The Heart Sends More Information to the Brain Than the Brain Sends to the Heart


An Appreciative Heart is Good Medicine

Psychologists once maintained that emotions were purely mental expressions generated by the brain alone. We now know this is not true. Emotions have as much to do with the heart and body as they do with the brain. Of all your body’s organs, it is the heart, a growing number of scientists theorize, that plays perhaps the most important role in our emotional experience. What we experience as an emotion is the result of the brain, heart, and body acting in concert.

Since its founding in 1991, HeartMath has been dedicated to decoding the underlying mechanics of stress. IHM’s Research Center is committed to the study of the heart and the physiology of emotions and has conducted many studies that identified the relationship between emotions and the heart. A number of HeartMath’s studies have contributed new insight to the scientific community’s understanding of how heart activity is linked to our emotions and health, vitality and well-being.

Emotions and the Heart

HeartMath studies define a critical link between the heart and brain. The heart is in a constant two-way dialog with the brain. Our emotions change the signals the brain sends to the heart and the heart responds in complex ways. Today we now know the heart sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart, and the brain responds to the heart in many important ways. This research explains how the heart responds to emotional and mental reactions and why certain emotions stress the body and drain our energy. As we experience feelings like anger, frustration, anxiety and insecurity, our heart-rhythm patterns become more erratic. These erratic patterns are sent to the emotional centers in the brain, which recognizes them as negative, or stressful feelings. These signals create the actual feelings we experience in the heart area and elsewhere in the body. Erratic heart rhythms also block our ability to think clearly.

Many studies have found that the risk of developing heart disease is significantly increased for people who frequently experience stressful emotions such as irritation, anger or frustration. These emotions create a chain reaction in the body: stress-hormone levels increase, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure rises and the immune system is weakened. If we consistently experience these emotions, it can put a strain on the heart and other organs and eventually lead to serious health problems.

Conversely, HeartMath’s research shows, when we experience heartfelt emotions such as appreciation, love, care and compassion, the heart produces a very different rhythm – one that has a smooth pattern and looks something like gently rolling hills. Scientists consider harmonious, or smooth heart rhythms, which are indicative of positive emotions, to be indicators of cardiovascular efficiency and nervous-system balance. This lets the brain know the heart feels good; often we experience this as a gentle, warm feeling in the area of the heart. Learning to shift out of stressful emotional reactions to these heartfelt emotions can have profound positive effects on our cardiovascular systems and overall health.

As you begin to understand and appreciate the important link that exists between the heart and emotions, you’ll start to see how it is possible to shift the heart into a more efficient state by actually monitoring heart rhythms.

Being Appreciative Has its Benefits

The feeling of genuine appreciation is one of the most concrete and easiest positive emotions for individuals to self-generate and sustain for long periods. Nearly all of us can find something to genuinely appreciate. By simply recalling a time when you felt sincere appreciation and then re-creating that feeling, you can increase your heart-rhythm coherence, reduce emotional stress and improve your health. (Coherence here refers to a balance or smoothness in heart rhythms.)

Experts recommend that people who initially find it difficult to self-generate a feeling of appreciation in the present moment recall a memory that elicits warm feelings. With practice, most people can self-generate feelings of appreciation in real time and don’t need to recall something from the past. IHM Director of Research Dr. Rollin McCraty explains.

“It’s important to emphasize that it is not a mental image of a memory that creates a shift in our heart rhythms,” McCraty said, “but rather the emotions associated with the memory. Mental images alone usually do not produce the same significant results that we’ve observed when someone focuses on a positive feeling.”

Positive emotion-focused techniques, like those developed by HeartMath, can help individuals effectively replace stressful thoughts and emotional patterns with more positive perceptions and emotions. One of the long-term benefits of practicing these kinds of techniques is increased emotional awareness. This increased awareness can help individuals maintain a more consistent emotional balance, which is a fundamental step in improving cardiovascular health.

Diet and exercise certainly will always be paramount in keeping the heart healthy. There is a growing, awareness, however, that maintaining a healthy emotional state can also play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart, especially for people recovering from heart-related illnesses. Studies show that HeartMath’s positive-emotion-focused techniques reduce stress and anxiety, both of which are safe and effective ways of lowering blood pressure and increasing functional capacity in patients who have suffered heart failure. This is an approach that many hospitals and cardiac rehabilitation programs around the country began utilizing a number of years ago.

The demand for placing greater emphasis on emotional well-being has grown rapidly to include a great many applications, not only across the medical sector, but far beyond as well. Today many corporations, law-enforcement and corrections agencies, preschools and universities, teacher programs, churches, amateur and professional sports teams, U.S. military operations and nonprofit organizations subscribe to science-based programs incorporating emotion self-regulation techniques such as those developed by HeartMath scientists. These and many other entities in the United States and around the world are actively engaged in training, restructuring, policy-making, etc., to ensure that the emotional well-being of staff and management is an integral element in day-to-day operations.

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  • A very fascinating subject but I’d like to read a clearer description of how emotions are generated (heart or mind first, or both?) and then how the body, as brain and heart, respond and influence one another. And while there may be some nebulously benefits to manipulating our emotions, I find greater worth in deepening emotional honesty for far richer and more meaningful experiences in life that come by way of being transformed by our difficult emotional states, rather than these methods of superficially negating a whole chunk of life’s difficulties just because they feel bad. There is a treasure trove to be found beneath the difficulty of challenging emotions, which we cannot arrive at when we manipulate our feelings in this way described. I share this to illuminate the hidden beauties and wonders of deep heart work (not what Heartmath shares) and the real spiritual dangers of denying our psychological pain in the name of greater fitness and logistical “health” benefits. Heartmath techniques may be helpful as physical treatments for some people, as described, but ultimately, my experience and other studies show that unless we journey to the “depths of our hearts” (by embracing and sining into our challenging histories and traumas) we miss out on a lot of profound healing. It is this deep healing that addresses difficult and chronic sabotaging emotional patterns at their root.

    Besides, in our world, there is a tremendous place for emotional honesty–for anger, for sadness, for remorse–in order to change the status quo. If we all walked around as little bliss bunnies (an exaggeration and not that this is even possible via Heartmath), looking at only at what we can appreciate and “love,” there would not be much activism and support for deep creativity and soulfulness, would there?

    So, yes, it’s important to appreciate life. But even more important perhaps to be honest about reality—our personal and collective–and to cultivate depth and all the “miracles” that come with the deep transformational work, which necessitates that not mess with our real feelings, but let them change us into a radical kind of compassion, gratitude, love, and empathy.

  • Igor Ledochowski

    The Heart’s Code by Paul Pearsall is a fascinating book about ancient wisdom, modern medicine, scientific research, and personal experiences that proves that the human heart, not the brain, holds the secrets that link body, mind, and spirit.

  • Patrick McGean

    What about the biology? The heart never sleeps, ever, and its function is based on how hard is it to get oxygen to the sleeping brain and the entire body human of man.
    Stress makes the heart work harder and sometimes fail. If you have a song in your heart you also have a song in body, including the brain and stress dare not enter the arena.
    Organic sulfur a crystal food allows the cells of the blood vessels and the muscles to regenerate mid beat, on that subtle rest and the frequencies of life continue.
    In biology fright of flight happens, when our biology is healthy reason replaces instinct.
    Got sulfur?

  • wasiyullah sayed

    There is in the body a lump of flesh – if it becomes good, the whole body becomes good and if it becomes bad, the whole body becomes bad. And indeed it is the heart

    these were the words of the prophet Mohammed 1400 yrs ago