Getting to the Heart of The Matter

9 April 2019

Last week I was honoured to spend 3 days with 15 others, training to become a certified HeartMath® coach. I left on Friday evening feeling empowered and excited to be able to have another layer of support I can offer my clients, as well as having a tool I can use personally to huge benefit.

What is HeartMath®?

It is nothing to do with maths! Steeped in evidence, HeartMath® is both a technique or method of practice and a technology platform which are proven to be effective in regulating the nervous system and thereby managing stress and anxiety disorders.

HeartMath® emWave® and Inner Balance™ self-regulation technology are based on over 28 years of scientific research on the psychophysiology of stress, resilience, and the interactions between the heart and brain.

Most of us have been taught in school that the heart is constantly responding to "orders" sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly known that the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart! Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function—influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. In other words, not only does the heart respond to the brain, but the brain continuously responds to the heart.

The heartbeat at rest, rather than being monotonously regular is actually and surprisingly irregular. With the time interval between consecutive heartbeats constantly changing. This naturally occurring beat to beat variation in the heart is called Heart Rate Variability (HRV).   



Why is HRV important?

It's the most amazing window into how we manage stress and what impact that's having on our body. It reflects our ability to adapt to stress and environmental demands which is critical information, as the lower our resilience to stress the more open we are to poor health and dis-ease.

The normal variability in heart rate is due to the synergistic action of the two arms of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS manages 90% (!!!) of the body’s functions -  unconsciously, such as breathing, heart rate and digestive and hormonal functions. And many factors affect the activity of the ANS, and therefore influence HRV.

As I mentioned, the ANS has 2 branches - one is the sympathetic nervous system; which prepares the body for action - the heart rate increases, blood is diverted away from deemed non-essential organs (like the digestive tract) to muscles, pupils dilate - it's the fight or flight response. The stress response inhibits your higher brain processes( the cortex ) so the body can focus on immediate survival. It can be likened to the accelerator pedal in a car.

The other branch, the parasympathetic can then be compared to the brake pedal, because it slows down these “stress” responses.   

It’s worth considering that the same response happens in your ANS, but to a lesser degree, when you are in a traffic jam, received an email from someone who has caused you anxiety of angst in the past or you have a row - you react, the ANS stays in overactive, the higher brain shuts down and mental overwhelm and gridlock is the result!

Emotions like frustration, anger, anxiety or worry cause the signals going down two branches of the ANS to become out of sync with each other - back to my car analogy - this is like watching your 16-year-old learning to drive - one foot is on the accelerator pedal (sympathetic branch) and the other on the brake (parasympathetic branch) at the same time - and you bunny hop all around the car park, and use up a load of fuel! Just as this causes wear and tear on your car, having the two branches of the ANS out of sync causes hormonal anarchy and multiple system impact such as fatigue, brain fog, poor concentration, PMS, worsening menopausal symptoms and more!

HRV Patterns

Stress (emotional and physical, such as dealing with an infection) causes the heart rhythm patterns that appear irregular and erratic: the HRV looks like a series of uneven and jagged peaks - this is termed incoherent.

In contrast, positive emotions and joy create a smooth, ordered and harmonious wave- and this is called a coherent heart rhythm pattern.

When we are in “coherent patterns” the activity in the 2 branches of the ANS are synchronised and the body’ systems perform optimally. Back to my car again (last time I promise!) - here we are hovering at the top of a hill with one foot on the clutch the other on the accelerator and we’ve reached a sweet spot of coherence. We are performing optimally, conserving energy and all systems are running well. We are not rolling back into the dell behind us of being totally in parasympathetic drive with no get-up and go, nor are we catapulting down the hill towards stress town and chaos.

I will be integrating HRV testing on all my clients that work with me through my 1:1 consultation packages. By using the emWave® cutting edge technology we will measure your physiological response to stressors and cognitive performance. We will then discuss techniques to help you respond better during stressful situations to improve your emotional wellbeing.

In health, Tanya x