In the late 1990’s I read Gregg Braden’s book titled Awakening to Zero Point. In the book Braden mentioned a company named HeartMath ® that was conducting fascinating biofeedback research. Heartmath ® was describing how we can tap into the intelligence of the human heart and by doing so promote greater human consciousness and improve mental and physical health.
I was intrigued enough by this paragraph to begin an inquiry into the tools and techniques developed by the folks at HeartMath ®. I quickly found that their FreezeFramer ® biofeedback tool (now called the emWave ®) and the techniques to build heart coherence would become an integral part of my psychotherapy practice. It is my practice to teach the coherence building / stress busting technique to most everyone I treat.
Here is an explanation of coherence that I offer in my practice: When I sit down at my desk and it is piled up with paper and disorganized to some lesser or greater degree, it makes my job of focusing and completing a task more frustrating and complicated.
If I will take a few minutes to clean up the mess on my desk, clear off what I don’t need and put some order into the stuff I do need, then I find it much easier to focus on and complete the task(s) at hand. My clear desk offers a more coherent organized and clear space in which to do my work.
Our nervous systems are similar to this example. When we are under stress, frustrated, agitated, lonely or angry (to name a few), our nervous systems are in a more incoherent state. Much like the cluttered desk in my example above, when we are incoherent we tend to exercise poor judgment, have impaired insight, we may act without thinking an important situation through and we may have trouble regulating our emotions (calming ourselves down, reaching out to others for support etc). In other words incoherence makes getting the job done much more difficult. Our nervous systems are not operating well and as a consequence we are not operating well.
On the other hand when we bring our nervous systems into an optimally coherent state through some practice such as the Quick Coherence ® technique, we can clear out the emotional stuff that gets in the way of good decision making. This state represents a balancing of the branches of the autonomic nervous system. People often describe the state of high coherence in this way – relaxed + (mentally) clear. From this state of balanced mind&body we are in a much better position to return to an issue that had been daunting and find a different way of seeing it, approaching it and solving it. Often we find solutions that are completely different from any we had come up with when in an incoherent state.
You might wonder how the HeartMath ® tools measure coherence. Well, it’s all in the heart. It turns out that when our body / mind is in a state of low coherence (frustration, anger etc.) our hearts beat in a more irregular pattern than when we are in a state of higher coherence (appreciation, gratitude etc). As simple as it may sound here is a way we can measure coherence: We measure the time between heartbeats. The time between heartbeat #1 and beat # 2 and beat #2 will vary tiny bit. When viewed over time these tiny variations in the ‘space’ between heartbeats translates into a reliable measurement of stress. The more irregular these spaces are from beat to beat to beat, the lower the coherence (and the more stress on our system). HeartMath’s tools help you build an optimal level of variability from heart from beat to beat to beat……and therefore a high level of coherence (and the less stress on our system.)
So what if you could learn to communicate with your heart by directing your attention, focusing your breathing and activating certain ‘positive’ feelings (like appreciation or gratitude) and do so in a way which optimizes those spaces between heartbeats? Well, by doing this you learn to tap into the power of heart intelligence. Your heart and brain communicate in a way that builds higher coherence and thereby tells your nervous system to “stand down” lowering your stress, building your immunity & calming your mind. The result is better health, a clear mind and greater access to your intuition and creativity!
The emWave ® biofeedback tool allows you to literally watch the subtle moment by moment changes in your heart coherence. While you are watching this you are also demonstrating to yourself that you can change your emotional states and do so with a very simple practice. Every time you practice this you make yourself and the world a better place.
Here are some of the ways I use the Heartmath ® tools in my psychotherapy practice:
For other people who may be seeking treatment for an emotional issue I often introduce the techniques as a way to learn to calm and clear the mind. I think of these skills as important tools in one’s emotional toolbox and part of a larger program of emotional hygiene. I encourage my people to practice these skills in order gain the greatest benefit from their therapy. The HeartMath ® tools are integrated into a larger therapeutic process.
Just as I encourage my patients and clients to do so, I encourage you to explore the many free services and tools offered by the Institute of HeartMath. Heartmath ® Corporation and their non-profit Institute of Heartmath ® are global leaders in science and practice of building heart-based emotional & physiological health. Their emWave ® products offer the user a suite of educational tools that assist in learning a very simple yet very powerful technique for stress management, improved decision making & performance, sharpened intuition and an overall improvement in one’s emotional hygiene.
Visit HeartMath at this link: HeartMath