A few years ago it was discovered that we have not only one brain. The gut and the heart have their own circuits formed by tens of thousands of neurons that act as “little brains” inside our body and can have their own perceptions, to change the operating response of these and become a starting from their experiences. That is, in some way, even the heart is forming its own memories.
But the heart doesn’t have only a semi-autonomous neuron system but also a small factory of hormones. It secretes its own reserves of adrenaline, which uses when it needs to function at its full capacity. Secretes and also regulates the release of ANF, a hormone that regulates blood pressure. It also has its reserves of oxytocin, the hormone of love. Obviously, all these hormones act directly on the brain and on the body.
The heart, a small “brain” that beats to the rhythm of emotions and thoughts
When we learn to control our heart we can regulate our emotional brain, and vice versa. The strongest relationship between the heart and the emotional brain is established through the autonomic peripheral nervous system; the part of the nervous system that regulates the functioning of all our organs.
The autonomic nervous system consists of two branches that innervate every organ of the body from the emotional brain. The sympathetic branch releases adrenaline and noradrenaline, controls the fight and flight responses and accelerates the heart rate. The parasympathetic branch releases a different neurotransmitter that accompanies states of relaxation, as well as slows the heart rate.
These two systems, one acts as a brake and the other as an accelerator, should be in constant equilibrium. In fact, to address the problems of everyday life we need that brake and accelerator are in perfect conditions to compensate one another.
However, the heart is not limited to be influenced by the central nervous system, but also sends nerve fibers that control brain activity towards the base of the skull. In addition to the hormonal and electromagnetic influence, the heart also affects the emotional brain via direct nerve connections. This means that when the heart is irregular, it also brings with itself the emotional brain.
The swing reflected in the emotional brain and the heart is the frequency between heartbeats. The two branches of the autonomic nervous system are always about to speed up or slow down the heart, for this reason, the interval between two successive beats is never the same. This variability is healthy because indicates the correct functioning of the brake and accelerator and has nothing to do with the arrhythmia, tachycardia or symptoms of anxiety attacks that indicate that the parasympathetic brake does not control well the heart.
In fact, the heart can beat at an average of 60 beats per minute, but in an instant it can increase up to 70 and then down to 55, and we can’t understand why. A simple operation of complex mathematics is able to generate a tension that causes these peaks, even if we do not perceive it.
With new technology we’re able to perceive these changes in the heart rate, which are known as chaos and cardiac coherence. Generally, variations are soft and “chaotic”: accelerations and braking occur sparsely and irregularly. Conversely, when the frequency of the heartbeat is strong and healthy the phases of acceleration and deceleration of the speed alternation show rapid and regular. This produces an image of an harmonic wave, known as “cardiac coherence.”
Negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, sadness, and even mundane concerns, are the ones that drop the heart rate and wreaks the havoc. In contrast, positive emotions and feelings such as joy, gratitude, and above all love, are those that promote more coherence.
Obviously, chaos or cardiac coherence also affect our physiological rhythms. The frequency of blood pressure and breathing align quickly to the cardiac coherence, and these three systems are synchronized. So, learning to develop cardiac coherence means saving energy.
For example, the cardiac coherence helps our brain to be faster and more accurate, which means that our ideas flow naturally and effortlessly. We are also more likely to adapt to any kind of unexpected event, because we are in balance and open to anything that might happen.
How to develop the cardiac coherence?
We need a change of perspective: we must face the problem from backward. Instead of waiting for the external circumstances to be ideal, we must begin to check the inside. When we achieve balancing the physiological chaos, we automatically feel better and improve our results.
One of the most effective methods for improving cardiac coherence is meditation.
1. Direct your attention inward. We must disconnect from the outside world and from all worries for a few minutes. It is important that we accept that our concerns can wait for a while, the time it takes for the heart and brain to recover their balance. The best way to do this is to start by making slow, deep breaths thus stimulating the parasympathetic system and slightly tilting the balance towards the physiological “brake”. To maximize its effect we have to fully concentrate on breathing until it becomes more natural and harmonious.
2. Concentrate on your heart. After approximately one minute is important that we focus in the chest. We can imagine breathing through the heart. We will continue to breathe slowly and deeply visualizing the heart. We can imagine that the inspiration gives us the oxygen we need and the exhalation allows us to get rid of the waste. We can imagine slow and flexible movements while the heart relaxes.
3. Connect to the feeling of warmth or expansion in the chest. At first it will be very light, a way of enhancing it is to directly evoke a feeling of gratitude allowing it to invade our chest. The heart is always particularly sensitive to gratitude and to every sentiment of love.
Servan, D. (2003) Curación emocional. Barcelona: Editorial Kairós.