Part of neurocardiology argues that the heart is a very complex system, a sophisticated sensory organ that receives and processes information.
Our heart muscle isn’t just about pumping blood, but also has tens of thousands of neurons that we could well use to describe the heart as a collection of little brains that, coordinated with our brain, induce a state of well-being. .
The fact that the brain and the heart are in harmony is called cardiac coherence., a phenomenon which has many advantages and can be achieved through the constant practice of breathing techniques. Let’s see what it is.
What is cardiac coherence?
Our emotions are not just a brain thing. Our bodies experience them in various organs, but it is especially remarkable how our heart experiences them. In Western culture it has been said that we feel with the heart and really neuroscience supports this idea. For example, when we feel nervous, our hearts beat faster. It also gets out of hand when we’re afraid, stressed, or receiving bad news.
Cardiac coherence can be defined as condition in which the heart rate is regular, harmonic. The different waves of the heartbeat are synchronized, according to a certain frequency, shape and amplitude, forming an orderly, predictable and repetitive pattern. The balance that our brain and heart can achieve influences our emotional state, so if we promote cardiac coherence, we can improve our physical and psychological well-being.
Applied to the field of clinical psychology and neuroscience, cardiac coherence is also a technique that aims to coordinate breathing with heart rate. This technique was originally developed by the HeartMath Institute of California and aims to stabilize breathing and heart rate, reducing the rate and inducing a state of calm.
As a technique, it can be said that cardiac coherence aims to harmonize our physical, mental and emotional systems, a state of psychological efficiency in which the nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems work in a coordinated and calm manner. It is based on the idea that the heart has its own neural circuit, directly connected to the brain. and that by controlling our emotions, we can control our physiology.
The relationship between the brain and the heart
The functions of the heart are more than just pumping blood to different parts of our body. This organ also has 40,000 neurons, a real nervous system of its own, one could say that it acts like a “small brain” and which also functions like a small hormone factory. Adrenaline is secreted when it is necessary to function at full capacity, atriopeptin to regulate blood pressure. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is secreted.
These are all hormones that influence how the brain worksSo we could say that there is a heart-brain system, a system in which brain emotions influence and are influenced by heart rate and functioning. But this communication does not take place directly, but through an intermediary: the peripheral autonomic nervous system, which is made up of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic subsystems.
The sympathetic activates when we are in danger by releasing adrenaline and norepinephrine to facilitate the conduct of fight and flight behaviors, accelerating the heart rate. On the other hand, the parasympathetic acts as a kind of brake, releasing neurotransmitters that induce a state of relaxation and calm by reducing the heart rate.
What is appropriate is that these two subsystems are in equilibrium, functioning as a brake and an accelerator where appropriate. However, if we are constantly stressed and tense, in which the sympathetic system remains activated for a long time and the parasympathetic is turned off, it stops functioning effectively. This imbalance ends up affecting our heart, causing it to chaotically and irregularly, causing it to speed up and slow down.
Based on this, negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger, sadness, or even simple worries that we may have throughout the day, are believed to affect our heart rate, be able to generate physiological alterations. On the other hand, positive emotions such as joy promote a balance, facilitating cardiac coherence.
What are the benefits of cardiac coherence?
Regularly practicing cardiac coherence techniques can bring us many physical and psychological benefits:
1. Better emotional management
The application of this technique ends the physiological chaos, harmonizing the heart and the brain. Here the parasympathetic system is put into action, causing the release of neurotransmitters that calms us, which results in better emotional management and better management of difficult situations.
2. Improve cognitive abilities
Cardiac coherence it allows the brain to function more efficiently. By letting go of worries and learning a technique for better handling emotions, the person can concentrate better, allowing ideas to flow in a more functional way. Therefore, it improves our ability to pay attention, focus and process information.
3. Reduction of stress and fatigue
When we feel stressed, the sympathetic system is activated causing a series of reactions at the physiological level. At the same time, these cause more anxiety and the appearance of worry when we see that our heart rate has increased or that we are organically unstable.
By practicing cardiac coherence techniques, one can better control the physiological processes associated with stress and anxiety. Indeed, we observed that after one month of practicing cardiac coherence, the levels of cortisol, a hormone related to the stress, are significantly reduced.
4. Better quality of sleep
Cardiac coherence generates a state of calm and tranquility, a relaxation which is a very good ally in the fight against insomnia. When we are relaxed and calm, we can fall asleep more easily, in addition to waking up more rested..
5. Strengthening the immune system
By practicing cardiac coherence, the immune system can be strengthened. People who manage to introduce this type of practice into their lives have been shown to have increased levels of immunoglobulin A, cells that are the body’s first line of defense against infectious agents. In reality, high levels are maintained for about six hours after practicing cardiac coherence.
How to do?
Cardiac coherence can be achieved through practice. From HeartMath, techniques have been developed that induce this phenomenon, allowing us to control the acceleration and deceleration of our heart through controlled and conscious breathing.
It consists of inhaling and exhaling voluntarily and slowly, thus increasing the amplitude of the heart rate. If synchronization between respiration and heart rate was achieved, the above consistency would be achieved.
A good way to reduce stress is to be in a calm environment, sitting with your feet on the ground., without crossing your hands or legs:
- We breathe in through our nose for five seconds.
- We breathe out through the mouth for five seconds.
- Repeat the previous two steps six times per minute for five minutes.
It is recommended to take this breath three times a day.
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