By Anita Ramsden, kinesiologist
The heart represents many things. More than just an organ that pumps oxygenated blood around our bodies to keep us alive, it is also a universal symbol of love and governs our ability to give and receive this vital emotion.
As a result, the kind of language we use in relation to the heart tends to be quite profound. We say things are ‘heartfelt’ and advise others to ‘speak from the heart’ or ‘follow your heart’. The phrase ‘you can’t decide with your head, you need to trust your heart’ is also a common one and positions this important organ as a key link between mind and body.
In physiological terms alone, the heart is an incredible machine. The size of a fist, it weighs about 10oz (283 grams) and beats around 70 times a minute. In that time, it moves five to seven litres of blood around the body, or up to 7,600 litres a day. Without its constant activity, we would die immediately.
The heart also has its own electromagnetic field, which being the largest in the body, permeates every cell and sends signals to our brain. Electrocardiograms (ECG) have indicated that the power of this field is 60 times greater than that of brain waves and can be measured several feet away from the body. The heart and brain synchronise through these energetic impulses and scientists working in the relatively new discipline of neurocardiology believe they are the basis of heart-brain communication.
These scientists have also discovered that the heart is a sensory organ, which consists of 40,000 neurons that are commonly associated with the brain. In fact, according to the HeartMath Institute: “The heart acts as a sophisticated information encoding and processing centre that enables it to learn, remember and make independent functional decisions that do not involve the cerebral cortex” of the brain.
Such information may help to explain why cardiac surgeons counsel patients and family members about the surprising after-effects of some heart transplant surgery. The patient who receives a donated organ can take on the characteristics, memories, tastes and preferences of the donor.
Recipients may also recall their donor’s personal details and in some instances, recognise and even feel love for their family and friends. In the words of Dr Daniel Keown, a practitioner of both Eastern and Western medicine and author of ‘The Spark in the Machine’, this scenario would appear to indicate that the heart has carried the donor’s memories within itself and shared them with its new recipient’s brain.
But there is also other evidence of a heart-brain link. For example, more heart attacks take place at 9am on a Monday morning than at any other time of the week, possibly due to an association with stressful situations such as work.
Stress-induced or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, otherwise known as broken heart syndrome, likewise occurs when part of the heart is temporarily no longer able to pump well. This condition is commonly seen in patients following the death of a loved one. Metaphorically and physically, they are heart-broken.
But the heart is just as responsive to love and compassion. According to Deepak Chopra in his book ‘Training the Mind, Healing the Body’, the survival rate of patients who have had a heart attack is 80% higher if they believe their partner loves them. Research also shows that people who are in loving, kind and affectionate relationships experience less hardening of the arteries.
If someone is caught up in negative emotions such as anger, frustration or anxiety, on the other hand, their heart rhythms become more erratic and disordered as the endocrine system responds to the situation and their body goes into fight or flight mode.
Experiencing positive emotions such as appreciation, love or compassion produces the opposite effect though, creating highly ordered or coherent patterns that move the body into a state of peace. The heartbeat becomes even and synchronises with other bodily functions, such as blood pressure, digestion and breathing, which calms everything down.
Another consideration in this context are the health benefits of being kind. The feelings generated from performing acts of kindness and compassion, or even of simply witnessing them, creates oxytocin – the ‘happiness hormone’ – in our body. Oxytocin, in turn, produces nitric oxide, which softens the walls of our arteries, improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure.
So it makes sense, both for ourselves and others, to choose a day each week to undertake kind acts. As Dr David Hamilton indicates in his books ‘Molecules of Kindness‘ and ‘Born to be Kind’: “We are genetically wired for kindness. The kindness gene, in fact, is 500 million years old – it’s one of our most ancient genes – which is WHY kindness impacts our biochemistry. It’s our deepest nature.”
Hugging someone, including your pet, is also another great way to produce oxytocin. Doing so will lead to a drop in your heart rate, reduce your stress hormones, cut your production of free radicals and lessen inflammation.
A lovely correction technique that I also use from the Creative Kinesiology school of practice is called ‘Heart Appreciation’. You can try it yourself by simply concentrating your mind on someone or something that you really appreciate and feeling how good it feels to do so.
Then breathe the feeling into your heart and let it spread throughout your entire body. Imagine your heart as a cup and watch it overflow. Your whole body will relax and your energy levels will rise significantly. Because it really is about feeling the love at every level – in body, mind and most particularly in the heart.
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