There is a group of rather obtuse characters located in Boulder Creek, nestled deep in the dazzling redwoods within the Santa Cruz Mountains. We used to go to the Boulder Creek Festival every year especially because you could bring your dog. It’s a small mountain town that at any given time is 20 degrees warmer than the coast were we used to live or rather freeze. Generally sunny and warm with the breathtaking piney scent of the redwood trees permeating everything. Here is where the Heartmath Institute resides. They study some of the more let’s say interesting aspects of the heart.
HEART RATE VARIABILITY
The basic premise of their technology revolved around something called Heart Rate Variability (HRV). A normal, healthy, heart has an intrinsic variability to its beating. That is to say that it varies from one moment to the next. That’s a good sign when it does that, the more variability, the healthier the heart. Reduced HRV in patients recovering from a heart attack has been associated with increased risk of death. When there is good, healthy variability we call that a state of coherence which is what we strive for when using one of their gadgets that measures HRV.
The Heartmath people have said that coherence ties into emotional health in a way that can affect performance, happiness, and stress in a profound way. There is however no proof of that. But if their product can help people reduce stress then it might be a good idea to try one.
Figure 1 below shows what a typical trace might look like which analyzes the heart rate and its variability to produce two images. This rhythm or its dysfunction can be measured and analyzed to reveal elements of disharmony and possibly disease. When analyzed and normal it’s called coherent (bottom trace). It’s a nice sinusoidal pattern. You can obtain software and fun computer stuff which measures these parameters. I have not tried one personally but many seem to enjoy using them.
The consequences of the heart beating is of course a heartbeat-a pulse-or more correctly a pulse pressure wave that is generated up and downward and across the body approximately 72 times a minute every day for a lifetime. This pulse is more than a physical image it is something much more beautiful and striking. It acts as a unifying dimension through which every single cell is synchronized. The constant pulsatile action weaves our cells together and aids in their unified actions. That’s the pulse pressure wave or PPW.
Figure 1 Heart Rate Variability. Lower trace is sinusoidal when healthy.
In a PBS production from Body and Soul with Gail Harris entitled Lessons from the Heart, Bruce Wilson MD Chief of Cardiology Columbia St Mary’s tells us the:
…science has shown that the heart communicates with the body and brain on various different levels.
- The heart sends neurological information to the brain and the rest of the body.
- Through the pulse, the heart sends energy in the form of a blood pressure wave. [PPW] Researchers have seen that changes in the electrical activity of brain cells occur in relation to the changes in the blood pressure wave.
- The heart communicates on a biochemical level, releasing atrial peptide, a hormone that inhibits the release of other stress hormones.
- The heart communicates electromagnetically. An EKG measured in the doctor’s office is actually an electrical signal produced by the heart. This signal can be picked up anywhere on the body, and permeates the space around us.
HeartMath has taken this information, and translated it into simple tools that focus on teaching us how to listen to, and follow, the intuitive information of the heart. We can learn how to better make decisions, and to use the power of the heart to manage the mind and emotions. [Emphasis mine]
Online on Body & Soul in the above mentioned piece they provide several techniques for stress reduction and improving mental-emotional problems through the heart. We all need stress reduction but in America we do not have any good, universal techniques for people to master. Heartmath provides all sorts of interesting applications some of which involve their Heart Rate Variability device which I cannot vouch for but I have seen several cardiologists use them with their patients. Here’s an example of one technique that can be done anywhere that I really like:
The three most powerful techniques are Freeze-Frame®, Cut-Thru® and Heart Lock-In®. What follows is a highly simplified version of each. A far more extensive examination of each technique, including scientific data, can be found in the book, The HeartMath Solution, by Doc Childre and Howard Martin.
Heart Lock-In– Rather than fixing something, Heart Lock-In is about experiencing your heart at a deeper level.
- Shift your attention away from your mind and focus on your heart.
- Remember the feeling of love or care you have for someone whom it’s easy for you to love. Focus on a feeling of appreciation for someone or something positive. Try to stay with that feeling for five to fifteen minutes.
- Gently send that feeling of love or appreciation to yourself and others.
In fifteen minutes, a Heart Lock-In can provide physical, mental and spiritual regeneration.
This and others are actually very Buddhist inspired techniques and are suspiciously close to some I know. Either way now you know one of them too. When doing the above technique try to bring your mind home so to speak while taking slower, deeper breaths. Inhale and hold it, then exhale deeply and slowly. You will be amazed at how calm you can get. Unless it’s summer at my house and 20 neighborhood lawnmowers are running at any given time period.
In the new field of neurocardiology scientists have discovered that the heart possesses its own intrinsic nervous system-a network of functionally sophisticated nerves containing over 40,000 neurons. This makes the heart a truly “brainy” organ. It gives the heart the ability to sense, process information, make decisions, and demonstrate a type of learning and memory all independent of the brain. It is so much more than the antiquated notions of heart-as-pump. We have known for some time that the heart manufactures and secretes hormones that profoundly affect brain and body function. In particular the heart secretes oxytocin referred to as the closeness, love, trust or bonding hormone. The heart also produces this enormous electrical field which extends outside the body for some distance. Scientists suspect that this electromagnetic field produced by the heart may have a novel role in communicating to other cells in the body or perhaps even other organisms that interact with their fields. Is it so far fetched? Within any EM field information can be contained. That alone tells us that at least in principle, information could be transferred from heart to heart. Is this how some of us experience love at first sight? How close do you need to be before two strangers experience love at first sight? Is it at the outer boundary of each heart’s EMF field?
Here’s one of the most interesting things I have ever heard or read. The heart possesses a far more extensive communication system with the brain than do other major organs. In addition, the heart plays a particularly important role in the generation of emotion. With many stimuli we actually see that the heart senses it first and then sends a signal to the brain which processes it secondly.
Contrary to being a stupid, mechanical pump it’s turning out that the heart is more like some vast integrative information center that with every heartbeat, the heart transmits complex patterns of neurological, hormonal, pressure, and electromagnetic information to the brain and throughout the body.
We all know that the heart pumps blood throughout the body, but new research shows it does a lot more. In fact the heart acts like a master control system sending powerful, healing commands to the brain and the rest of the body.
This means that there is an important neurological conversation taking place between heart and brain. When scientists map out this biological conversation they clearly see that the heart is sending a lot more information to the brain than it receives.
The heart also influences brain function through what is called the blood pressure wave. [The PPW] This is the wave of energy created by the beating heart that pushes blood through the arteries and veins. This blood pressure wave influences the electrical activity in the brain. As the blood pressure wave changes so does brain activity. In essence researchers now know that brain function is critically dependent on information it receives from the heart through the heart’s nervous system and blood pressure waves!
The third way the heart communicates to the brain and body is through hormones. In 1983 the heart was reclassified as part of our hormonal system. It produces several important hormones and one of them, atrial peptide, helps to reduce the release of the stress hormone cortisol. So, in this third instance, we have a chemical communication going on between heart and body all of the time.
The fourth way, however, is where things get really interesting. The heart is an electrical organ producing by far the largest amount of electrical energy in our bodies-forty to sixty times as much power as the second strongest source, the brain. This energy permeates every single cell in our bodies. The signal is so strong that it creates an electromagnetic field that surrounds the body in 360 degrees and can actually be measured up to three to four feet outside the body. That’s right, the electrical energy produced by the heart radiates outside the body into space.
As we examine the heart’s energetic communication, we move beyond biology and into physics-how electromagnetic and energetic fields relate to one another. How does the heart’s field affect the brain? How do fields created by living systems, like people or animals, affect one another? How does our field interact with the magnetic fields produced by the earth itself? Is the heart producing a non-linear field that extends out far beyond just a few feet? These are all questions that HeartMath researchers are looking at and I’m confident more exciting discoveries about the heart are in store.
DR. J. ANDREW ARMOUR
After extensive research, one of the early pioneers in neurocardiology, Dr. J. Andrew Armour, introduced the concept of a functional “heart brain” in 1991. His work revealed that the heart has a complex intrinsic nervous system that is sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a “little brain” in its own right. The heart’s brain is an intricate network of several types of neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells like those found in the brain proper. Its elaborate circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain – to learn, remember, and even feel and sense. The recent book Neurocardiology, edited by Dr. Armour and Dr. Jeffrey Ardell, provides a comprehensive overview of the function of the heart’s intrinsic nervous system and the role of central and peripheral autonomic neurons in the regulation of cardiac function.
The heart’s nervous system contains…sensory neurites, which detect circulating hormones and neurochemicals and sense heart rate and pressure information. Hormonal, chemical, rate and pressure information is translated into neurological impulses by the heart’s nervous system and sent from the heart to the brain through several afferent (flowing to the brain) pathways. It is also through these nerve pathways that pain signals and other feeling sensations are sent to the brain. These afferent nerve pathways enter the brain in an area called the medulla, located in the brain stem. The signals have a regulatory role over many of the autonomic nervous system signals that flow out of the brain to the heart, blood vessels and other glands and organs. However, they also cascade up into the higher centers of the brain, where they may influence perception, decision making and other cognitive processes.
Dr. Armour describes the brain and nervous system as a distributed parallel processing system consisting of separate but interacting groups of neuronal processing centers distributed throughout the body. The heart has its own intrinsic nervous system that operates and processes information independently of the brain or nervous system. This is what allows a heart transplant to work: Normally, the heart communicates with the brain via nerve fibers running through the vagus nerve and the spinal column. In a heart transplant, these nerve connections do not reconnect for an extended period of time, if at all; however, the transplanted heart is able to function in its new host through the capacity of its intact, intrinsic nervous system. [Emphasis mine]
With the fact that nervous connections are not existent in the immediate post-op period of a heart transplant, isn’t it even stranger and more difficult to explain how “personality” can be transferred?
Now imagine if you will the disruption of this amazing system that accompanies anyone with heart disease and most importantly the devastation a patient must feel after a major heart attack.
You should know that your heart is the most beautiful and complex thing on Earth-treat it well.
As if we needed more-well some certainly do. Historically we attributed other personality traits to still other organs like courage which comes from the gall bladder: “he had the gall to tell off his boss.” Still other less savory folks sport a brain in their hinder and use it all the time: “Yep that Timmy has an a*@ for brains!” Thankfully most of us can say that we don’t sport a brain in our butts. How many brains do we have? Which ones do we actually use on a frequent basis? A very intuitive person probably uses the gut on a regular basis. Others will try to ignore those signals as nonsense when presented.
Because of my martial arts training I am always aware of my surroundings and after doing trauma for eight years in the LA county area I am fully aware of the brutality and savagery of Man. At LAC-USC Medical Center or any number of trauma centers in the LA area where I worked, I used to make a habit of asking my patients in the recovery room if they can talk how the attack happened. To the person it was always like it came out of nowhere, “some dude” was extremely aggressive and relentless until you were down for the count with a hole in your heart, liver or femoral artery. The entire escapade taking perhaps a minute or two and poof the perp is gone. To be sure if they had heeded their gut warning they might have been spared a vicious attack. I never did ask them about a gut feeling which may have given me some interesting responses.
NEVER IGNORE YOUR GUT-PLEASE!
There is a new syndrome that I recently read about that some people develop which overrides the gut’s primitive and effective warning system. In this case the person magically feels impervious to assault. It’s germinated in an illusion, based on a belief system formulated from what some would call political correctness (PC) from Junk Food TV and other media. It says that all people are basically good, violent crime happens to “someone else” and you are protected by the police at all times.
Since you have a good heart you feel as though everyone is like you. You therefore do not need to be responsible for your own safety because you are safe. This often times leads to catastrophe. Witness the case of extreme mob violence leaving one 27 year old man with permanent brain damage after moving into a high-crime neighborhood in Minneapolis. The other name for this is stupidity by the way. When you find yourself on an empty street corner heading to an ATM at 2 AM, even in Beverly Hills, always look the area over first and watch your six. If you get a weird feeling get the hell out of there immediately. Never, ever ignore your gut!
My Dad would not be alive today had he not responded properly to his instinctual gut telling him to move: on the freeway he was overtaking a semitrailer on a hill when in the middle of the passing lane, going 75mph, something tells him “get back in the right lane NOW!” Slamming on his brakes and pulling behind the semi just in time to see a car in the passing lane come over the hill-going the opposite direction-right towards him. It would have been a head-on collision of epic proportions. Another time a canoe “un-assed” and flew off this guy’s car but my Dad had been warned seconds earlier and had switched lanes not a moment too soon.
I have had this sensation several times as well. When we were building out our restaurant we did the general contracting and helped with the nuts and bolts stuff too. This particular afternoon I had a nagging feeling to leave before something bad happens. On that day we were installing a huge 1200 pound steel girder across the entire top floor ceiling. Several hours after leaving I learned that the beam broke off on one side and swept across the middle of the room like an enormous baseball bat suspended only by the massive bolts that secured the opposite end. It bashed one of the workers off his ladder and nearly killed him. Had I been there I suspect I would have been killed or injured severely.
More recently, on route to Milwaukee from Santa Cruz my girlfriend and I got sick of driving and pulled into a motel in a small desert town in Nevada. We pulled into our “spot,” in front of our assigned room. Locking the truck’s door, I turned toward our room and passed another occupied room right next door. They saw me, I saw them no big deal right? Happens all the time after all it is a motel and it is full.
That was all I needed. It was so clear to me that it was like hearing a tornado warning on TV. No sooner were we in our room and I told Corrie it’s time to get the f**k out of here, now. The gut feeling I had was a deep, clear sense of great personal harm. As if a number of alarm clocks suddenly went off, when I passed that room I “knew” what they were thinking. I felt that if we stayed there we would be robbed and possibly killed. They would take what they wanted off the Land Rover. It was sitting there in front of them like a treasure chest, while keeping us in the room and from there…. Corrie, duh, didn’t have a clue-absolutely no gut feeling about anything. We will never know but I pulled my ass out of several fires by following my gut. I have no doubt in my mind that they were conspiring to rob us while we were conspiring to high-tail it out of there for good! For some of you the voice isn’t loud like it was for me. It was a boat horn this time, worse than ever before. In that case you must cultivate it or you may end up in trouble some day. Either way you need to learn to pay attention to it.
In spite of the reluctance of most to develop one’s intuitive self, I think we can all agree that there is something to it. This is not simply made up by magical thinking. Rather it is an ancient emotion relied on since the dawn of time. It has served us well. That’s the gut-brain and the heart-brain thingy.
Next time I’ll start our main discussion on dysbiosis. From there there’s a few things to say about dysbiosis and autism and gut basics 101. Stay tuned for more of the gut, all of the gut. Later alligator.
 Howard martin the Power of the Heart (http://www.heartmath.com.au/science_behind_heartmath.htm) 06/12/2011
 Madure’s Kiosk Neurocardiology: The Brain in the Heart http://madurasinghe.blogspot.com/2008/06/neurocardiology-brain-in-heart.html 12/19/2011