Unlocking the Communication Between the Heart and the Brain

The heart is far more than a simple pump. It is, in fact, a highly complex information processing center with its own functional brain. The heart-brain communicates with and acts upon the cranial brain through the nervous system, the hormonal system, and other pathways. These influences affect the function of the brain along with that of most other organs, and they play an important role in mental and emotional experiences.

Communication between the heart and the brain is a dynamic, ongoing, two-way dialogue, each continuously influencing the other. The heart communications to the brain in four major ways:

  1. Neurologically through the transmission of nerve impulses.
  2. Biochemically via hormones and neurotransmitters.
  3. Biophysically through pressure waves.
  4. Energetically through electromagnetic field interactions.

Clearly, heart-originated messages affect brain activity in a multitude of ways. Moreover, those messages affect overall performance.

We have long acknowledged that the heart, overtaxed by constant emotional influences or excessive physical effort and deprived of appropriate rest, suffers disorders of function and becomes vulnerable to disease. This stress is associated with a variety of pathological conditions including hypertension, coronary disease, cardiac arrhythmia, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, fatigue and so on. Stress and negative emotions have been shown to increase disease severity and worsen prognosis for individuals with a difficult health condition. In fact, it is the feelings of anxiety, irritation, frustration, lack of control, and hopelessness that are actually what we experience when we describe ourselves as stressed. On the other hand, positive emotions and effective emotional self-regulation skills have been shown to prolong health and significantly reduce premature mortality.

Emotions determine what we care about and what motivates us; without them, life would lack meaning and purpose. Emotions are the primary drivers of many key physiological processes involved in energy regulation; so, emotions are connected to the idea of resilience. In the context of the human body, we define resilience as the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, adversity, trauma, or challenge. Thus, a key marker indicating good health, optimal function and resilience is the ability to manage one’s emotions. An important skill that most people need to learn is how to increase their capacity to self-regulate emotions, attitudes, and behaviors. When the mind and emotions are synchronized, we are more self secure and aligned with our deeper core values and respond to stressful situations with increased resilience and inner balance.

Measurements of heart function can serve as a marker for one’s ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the normally occurring beat-to-beat changes in heart rate. Specifically, an optimal level of HRV reflects health function and an inherent self-regulatory capacity, adaptability, and resilience. Too much instability, seen with arrhythmias or nervous system chaos, is detrimental to efficient physiological functioning and energy utilization. Too little variation indicates age-related system depletion, chronic stress, or inadequate functioning in various levels of self-regulatory control systems.

Emotional control and other forms of self-regulation require practice. Heart-focused self-regulation techniques can be coupled with technologies that provide real-time HRV feedback. Together, they provide a systematic process for self-regulating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

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