The effects of stress are largely due to the sympathetic nervous system’s response to perceived threat. Our autonomic nervous system is comprised of two sub-systems – the sympathetic system which is responsible for the fight and flight response; and the parasympathetic system whose role is to bring your brain and body back into homeostasis, into balance.
As you know, your gut and heart both have a brain. Each has a large independent chunk of neural tissue that acts like a little brain, taking in and processing information from your environment and responding to protect you. When the heart and enteric (gut) brains perceive a threat, they kick the sympathetic system into action and your heart starts beating faster, adrenalin and cortisol are released and all the physical stress responses fire up. It’s nature’s way of helping you get ready to fight or run.
If you looked at your beat to beat heart rate when you are in a stress response, when you have sympathetic nervous system dominance, you'd see a very unhealthy jagged graph as your heart speeds up and slows down and speeds up again, erratically racing to ready you for fighting or flighting. Conversely, when you are calm and in balance, when your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are in balance, your heart beat traces a very smooth sine wave like curve. You can see this in the graph below, which is a screen shot from a HeartMath monitor, of my heart when I was meditating. Notice how smooth the graph is.
The measure of how smooth and evenly repetitive your heart beat is, is called Heart Coherence. It's a mathematical measure and indicates how balanced your autonomic nervous system is. It's also correlated with heart health and with a decreased stress response. So the higher the coherence score, the better it is, and the better you feel.
You can learn to bring your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems into balance and calm your head, heart and enteric brains down through a technique called the ‘heart-breath’. This is a way of focussing and breathing that sends powerful messages to your whole cybernetic loop and increases your heart coherence so that your heart, body and mind remain healthy and resilient. Given the usefulness and importance of this technique as a mechanism to control your mind/body in a very powerful way, I'm going to describe it in detail in this blog entry. Before I do though, I'm going to tell you about the emWave LED.
(And no, in case you are wondering, I have no shares or affiliation with the Heartmath organisation whatsoever, I simply think their tools and systems are Life Enhancing Devices and I’ve been using and recommending them for a number of years now. Their tools are powerful and in my experience really do work to help you quickly learn to control your autonomic nervous system responses.)
The thing I like about LED's like the emWave, is they allow you to use modern technology to learn quickly and amplify positive skills and states in your life - they are life enhancing! They cost relatively little, yet provide large positive returns in the quality of your life. They also provide objective measures of how well you are doing in controlling your mind/body. I really can't recommend highly enough that you invest in enhancing your life and gain the benefits of biofeedback technology. And now, let me share with you the details of the heart-breath technique, which you can use with or without the amplifying effects of biofeedback.
- Imagine your breath coming in and going out through the area around your heart, in the center of your chest. Make each in-breath and out-breath last about 5 to 6 seconds.
- As you continue to breath through your heart, recall a fun, loving or positive time in your life: A favourite friend, a special vacation a deeply loved person or something you adore. Fully re-experience and hold this positive feeling in your heart as you continue to breath through your heart.
- Notice the emotional, mental and physical shift that occurs as your heart coherence increases and your autonomic system comes into balance.
wishing you life enhancing balance,
And in case I've inspired you to buy yourself or someone you love the gift of an emWave:
emWave Personal Stress Reliever
The Heart's Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy
The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath's Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart's Intelligence
From Chaos to Coherence (The Power to Change Performance)