Understanding your heart-brain connection

Have you heard the saying ‘your heart rules your head’? How can that be true when the brain instructs the rest of the body what to do following a thought, feeling or stimulus?

The heart can actually over ride the brain and choose to ignore some of its commands. It can operate to some degree on an autonomous level through special heart cells called autorythmic cells. They instruct the heart to contract and relax. The heart can store emotions and memories not just the brain. There is a two way communication between the brain and the heart. The heart can listen to the brain and send signals back, the brain can also listen to the heart signals and respond to these.

When discussing tools to help us cope with anxiety, low mood, fear and isolation; understanding how to tap into your hearts emotions may help to rest your brain reducing stress, anxiety, improving mood and help improve digestion and reduce inflammation. As a wellbeing physiologist, over the past 13 years I have had the pleasure of helping people understand this relationship by using software from the Heartmath Institute. They software helps to interpret the variation in each single heart beat known as heart rate variability (HRV). We all have the power to change the pattern of of HRV and in turn can help to reset our moods, anxiety levels, blood pressure and improve digestive health and immunity. By learning how to slow our breathing down when can balance the internal nervous system. When we feel stressed and anxious our sympathetic nervous system takes over. This increases our heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormones Adrenalin and Cortisol, increases glucose and free fatty acids that affect our waist line, cholesterol and risk for type 2 diabetes. When we breathe slowly and deeply we slow down the rhythm of the heart and help the other side of the nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system to function. This helps support digestion and releases immune boosting hormones DHEA.

Heart focused breathing can help you connect to your heart when you head isn’t listening to other tools you may be trying to use to help manage anxiety, fear and panic. It takes just a few minutes but and really does have a physiological affect on the mind and body, why not give it a go, here how:

Heart focused breathing

  1. Either when you are in a situation or visualising a situation where you notice negative emotions or anxiety.
  2. Consciously acknowledge what you are feeling
  3. Bring your attention to your heart as you are breathing
  4. Taking a slow breath in and out (for around the count of 4)
  5. Think about a positive thought/memory that makes you feel safe, calm, happy, relaxed
  6. As you focus on your breathing visualise it around your heart and keep the positive emotion in your mind
  7. Continue for 2 or 3 minutes

Your brain will start to mirror the positive feelings you are instigating from your heart with your ‘heart ruling your head’.

Taking moments in your day to notice positive things, thoughts, emotions, what you feel grateful for, being present and mindful all help the brain keep positive. They help keep the pre frontal cortex working well. The more anxious, fearful and negative we become the more the emotional part of the brain ( the amygdala) takes over and the more we may need to rely on our heart to rule and reset our brains.

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