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Your Heart Brain

The Heart-Brain and the Core

          The main objective of this site is to help you have the experience of living increasingly from a core of calm, ease, and contentment – and to be more creative, compassionate, and effective in all that you do.

          Your heart-brain, much like your mid-prefrontal cortex (or MPFC), can have a profoundly integrating and harmonizing effect on your brain and body, making that core more accessible.

           Whereas the power of your MPFC is cultivated primarily through mindful attention, the power of your heart-brain lies in its capacity to evoke positive emotions - in the form of love, compassion, empathy, goodwill, etc.  When you focus those positive emotions towards others, not only do they feel safer, your emotional brain feel safer as well.  And when it feels safer, it spends less energy looking for potential threats to your self-image, your self-esteem, or the fulfillment of your desires.  And that means you'll have more energy for more constructive purposes, and it will be much easier for you to connect to other people.

          The most powerful balancing influence on your brain takes place when your MPFC and heart brain are both activated.  And that happens when you're attending to your experience with mindful attention along with a positive emotional regard.  We call this "mindful, heartful attention". It helps you to see people and events with greater clarity, and to have access to an intuitive intelligence that just "“knows" the right thing to do.  

          Mindful attention, which activates your MPFC, can be very powerful.  However, if you’re caught in a wave of strong negative emotion or reactivity, evoking a positive emotion can be a faster way to shift your mood, integrate the different parts of your brain, and connect you to your core.  This is because the heart-brain, which has been around for a longer time, can work faster than the newer, less experienced MPFC.

Positive Emotions and Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

What is HRV?

          Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the rhythm of your heart beat.  As the name implies, it reflects how much variability there is in the space between heartbeats.  You might think the more steady it is, the better it would be – but the opposite is true.  Higher variability in heart rhythm means you’re more adaptable, and is associated with better all-around health.

HRV and Our Emotions

           HRV varies depending, in part, on your emotional state.   When you’re experiencing frustration, anger, fear, or other negative emotions, the pattern of your HRV is jagged and disordered.  This is referred to as an "incoherent" HRV.  However, if you evoke a feeling of appreciation, compassion, or other positive emotion, within seconds that pattern can become smooth and ordered – or "coherent".

           The more coherent your HRV, the more likely it is that you will be enjoying good health and emotional balance.

HRV and the Thinking Brain

         Your emotional state and HRV also affect the functioning of your higher brain.  When your HRV is incoherent, it’s harder to think clearly.  When it’s coherent, your brain’s electrical rhythm can synchronize to your heart’s coherent HRV, making your thinking more coherent as well.

           So when your heart brain and head brain are synchronized, you not only feel better, you’re smarter.

Who’s the Boss?

           You might be inclined to think that between your heart brain and head brain, it would be your head brain that calls the shots.  But the heart brain doesn’t just automatically bow down to the directives of your head brain.  It makes its own decisions.

           When your head brain feels threatened, it sends out alarm signals that cause your heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, etc., to rev up. But if, in response, your heart emanates a coherent pattern, that will send messages back to your head brain telling it to calm things down.  And your head brain obeys.

The Effect of Positive Emotions 

           Evoking positive emotions by activating your heart-brain has many positive effects, both physical and psychological.  Heart-brain researchers have shown that when you practice evoking positive emotions like love, appreciation, and gratitude on a regular basis, it has a powerful integrating effect on your brain and nervous system.  They refer to this state of mind-body integration as "psychophysiological coherence".

Physical Effects

          Physically, coherence results in organ systems that function more efficiently, and collaborate more harmoniously, with each other.  Among others, these systems include the:

  • central nervous system (CNS)
  • autonomic nervous system (ANS)
  • endocrine system
  • immune system
  • cardiovascular system

          As a result of greater coherence, you have more energy, and at the same time it’s easier for you to relax.  It also helps to reduce any physical pain you may be having, and increases your resistance to various illnesses. 

Psychological Effects

          Psychologically, coherence is associated with:

  • less incessant mental chatter
  • less stress
  • greater emotional balance
  • greater mental clarity
  • increased access to intuition and insight
  • increased ability to attune to and empathize with others

 Note:  Coherence corresponds to what we refer to as "integration."

Practicing Heart-Centering

          As you explore the various practices in the Techniques section of this site, you’ll discover that they work well together to bring balance into your life.  Breathing and relaxation help calm your autonomic nervous system and relax your muscles.  Imagery activates the right hemisphere of your brain, which helps you be more in touch with your body and emotions.  Concentration  makes any practice you do more powerful.  And both mindfulness and heart-centering will help you free your attention from the things you get overly caught up in, making it possible for your to experience your core. 

          But of all the techniques, you may find heart-centering to be an especially  powerful one. After you've practiced it for a while, you may find it can quickly shift your mental and emotional state, allowing you to have a more ongoing experience of your core.