My dearest people …
We are in the deep middle of the Season of the Heart, where the energetics of the Sun are strongest, sending us Vitamin D and serotonin, and the Earth is alive with an abundance of colors and fragrances. Flowers are feeding the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, and the bunnies scampering in the grass are so abundant this year! We are midway in our journey through the Year of the Yin Rabbit, and the message continues to be: cultivate inner stillness, inner quiet, and reconnect with our innate wisdom and guidance by aligning ourselves with the coherence of our hearts.
This is a wonderful time to gently remind ourselves to listen to the whispers of our heart and practice kindness and self-compassion. But what does that look like, feel like, and why do we need those moments of peace and inner silence?
Instead of a philosophical slant, lets spice this up with some neuroscience research:
As far back as the middle of the last century, it was recognized that the heart, when overtaxed by constant emotional influences or excessive physical effort and deprived of appropriate rest, suffers disorders of function and becomes vulnerable to disease. (Hilton, J., 1863)
Scientists and physicians have long known that emotional changes are accompanied by measureable and predictable changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and digestion. (Rein, Atkinson, et al, 1995)
Emotions, more so than thoughts alone, activate the physiological changes comprising the stress response. Research shows a purely mental activity such as recalling a past situation that provoked anger does not produce nearly as profound an effect on physiological processes as actually engaging the emotion associated with that memory. In other words, reexperiencing the feeling of anger provoked by the memory has a greater effect than thinking about it. (McCraty, R., et al., 1995).
After years of research, evidence that the heart communicates with the brain in ways that significantly affect how we perceive and react to the world was observed. The heart seemed to have its own specific logic, frequently diverging from the direction of the autonomic nervous system. Meaningful messages appeared to be sent from the heart to the brain, and the brain not only understood but also obeyed. (Lacey and Lacey, 1978). Years later, neurophysiologists discovered a neural pathway and mechanism whereby input from the heart to the brain could inhibit or facilitate the brain’s electrical activity (McCraty, 2002).
In 2004, researchers revealed that the heart communicates information to the brain and throughout the body via electromagnetic field interactions. The heart actually generates the body’s most powerful and most extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field. The heart’s magnetic component is about 500 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body. It was proposed that this heart field acts as a carrier wave for information that provides a global synchronizing signal for the entire body.(McCraty, Bradley & Tomasino, 2004)
Stress and negative emotions have been shown to increase disease severity and worsen prognosis for individuals suffering from a number of different pathologies. (Brotman, D.J., S.H. Golden, and I.S. Wittstein, 2007). On the other hand, positive emotions and effective emotion self-regulation skills have been shown to prolong health and significantly reduce premature mortality. (Fredrickson, B.L., 2001).
Okay, so now we have some research findings to ponder and the evidence continues to build with a clear message: the body is influenced not only by what we eat and how we exercise, but definitely by not only how we think and choose to perceive the world, but how we also receive the world. The scientists and researchers all suggest that our perception, our view of the world and our place within it is truly pertinent to our mental, physical and emotional well being. And perhaps this information about the mysterious and fascinating intricacies of the body can spark an interest for you to consider implementing small changes to better attune the body and the mind to each other.
Last week I wrote about Dr. Candace Pert (1946-2013), who stated “your body is your subconscious mind”. She also famously posed the question: if the medical profession acknowledges ‘psychosomatic illness’ where the body is representing disturbance in the mind, doesn’t it also hold true that ‘psychosomatic WELLNESS’ can also be induced? So that, by practicing alignment between the heart (emotions) and the head (brain), the neural pathways for restoration, repair, recovery, regeneration can be prompted. Imagine that!!
An early editorial on the relationships between stress and the heart accepted the proposition that in about half of patients, strong emotional upsets precipitated heart failure. Unspecified negative emotional arousal, often described as stress, distress or upset, has been associated with a variety of pathological conditions, including hypertension, silent myocardial ischemia, sudden cardiac death, coronary disease, cardiac arrhythmia, sleep disorders, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, fatigue and many other disorders.
From a psychophysiological perspective, emotions are central to the experience of stress. 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. Whether it’s a minor inconvenience or a major life change, situations are experienced as stressful to the extent that they trigger emotions such as annoyance, irritation, anxiety and overwhelm.
Our emotions infuse life with a rich texture and transform our conscious experience into a meaningful living experience. Emotions determine what we care about and what motivates us. They connect us to others and give us the courage to do what needs to be done, to appreciate our successes, to protect and support the people we love and have compassion and kindness for those who are in need of our help. Emotions are also what allow us to experience the pain and grief of loss. Without emotions, life would lack meaning and purpose.
So how to bring all of these connections together for your own health and wellness?
Start small. Decide to take a few moments a day to simply put your hand on your heart, feel the life beat in your chest, take a deep breath, express gratitude, smile and exhale. That is the beginning of a new way of being with your own Self, quieting down your mind, slowing down the breath that signals the brain to ease into “rest and digest” mode. And as you practice this small step of attention, self-compassion and gratitude, more spaces open up and new neural pathways weave their way into your brain, creating the new habit of self-awareness and kindness.
There are many more “methods” of “how to do” – available online through a quick google search – from qigong to yoga to chanting to meditation to silent retreats, journaling and more. You are the true healer of your own body and mind and knowing and believing your thoughts and feelings can contribute to your wellness is empowering!!! But if you want help navigating the terrain of mindfulness and body awareness, it would be my privilege to support your journey.
One of my favorite sites is HeartMath for all things related to heart research.
The Fascinating Relationship between the Heart and Brain: