“The heart is a repository of human wisdom; it knows without understanding, is convinced without reason, and loves without condition.”
— Heart surgeon and author, James Doty
There are many organs whose functions in our bodies are not commonly known. What does the spleen do anyway? But we all know that without our heart pumping blood, bringing life-giving oxygen to our cells, life ceases to exist.
In yoga physiology the heart is much more than a vital organ. It is a predominant wisdom center. Having been raised on yoga throughout my life, I thought this idea was unique to yoga philosophy. But with the work of heart surgeons and physicians like James R. Doty and Deborah Rozman, and centers like the HeartMath Institute there is now a robust body of science supporting the benefits of expanding the heart’s intelligence—also referred to as heart coherence.
The short practice linked below is one of many techniques that uses the physical yields of stimulating the heart to expand heart coherence. Here are some other lovely morsels about this wise and underestimated organ…
Heart Coherence and Its Significance
Heart coherence is a state where the heart, mind, and emotions align, creating a harmonious and balanced rhythm. It occurs when the heart’s rhythms become smooth and ordered. Heart coherence is synonymous with heart intelligence, a concept rooted in the idea that the heart plays a vital role in decision-making, perception, and overall well-being.
The Science of Heart Intelligence
Research on heart intelligence has provided, to me, really compelling evidence of the heart’s role in regulating emotions and influencing cognitive functions. At the Institute of HeartMath, a leading organization in heart coherence research, studies have demonstrated the heart’s ability to communicate with the brain and affect our mental and emotional states.
Heart Intelligence and Heart Rate Variability
If you’re not a body-nerd (p.s. I know that some of you most certainly are) this is a bit technical, but worth it—bear with me. HRV measures the variation in time between successive heartbeats. High HRV is associated with better health and increased longevity. It is often seen as an indicator of the body’s ability to adapt to stressors and reflects the balance between the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response and the rest/restore/renew response. Reduced HRV is linked to cardiovascular disease and a host of other serious stress-related disorders. It is no wonder that in many long term comprehensive longevity studies, it is HRV that is tracked. When our HRV is high we are naturally responding to life in a healthy balanced way. And the wild and wonderful thing about this fact is that we have the ability to directly, and fairly easily, increase our HRV. When we increase the good feelings that are generated in the heart—gratitude, compassion, love—we increase our heart coherence and thus our HRV.
Here are some other key findings from heart coherence research…
The Ability to Feel and Process Emotions
Studies have shown that practices like Heart Rate Variability (HRV) coherence training, which includes techniques found in Breathwork Meditation, can help us feel what we are feeling rather than repress feelings, deny feelings. When we repress or react instead of simply feeling what we are feeling, we often say things that we don’t want to say, or take actions that we later regret.
Heart coherence has been associated with improved decision-making and problem-solving abilities. When the heart and mind are in sync, we are better equipped to make balanced and rational choices.
Heart coherence practices have been linked to reduced stress levels, increased resilience, and improved overall well-being. Think of when a child falls and they look to an adult. If the adult says “Ohhhhh nooooo” with a panicked face, the child panics. We learn about this reaction in First Aid training as well. Shock, even the shock of bystanders that are around an accident, can have a dramatic effect on the physical outcome of an accident for the victim. As adults, our own reactions to our own life circumstances can similarly determine how we are able to bounce back. When our heart coherence is balanced, our ability to bounce back, or our resilience measures, increase.
The Heart Coherence Practice
The Breathwork Meditation practice linked below is centered around feeling the emotions of the heart. You can practice a shorter version of this every day when you wake up in the morning. And if you forget or don’t have time, another simple heart coherence practice is to simply put your hands over your heart and take slow deep breaths. By consciously controlling the breath and synchronizing it with an awareness of the heart, we can create a state of internal balance and alignment. Try it now, notice how simply breathing in with your hands on your heart causes your shoulders and jaw to relax.
Bringing Our Practice into the World: Forests and the Heart-Mind Connection
Being in a forest environment can sync our hearts with the natural world, promoting heart coherence much like breathwork. Research has shown that spending time in forests—known as forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku in Japanese—reduces stress hormones and improves heart health.
Forests are like the heart of the Earth.
Big giant thanks to everyone who participated in Modo’s Sweat For Sustainability campaign, and the many other tree planting campaigns in the Modo Community over the past 20 years.
If you haven’t taken part in a tree planting contribution this year and would like to join in at any time, take a moment to plant a tree with us HERE, year after year.
Hope you enjoy the practice. Reach out if you have questions.
Jess Robertson is a mom, a bass flute player, a loving cat-mom, dog aunty, and the co founder of Modo Yoga and the New Leaf Foundation.