I first heard about HeartMath from my friend, Randy. Initially it sounded a lot like just another mindfulness program (e.g. MBSR) that helps people reduce stress and create peace and balance in their lives. I found interesting, however, how the company backs its technology and services by science-based research. I wrote a post called "This is your brain on meditation," and I explored the potential physiological impact of meditation on the structure of the brain. Looking into HeartMath, I learned that the effects of breathing exercises and other techniques and tools can also be quantified by the activity of the heart. When I think about it, a lot of mindfulness practices focus on just exactly that... the mind—like clearing my mind, refocusing my mind, etc. So what I thought was pretty cool about HeartMath was its heart-centric approach to creating balance in life.
The Science Explained
Heart Rate Variability
Before I go into coherence, which is the meat and potatoes of HeartMath, it helps to know what Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is. When I take my pulse, what I'm really doing is taking an average of my heart's beats/time interval. I may think that my heart is beating at a steady pace, but there may be a slight variation of timing from beat to beat. Let's say, for example, I counted 60 beats in 1 minute while resting. This does not necessarily equate to 1 beat per second. The first beat I counted could have been at 0.735 seconds, second beat at 0.823 seconds, third beat at 0.799 seconds, and so forth... Consequently this variation from beat to beat is the HRV. The interaction between two branches of nerves in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) has a lot to do with this normal variability in heart rate. The ANS has a sympathetic branch and parasympathetic branch that talk to each other in order to keep my heart activity in check.
HRV can tell me a few things about how my body is functioning. The heart rhythm pattern looks squiggly and erratic when I'm experiencing negative emotions, which indicates that the two ANS branches are not in sync. On the contrary, the heart rhythm pattern looks more smoothed out when I'm experiencing positive emotions.
Ideally I would want my body to be in a state of "optimal function" AKA "coherence." My HRV reading, as a result, is essentially telling me how coherent my body is. When HRV is harmonious (smoothed out, wave-like pattern), everything seems to follow suit. My body (ANS) becomes in sync, and this normalized heart rate pattern signals to my brain that I'm in a state of performing improved cognitive functions like concentration and problem solving.
HeartMath's mission is to provide the tools and services that help you achieve coherence. They sell products that help people measure and/or track heart rates in real-time. Products include a phone app (Inner Balance), a hand-held device with a breath pacer (emWave2), and computer software (emWave Pro). HeartMath also provides services to support additional self-care needs around health, fitness, and wellness. emWave2 particularly looks like useful technology. I certainly am cognizant of the difference between my breath when I feel negative emotions vs. my breath when I feel positive emotions. My breaths are often short and superficial when I'm stressed, so I can see how emWave2 could help regulate the heart's rhythm pattern through the breathing exercise. If HeartMath's products or services resonate with you and help transform your wellness in a huge way, you can even become a HeartMath professional, such as a coach or trainer, and assist others in achieving coherence in their own lives.
Want to shift into a state of coherence? Check out HeartMath's Quick Coherence Technique.
Learn more about HeartMath: www.heartmath.com.