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Calming emotional overwhelm with HeartMath® – Part 2: The Intelligent Heart

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Part 2: The intelligent heart
In Part 1 of this article we considered how unregulated stress
can contribute to inflammation in the body and the onset of
chronic diseases. We saw that our emotional states are reflected
in heart rate variability (HRV) patterns, with positive emotions like
appreciation being associated with a regular HRV pattern, and
negative emotions like irritation generating a chaotic pattern. In
this article, we explore recent discoveries about the physiology
of the heart, which are helping us to reclaim the vital role of the
heart in our emotional and spiritual lives.1
For hundreds of years, Western science has been based on a
mechanistic view of the world. Living organisms and systems
have been described using mechanical models and metaphors.
It is therefore not surprising that the significance of the heart
was reduced from ‘seat of the soul’ to a mere ‘pump’ in the
circulatory system. Despite all our experiential and language
evidence for the integral role that the heart plays in our lives,
many of us accepted the limited explanations presented in
biology textbooks. Thankfully, science is catching up with what
we have always known, and the heart is being restored to its
rightful place of honour in the body-mind:
• School taught me that the heart consisted mainly of cardiac
muscle – but in fact around 60% of the heart is neural (nerve)
tissue. So the heart is not just a muscular pump! Having about
40 000 sensory nerve cells, it is also an internal sensory organ,
able to monitor and respond to heart rate, blood pressure
and hormone levels. Other nerves in the heart integrate this
information with nerve messages from the brain and body.
• I also learnt that the brain was the ‘master organ’, directing
all the systems of the body. But in fact the heart and gut both
demonstrate high degrees of autonomy, and send more
messages to the brain (90%) than the brain sends to them
(10%). Our ‘body politic’ appears to be far more democratic
than dictatorial, with decisions emerging from an ongoing
internal conversation.
• Recently, the heart was reclassified as an endocrine organ as it
produces hormones like Atrial Natriuretic Peptide (ANP), which
regulates blood pressure among other things. Unsurprisingly,
the heart also produces Oxytocin, the love- or bonding
hormone, which was previously thought to be produced only
in the brain.
There are at least two more ways in which the heart exerts its
influence …
• Each time the heart beats, it sends a pulse wave surging
through the blood vessels. The heart’s beat-to-beat rhythm
(HRV pattern) communicates information about the emotional
state to the brain and other organs. The heart is the body’s
Calming emotional overwhelm with HeartMath®
For more information, contact Alice on 082 720 7444 or or visit
strongest rhythmic generator and can ‘entrain’ other systems
to its rhythm. Whether your heart beats out an anxious or
peaceful rhythm, it pulls weaker oscillating systems like the
nervous and hormonal systems into a similar rhythm, with
predictable effects.
• Finally, the beating heart generates a donut-shaped
electromagnetic field that both penetrates the body and
surrounds it to a distance of about four metres. This field is
so powerful that an electrocardiogram (ECG) can measure
it about a metre from the body. Our emotions modulate
this ‘radio spectrum’ of the heart, transmitting their effects
instantaneously throughout the body-mind, and into our
surroundings, where they can be detected by and influence
other living beings.
The heart communicates with the brain and body via the pulse,
nerve signals, the endocrine system, and electromagnetically.
(Illustration adapted from HeartMath® materials)
The heart is so much more than a pump! Its HRV patterns encode
emotional information that has an impact – either positive or
negative – on the functioning of the brain and body, and on
our relationships. HeartMath practices return the heart to a
calm, coherent rhythm, enabling us to shift out of negativity
and overwhelm, and to establish a new baseline in which the
emotions are more stable, the mind is clear, and the body
functions more efficiently.
Alice Ashwell PhD is a licensed HeartMath coach and a facilitator
of Nature experiences. In addition to individual life coaching,
she offers introductory experiential HeartMath sessions for small
groups, and Calming Exam Anxiety, a five-session course that
helps students perform better in exams.
1 For further information, please consult the numerous research
papers on the HeartMath Institute website (www.heartmath.or

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