The heart equation: The mathematics of emotion and being in sync
“Opening your heart is like putting a wide-angle lens on the camera of your perception. Suddenly, more of the world comes into view. You have more room for new possibilities in the picture. – Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The HeartMath Solution
How do you spend your energy? Do you lead with your head or your heart? And why does it matter?
Researchers have, after decades of work, uncovered a huge connection between mind and spirit that goes directly through the heart. Thousands of heart disease case studies point not only to the individual puzzle pieces of cholesterol, blood pressure, and diet – symptoms of heart disease, but also the comprehensive issue that boils down to the mathematics of emotion – and whether the mind and heart are in synch with each other.
In 1991, Doc Childre, author of The HeartMath Solution (1999) helped co-found the Institute of HeartMath with Howard Martin, both of Boulder, Colorado. It is a leading research center aimed at developing “heart intelligence,” specific skills to help us manage emotion by setting our heart to be in synch with our mind.
As the extensive HeartMath website documents, studies of 11,500 people have shown improvement in mental and emotional well-being in just six to nine weeks, utilizing basic HeartMath techniques. Results show a 24 percent increase in focus; 30 percent increase in sleep; 38 percent increase in calmness; 46 percent decrease in anxiety; 48 percent decrease in fatigue; and 56 percent decrease in depression.
This synchronization between mind and heart implies that the heart is not just the physical pump that pushes the blood through the body, but also the metaphysical, emotional command center of the body, responsible for much more than circulation and heart rate.
What exactly is emotion?
Emotion literally means “energy in motion” derived from the Latin word meaning “to move.” While a feeling is a closely related concept, an emotion is a strong feeling such as love, anger, joy, sorrow, that generates mental and physiological changes and manifests itself in the nervous system. Though emotional energy is basically neutral, the associated feelings and physiological reaction make a specific emotion positive or negative and our thoughts about it give us meaning.
Emotion can be translated into mathematics, as evidenced by the frequency measurement of the heart variability rate (HRV). Negative emotional states such as anger and frustration display a HRV that is incoherent, random, jerky, indicating disharmony in the autonomic nervous system which transports information from the brain to the heart throughout the body. Yet, positive emotion such as appreciation or love displays a coherent, ordered HRV, indicating balance in the autonomic nervous system which yields cardiovascular efficiency.
That is, when you let negative emotions take over your body, every system of the body goes out of balance, an indicator of stress.
How does stress manifest itself physically? Childre: “When we feel edgy or stressful, we create a chain reaction in our bodies: our blood vessels constrict, our blood pressure rises, and a lot of energy is wasted. If this happens consistently, the result is hypertension (high blood pressure), which greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.”
The answer to stress is entertainment, synchronization, between heart and mind. The body actually works better. Childre: “When your body is in entertainment, its major systems work in harmony. Your biological systems operate at higher efficiency because of that harmony and as a result, you think and feel better.”
“Because the heart is the strongest biological oscillator in the human system, the equivalent of the strongest pendulum in a collection of clocks, the rest of the body’s system can be pulled into entertainment with the heart’s rhythms.”
Emotions, not thoughts, give us meaning. Childre: “Emotions alone give us meaning to our lives. The ability to laugh or cry, to feel alternately pensive and blissful, imbues our existence with beauty and value. We crave feeling because the experience of emotion makes life matter. It transforms our world from an objective, conceptual fact into a living, breathing
But emotion can work for or against us, as evidenced by the fact that negative emotion has caused a millennia of global wars and conflicts.
Scientists have discovered that emotion is indeed faster than thought. Childre: “Scientists have repeatedly confirmed that our emotional reactions show up in brain activity before we even have time to think. We evaluate everything emotionally as we perceive it. We think about it afterwards.”
And in fact, because of the cumulative effect of emotion called the “cascade effect,” which means past experiences become tacked on to emotional experiences happening in the present moment, it takes more than the mind to control emotion. It takes the mind working in sych with the emotional center, the heart.
Why is “Heart intelligence” a revolutionary “new” idea? Because while science is proving the mind-body-heart connection, humankind has not consciously tapped into this idea until this century. Childre likens the average person’s ability to manage emotion to the maturity level of a 10-year-old who has just been given the car keys.
Childre: “When life conforms to the standards set by our minds, it’s easy to keep a light rein on our emotions and still feel pretty good. But if one little thing happened that we think shouldn’t have happened, it’s over. We have not yet learned the skills to move to the next level emotionally. We’re still like adolescents.”
Research is showing that meditation, controlling the mind, is not enough to control emotion. The HeartMath solution involves two problem-solving techniques, FREEZE-FRAME (similar to a 5-step “time-out”); and CUT-THRU – a way to recognize and reprogram subconscious emotional memory. Cultivating “heart intelligence” is the difference between poise and poison, the difference between acting proactively to manage our emotions or reacting out of emotions we cannot control.
Last month, the HeartMath Institute announced three 2018 Humanitarian Heart Award Recipients who have achieved success through using HeartMath techniques – psychotherapist Steve Sawyer; University of Arizona physiology and psychology professor Ann Linda Baldwin; and public school science teacher and SUNY assistant professor David P. Parisian.
Sawyer’s New Vision Wilderness Therapy, uses backcountry expeditions with intensive clinical immersion to help struggling preteens and young adults. Baldwin’s Mind-Body-Science uses Reiki, equine therapy and biofeedback to help people and animals reduce stress. Parisian uses HeartMath techniques to help students and young teachers control emotion and reduce stress.
“The Birdwatcher” is a beautiful print by Beth Krommes that sits over my desk, reminding me about heart intelligence. A woman stands at the shore, with glasses on, binoculars around her neck, as she looks through a telescope. It seems to me that heart intelligence invites us to look through multiple lenses to obtain a “birdseye” or aerial view of ourselves. The wide-angle view can be the most forgiving, as we look at ourselves and at others. The fact is that we use less energy and use our energy more efficiently when we control stress by managing our emotions. It turns out that forgiveness is actually “energy-efficient.”
Quincy Whitney is a career journalist, biographer and poet. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.