I first heard about the health benefits of HeartMath at an IFM (Institute For Functional Medicine) conference. Then I heard it again. And, even again at this last IFM GI module I just went to.
Well one day this past summer, when I found myself WAY too anxious, I finally got on the HeartMath program. I was so anxious it was affecting my breathing, and all the things I tried on my own were to no avail. $99 for a HeartMath device seemed like a bargain as I knew that this “sympathetic overdrive” was costing me more than my ability to breathe.
Stress – real or perceived – is associated with:
- Digestive issues as blood is shunted away from the GI tract so that we are ready to flee if needed; without blood flow, we don’t have the nutrients, acid, bile, and enzymes we need to fully digest our food.
- Visceral adiposity. Belly fat. All that cortisol signals for us to hang on to our calories in case of famine.
- Hypertension as the heart constricts its arteries. If we were to be stabbed or mauled by a grizzly bear, our inherent defense mechanism is that if arteries are constricted, we can’t bleed to death.
- A shrinking brain. No kidding. Our hypothalamus has receptors for cortisol and it literally atrophies with high stress/elevated cortisol output.
- Dysglycemia or imbalances in blood sugar regulation. Other words you may know are insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
- Suppression of the immune system
- Mineral loss and sarcopenia (muscle loss)
- Depression & anxiety
- Estrogen dominance (PMS, fibroids and such)
- Thyroid suppression
Real or perceived, stress is bad news bears.
Any other number of relaxing therapies – like a massage or a session in a float tank – could easily cost me more than $99. And aren’t nearly as convenient. And really, it’s up to ME to capitalize on the ability to manage my own stress right? Right.
What is HeartMath?
Although Doc Childre probably wouldn’t like my definition of HeartMath, I think of it a bit like DIY biofeedback and doing my HeartMath exercises optimizes the neural pathways between my heart and brain.
In order to get a good “score” and be coherent, I have to really work on positive thoughts like gratitude, love, joy, and calmness. I also have to do diaphragmatic breathing.
When I’m done with my session, I’m calmer and my outlook in general is better.
I know that I am literally creating new pathways between my mind and body, ie, Mind-Body Medicine. (And there are benefits I can’t measure, but scientists can…keep reading!)
I want my brain’s default to be gratitude, not overwhelm.
And it *is* up to me. Really, no one can do this for me. Just like we become efficient at handwriting or typing, we can become efficient in our thoughts.
We can train ourselves to always see the best…or always see the worst. I want to see the best and be grateful for what I have. I want my default to be calm, not alarm (sympathetic tone).
I don’t want my digestive system compromised because I can’t get a handle on perceived stress. In terms of biochemistry, I want to live in para-sympathetic mode. And if I’m being honest, it’s 100% perceived. Self-induced. Situations don’t change, but our thoughts to those situations change our biochemistry for the better or worse.
Technical info about HeartMath:
The heart – physically and metaphorically – is said to be the key to tapping into an intelligence that can provide us with fulfillment or contentment. Science has shown that the heart communicates with the body and brain on various different levels.
- The heart sends neurological information to the brain, and the rest of the body.
- Through the pulse, the heart sends energy in the form of a blood pressure wave. Researchers have seen that changes in the electrical activity of brain cells occur in relation to the changes in the blood pressure wave.
- The heart, via atrial peptide has the ability to inhibit the release of stress hormones.
- The heart communicates electromagnetically. An EKG measured in the doctor’s office is actually an electrical signal produced by the heart. This signal can be picked up anywhere on the body, and permeates the space around us. You know how you can “feel” the energy in a room? Well you are right! We do emit electrical signals or energy.
HeartMath has taken this information, and translated it into a simple gizmo that teaches us – via feedback on the screen – how to listen to and follow the intuitive information of the heart. We can learn how to better make decisions, and to use the power of the heart to manage the mind and emotions. Exactly! This is MY goal!
- Corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and all four branches of the U.S. Military, are now using HeartMath techniques to teach employees how to become more mentally and emotionally balanced
- Educators have found that school children can better manage their behavior, and improve their ability to absorb academic information by using it too.
- I know several functional medicine doctors who’ve incorporated it into their office and all staff are now optimizing their Mind-Body medicine as well!
My personal HeartMath goal is three-fold.
- To work my way up the levels, so that I can consistently “be in the zone” even when on level 4.
- To increase my time each session that I can sustain being “in the zone”. Right now, my sessions average 15 minutes each but I’m only “in the zone” about 9 minutes give or take. It takes me a few minutes to get there, and I find that it takes a lot of concentration to stay. Its SO easy to drift off into what else I should be doing! Practice grasshopper!
- To get so good at locking in on what it takes to “be in the zone” that I don’t need the gizmo anymore and I can just order it up any time I need it….which means I can weave it into my daily life.
How Heartmath Works:
There are 2 options as you purchase:
- If you do not have an iPhone, look for the EmWave2 which is the size of a small pager and has a headset with an ear clip.
- If you have an iPhone, look for the Inner Balance product. You just get the cord that attaches to your iPhone and your ear (and save yourself a 2nd piece of equipment to keep track of). You download the software as an app and you are in business!
Now, you pick the setting – levels 1, 2, 3, and 4. You can pick the session length if you want and it’ll chime at you when the time is up. And the part I love best is that you can use HeartMath with or without sound effects. I like it with sound.
And while this seems easy, it is not. Just sit down, relax, and breathe right? Not.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Falling asleep, although I’m obviously calm, is NOT the same as heart/brain coherence. I thought it was so interesting that although calm, it’s not the same as being in coherence and my score was in the tank (red)!
- Deep restful breathing, and thinking about my to-do list instead of joy and gratitude, also is not coherence and does not provide a green mark/good score. I’ve never been good at meditating because my mind wanders too easily. And so when I am doing HeartMath with the sound on, it magically knows that my mind has drifted off. You see my heart rhythm shifts ever so slightly, and it dings at me and alerts me to get back to positive thoughts and diaphragmatic breathing. I love and need that!
Benefits of HeartMath
In just 12 minutes a day and 6-9 weeks (with NO side effects!)
- 50% drop in fatigue
- 46% drop in anxiety
- 60% drop in depression
- 24% improvement in the ability to focus
- 25% improvement in listening ability
- 30% improvement in sleep
As I said, one of my goals is to get so good at it that it comes natural to me and my default is to be coherent, calm, and balanced. The side effects are that I’ll have more energy, less depression, a greater focus in my work and ability to listen.
I am integrating HeartMath into my sleep hygiene rituals too. I have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep so I’m using “that zone feeling” to help me here. I am learning what it takes to get the green bars and so I do my best without the apparatus to harness that in bed. Quite often, it works. And practice makes perfect! Statistically, 12 minutes a day and I’ll have 30% improvement. That’s better than a sleeping pill without the black holes in my memory the next day!
If you are interested in learning more about HeartMath, here’s their website and they often have free shipping or other specials!
PS – none of these links are affiliate links. I own and use this system and I am sharing because where we go one, we go all. This world needs us all to be healthy! Here’s another resource on managing stress, if you would like to check it out.