Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Connection and the Heart - the science

We have long known that the heart is an intuitive organ – we understand that things are ‘heartfelt’, and a broken heart is what we feel if we are very sad. These colloquial terms are not just random, they express what we have always known, that the heart with its has a central importance to health and wellbeing, and often senses things before the brain (McCraty, 2004)[i]. Indeed, “the heart has its own intrinsic nervous system that operates and processes information independently of the brain or nervous system”[ii]. This is what enables a heart transplant to work before the vagus nerve is fully functional. It is also an endocrine organ producing oxytocin, the bonding hormone with others. Its electromagnetic field is huge and is largely responsible for allowing us to attune to other people (or not!).
It is an organ of coherence; when its electromagnetic rhythm is in harmony with others we feel at ease and at peace with the world. This is the desired outcome of all meditative endeavours and is an essential pre-requisite to fully achieve health and wellbeing. The origin of coherence is in the heart and its connection with the brain however; specifically the amygdala which it innervates via its afferent (towards the brain) nerves. When these two are in harmony you feel at ease with yourself, motivated and authentic in thought and deed. You can see therefore another instance of the mind-body connection in operation that we are only now beginning to ascertain.

Did you know there is an easy way to measure your heart coherence? It's called HRV (heart Rate Variability) and it used to be something you could only measure when hooked up to a specialised electrocardiogram (ECG) machine but happily this is now made a lot easier by simple free ‘apps’ that you can download onto your smartphone or tablet. They work by reading the blood flow in your finger through holding it against the camera light. I have used the most readily available free one, HeartMonitor and, although I cannot vouch for its accuracy compared to a professional machine, as a relative tool for marking your stress levels it is brilliant as you can take different measurements at different times in your life. For instance, I measured mine after a stressful day at work (where my day is not my own but I am subject to the deadlines and priorities of others) compared to a day at my clinic with my clients. The differences were startling – a 50% difference. HRV is a powerful, objective and non-invasive tool to measure your body’s finely tuned hormonal, behavioural responses to the day to day stresses. I urge many of my clients to begin noticing theirs and seeing if, by consciously focusing on the screen output, to alter it.  This is a useful biofeedback tool which sets the stage for tuning in to the body’s response; you alter the output by ‘focusing’ on trying to make the waves increase in amplitude (height) and become more regular. This is biofeedback in action.

This is an extract from my book Stress and the Mindbody connection available now on Amazon See here to purchase copies (digital or paperback) . I am a practicing therapist who offers mindbody therapy and trauma transformation here;

[i] McCraty, et al (2004). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: part 1. The surprising role of the heartJ. Altern Complement Med. Feb;10(1):133-43.
[ii]Salem Mohammed Omar, Prof. The Heart, Mind and Spiritaccessed at,%20Mind%20and%20Spirit%20%20Mohamed%20Salem.pdf

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year - findng joy through understanding Human Needs Psychology

Happy New Year to you all.
Spending a quiet day on the sofa nursing a cold taking the opportunity to rest. Now, having a cold on the first day  of 2016 seems a bit unfortunate as I pride myself on keeping well - especially as I am in the business of helping others with their health issues! But I realise of course that I must rest and restore myself by not rushing around today but keeping warm, taking Echinacea (a powerful immune stimulus), and loosening my grip on my need to do something.

I have long struggled with this issue and I know that a lot of my clients do also - the need to be a Human Doing - where we get our self worth from our achievements in the external world - the 'doings' rather than making changes internally. Indeed if you want to achieve lasting change in your life (and New Year is a good time to commit to that - whether it be weight loss, a better relationship or a more satisfying work life for instance) then you need to look at what your current behaviours are doing for you in terms of satisfying the basic human needs.  Anthony Robbins and Chloe Madanes talk of the 6 Human Needs:

You can see that the most basic ones are lower down the triangle. I would maybe disagree with some of the terminology; I would call certainty safety for instance. We all need to feel safe and free from pain. Uncertainty I would call 'variety' and this one has led me to end relationships so is very key for me. Significance I have already talked about and led me to the work I now do I think. But some of these things are in competition with eachother - we cannot always have love and connection when we feel unsafe,  and certainty and uncertainty are in precarious balance usually. If we get our significance from our job or relationship and then we lose it, this can lead to much suffering until we find a way to generate this for ourselves again. For growth to occur we need to all these pillars in place in the right proportions for us. You see that it is a hierarchy (much like Maslow's triangle).
But most of us have never examined what our behaviours give us in these terms. For instance, does over-eating give us certainty? In many ways it does. Better than the difficulties of relating to others, as it is a reliable way of seeing comfort - even if it damages us in the process... When we see that what we are really seeking is to feel joy in our lives, but it is our behaviour based on an unconscious belief that is driving us, we can choose to do something differently. Our self-worth comes from our unspoken beliefs about ourselves - and mine was certainly unhealthy and led me to overwork  and ultimately illness.
So, today, I thank my illness for the insight it gave me and the will do it differently now . I will rest and restore today. Wishing you all the best for 2016.
p.s for more information about this work see the RobbinsMadanes website and also my other blogs on the theories of the Human Givens Institute which uses the Maslow hierarchy and has developed them.