The first organ that we develop is the heart; before we breathe, think, digest or suck our thumb, we must have that initial spark that makes our heart beat. And when you think that it is just a pump, pushing the blood through the system, then you are oh so right, and oh so limited. Heart beats are the rhythm of life; the rhythm that connects us with each other.
The first heart beat of a fetus, while a miracle all in itself, is way more than that because it immediately finds synchrony with our mother’s heart rhythm. In other words: the first thing our heart does is to connect with another human being. Love isn’t an accidental side effect of having a heart: love is built in from the get go.
We have more control over love and emotional connectedness than one might suspect. Without taking too much away from the romantic notion of red roses, Valentine poems, and chocolate kisses, it is helpful to explore how we can deliberately influence our heart.
All positive emotions have in common that they connect us with others in positive ways: trust, passion, love, appreciation, gratitude, celebration, fun, compassion and joy are between people. That means that there must be an exchange; a connection.
Our heart is neuro intelligent:
The heart produces the largest amount of energy in our body. The heart’s electricity is 40 to 60% stronger than the brain’s and emits an electrical field that can be measured up to five feet away from the body.
One way to measure the quality of the heart’s emotional function is with the biofeedback method Heart Rate Variability (or HRV). This method allows us to influence our own psychical state of heart, and lets us develop deeper connections with others, stabilize emotions, elicit feelings of gratitude and even enhance intuition.
HRV measures four interval heart beats (the time in-between beats) and complex software looks at how similar or different the timing is. Interval beats that are exactly the same show a stress response, excitability, worry and sympathetic arousal. In this over-aroused state we are hardly able to connect.
Similarly, if we are lethargic our interval beats are too different and the heart has a hard time connecting, gets in the way of telling the brain to pay attention and puts the whole system into parasympathetic nervous mode, which is a state of under-arousal.
The sweet spot for the heart is having a small variation for each beat interval. For example, an appreciating heart, beats each time slightly differently (see chart), and this variable pattern balances the autonomic nervous system. In a balanced autonomic system there’s no over- or under-arousal. In this steady state we can optimally connect with others.
Breathe through the heart
Here comes the fun part. We are all capable of changing our heart rate and heart rate variability! The trick to manipulating (some would say “regulating”) the heart is through breathing. If we can find our own natural rhythm with our breath, the heart will follow and so will the brain. One of the breathing techniques used in HRV biofeedback is to breathe six breaths per minute. This often puts us in the optimal heart rate variability. Breathe in 1-2-3-4 and breathe out on count 5-6-7-8-9-10.
The power of our electrical connections
A common belief is to think of social communications and connection in terms of language, voice qualities, gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. However, the heart’s electrical pulses and the brain’s subtle yet influential electromagnetic fields are as important.
We can measure the heart’s electrical field up to five feet from the body and we know that brain waves and heart rhythms want to naturally synchronize with other humans. If we can accept this, then we can also accept the notion that our magnetic fields and electrical waves play an important role in our social life and friendships.
Gratitude, laughter, appreciation and many other positive emotions are a kindness feedback loop between two or more people, and such selfless action of giving and receiving drives that oozing feeling of the heart. It is this feedback loop which lets us synchronize with others.
Next time you hold that new born baby, kiss a friend on the cheek, or give your buddy a bear hug, think of it as a dance of two magnetic fields. That’s life. That’s the pulse of humanity.