more and more solid, backed up by over 40 years of research (and a the few centuries of yogis and eastern teachings). Science catching up with grandma?
While the heart, for example, has its own mini-brain (intrinsic cardiac nervous system), it is in constant communication with the heart. It has been shown that the heart may be sending more signals to the brain than the other way around. The heart receives information from the body and the external environment and transmits it to the brain via the hormonal, nervous and electromagnetic systems. The heart rate variability (HRV) reflects our emotional states, and directly impacts the activity of the brain and of the autonomic nervous system (our accelerating and breaking system). When the heart and brain are in a state oh coherence, we function better, we think more clearly, we respond more effectively to the environment and we connect better to the people around us.
“During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals travelling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions” (HeartMath Institute). Contrary to what we may think, our heart rate is far from
being regular, even in resting conditions. It is actually very irregular, with the interval between heartbeats continuously changing from beat to beat, as a reaction to the activity of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It is this variability that reflects whether we operate in a state of coherence or not and whether we can respond resiliently to stress.
Resilience is a capacity, which we can train, which we can build and which we can deplete. While many factors, including our breath, physical exercise and thoughts impact our HRV, it is a common experience for people to report that it is the emotional experiences in our day that tend to deplete us or energise us the most. The heart rate variability (HRV) is the measuring system of our emotional responses.
Emotions like anger, frustration and anxiety tend to deplete our resilience resources as they activate the sympathetic nervous system (the accelerator) and trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which stays in our body for up to 12 hours after the stressful event.
When we experience renewing emotions, like joy, gratefulness and contentment, we undo the effect of stress in our physiology and we recreate a state of coherence and harmony in systems. This is what ultimately makes us more resilient and the heart plays a great role in mediating these responses.
Would you like to try that? Here is a simple technique, developed by the HeartMath Institute.
HEART FOCUSED ® BREATHING
With eye open or closed, bring your attention to your heart area and find your breath there. Slow down your breath a little, to a comfortable 4 or 5 seconds rhythm of in breaths and out breaths. And just breathe keeping your focus on your heart for a few minutes.If you would like to find out more, you can contact me at [email protected]
Alessandra Marazzi, HeartMath Coach, Coach at The Resilience Path, Mindfulness Educator and Practitioner.