In the last letter, I wrote how a healthy gut can help us make better decisions. We can also improve the brain-heart connection.
The Heart and Emotions Affect Our Ability to Think and Relate
The HeartMath Institute has done the research to confirm a lot that we intuitive types have felt was true:
- If we have strong negative emotions like anger and frustration, we don’t think as clearly.
- We can feel another’s mood to some extent; in this way, we are connected to each other.
- Taking this research one step further, when I was a stressed out as a classroom teacher, my students picked up on this, and it affected their ability to learn. I could see this by their lack of involvement and negative attitudes towards learning.
We Can Measure Our Heart Coherence
Using a measurement called the Heart Rate Variability (HRV), neuroscientists at HeartMath Institute noted that this HRV could create a coherent or incoherent pattern in a person. When this HRV had a coherent pattern, the brain functioned better. Memory consolidation worked better, proving the connection of the heart and brain.
Here is my rendition of a graph from www.healthy-heart-meditation.com/heart-rate-variability.html#gallery[pageGallery]/1/ *
In one of their graphs, the HeartMath Institute showed how the HRV became coherent for a boy when his dog came into a room. In other words, when the boy felt joy and appreciation, his HRV pattern was coherent. When the dog left, the HRV pattern in the boy became more incoherent.
Under Stress, We Process Information Poorly
Back in the day, I didn’t measure my HRV pattern but I had little peace or confidence, and memory consolidation was a challenge. My brain felt scattered; it was hard to concentrate. If I felt overwhelmed by my job, I stuck closely to the boring textbook and took few creative risks.
My students knew I cared about them and this went a long way in helping them learn. But my teaching and their learning was not as transformative as when I felt confident to add movement, mindfulness, breathing, and drama to my curriculum. This opened their minds to more learning probably because it relaxed tension in the heart center.
What do you do when you have an incoherent heart pattern? Do you simply begin to appreciate life? Yes. But there is more to it in my experience.
When a person is angry or depressed and the HRV is incoherent, the heart needs to release the tension of the negative emotion. This is what people mean by “opening the heart.”
8 Ways to Improve Brain Function
If the heart is closed through tension of any kind, there are ways to bring it back into coherence and openness so the brain functions better.
- Do something for someone else. Begin wherever you are. Teaching others helped for me. I cared about my students and I cared about helping them. It opened my heart and (on the good days) moved me into a place of appreciation and heart coherence.
- Pay attention to the heart center. When is it more relaxed? In nature, with animals, with friends. See it like a valve which you can open and close at will. It is a little bit like exercising a muscle. Practice having an open feeling there. It can feel vulnerable. Living with an open heart is the Ninja Warrior of Empowerment. If you live with an open heart, you also need to learn boundaries—teach people how to treat you, not dump on you, while staying open. In addition, when others send you negative energy, you need to learn to let it pass through and not react.
- Focus on your breathing and other body parts besides the brain. When you breathe deeply you remove some of the tension in your body. Move your body in a slow, meaningful way. This will change the chaotic rhythm of worry and tension.
- Appreciate material things.** I have had a negative relationship with inanimate objects. I was impatient with the computer, and I didn’t like cars much. I remember Oprah saying that rich people took care of their things. I had to shift how I viewed my car and the things in my home. It shifted my attitude and I had more energy.
- Be in the moment and feel gratitude even when cleaning! Normally I have a terrible attitude cleaning. I feel I’m wasting time and frustrated. I heard something that helped me. How did your mother or others in your life feel while they were doing chores? Most likely you are copying that feeling. When I noticed this influence of the past, some of that heavy emotion lifted. I realized these emotions weren’t mine; I was reacting to stimulus from years ago.
- Examine wounds of your heart. Do some digging into the past. Uncover hurts but don’t blame others or yourself for too long. Analyze the situation, release the emotions like anger and sadness, let them go through writing or through imagining them leaving you. For me, the digging took years, the releasing too, and then there was the process of forgiving myself and others. Some special people are able to move right into appreciation. Malala, the schoolgirl from Afghanistan who was shot in the head by terrorists, shared in her Oprah interview that she was never angry at the men who shot her. When Oprah asked why, she said that if she spent time in anger, she wouldn’t be able to focus on her goals, the future, and helping others.
- Appreciate doing the small things. “Follow your heart” was hard for me. What do I love? How do I do it? If I was blocked, how could I open to those things I loved? Start small. I remember starting with a piece of chocolate and a cup of tea. I could appreciate those things. Then it grew to bigger things I loved and loved to do. This leads into the next tip:
- Love what you do now, if you can’t do what you love. Maybe you think you should be a dancer, but for some reason you cannot manifest the time or energy to dance, simply love what you do NOW. This will carry you to the next great activity with greater heart coherence.
Heart centered living and learning happen beyond the brain. It happens in the senses and the heart. If the brain is thinking obsessively, worrying, the heart is incoherent. If the heart is racing, breath is short, sweat is collecting on forehead and palms, we need to come back to coherence. Appreciating material things, being in the moment, sharing what we love, and more are ways to come back into heart coherence.
Let me know how you come into heart coherence in an email or below. And if you found this article interesting, tell your friends.
* Original image at http://www.healthy-heart-meditation.com/heart-rate-variability.html#gallery[pageGallery]/1/ Information on Heart Coherence and research from https://www.heartmath.org/
**Gratitude to Jen Ward for insights about material things and much more atwww.Jenuinehealing.com