Coherence? Not meditation again, please…!
We’ve all heard about the many benefits of meditation. It can calm the mind and body, reduce the negative effects of stress and release tension. Meditation also helps us gain more inner balance and peace. More medical professionals are now recommending meditation to patients as a way to decompress and relieve stress. Yet its spiritual connotations mean that there are many people out there who don’t see themselves as “the meditating type”, or don’t have the time, and so miss the mental and physical benefits of the practice. So for many the development of the neuroscientific field of coherence could the the answer they are looking for.
A recent US Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that over 20 million people in the United States practice some form of mindfulness meditation, and whilst some way behind, the practice of “mindfulness” is growing in Europe. While mindfulness has become an accepted way of reducing stress and anxiety, there are still many people who either have little time to dedicate to the art of meditation; or have been told by their doctor they should meditate but don’t know how. Perhaps they feel frustrated trying to sit still and quiet their mind.
I tried it and it just didn’t work for me
A key goal of meditation is to calm a racing mind. When we can learn how to turn down mental noise and tap into an inner stillness, we connect with deeper feelings and our intuition. However, quite often many of us find that we spend a good portion of our meditation trying to chill and quiet the persistence of the mind. It’s hard to unplug when your mind won’t turn off. Many people tell me they are so fatigued that they fall asleep during their meditation time.
Falling asleep when meditating means that you’ve gone to far in to parasympathetic “mode”; you’re not going to get the benefits of being in a balanced and calm state that allows you to perform at your best. This balanced, calm state is called coherence, and allows you to access both hemispheres of your brain, allowing you to be calm, creative and organised, when it matters.
Quick coherence in just a few minutes
Through 20 years of research on the effects of emotions on physiology, the Institute of HeartMath developed a simple yet powerful technique called Heart-Focused Breathing (R) that enables you to recharge in as little as three to five minutes. Using this technique a couple times a day brings you more inner clarity and balance.
You’re probably wondering what “coherence” is. It’s a term used by researchers to describe a highly efficient psycho-physiological state in which your nervous system, cardiovascular, hormonal and immune systems are working together efficiently and harmoniously. How do you get into this state of coherence?
Research has found that the pattern of your heart rhythm reflects the state of your emotions and nervous system dynamics. For example, when you are feeling tense, irritable, impatient, frustrated or anxious, your heart rhythm shifts into a disordered and incoherent pattern, like the diagram below. No wonder you can’t calm your mind in this state.
Your heart signals “incoherence” to the brain, which inhibits your higher brain functions and triggers a stress response. You can’t perceive as clearly and old emotional issues can start coming to the surface.
On the other hand, when you’re feeling positive emotions, like sincere appreciation, care, compassion or love, your heart rhythm shifts into a more harmonious and coherent pattern, reflecting the emotional balance you feel inside. Your heart sends coherent signals to the brain and the brain synchronizes to the heart’s coherent rhythm. You get into this state of coherence by learning how to shift your emotional state, and then heart coherence helps to calm your mind.
Heart coherence also triggers positive hormonal releases. This makes it easier to experience peace, positive feelings and a deeper meditative state more quickly.
You can use the Heart-Focused Breathing to bring your heart rhythms into coherence and enable your brain to synchronize with your heart’s coherent rhythm. Start by learning how to shift into a heart-focused, positive emotional state through two simple steps.
Heart-Focused Breathing™ Technique
Step 1) Focus your attention in the area of the heart.
Step 2) Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest
area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual.
Suggestion: Inhale to the count of 5, exhale to the count of 5 (or whatever rhythm is comfortable).
After reading the steps, stop for a moment and genuinely try it for a full minute. Heart-Focused Breathing is an on-the-go technique, meaning you don’t have to stop what you’re doing and close your eyes to do it. Practice doing it with your eyes open! Also, try doing Heart-Focused Breathing at different times during the day, or when someone else is talking, and see what you notice.
The next step is to take this technique and make it a habit. Do this by picking certain times of the day when you can give yourself a guilt-free three to five minutes to focus on your heart: Start of your day, right before lunch, just before bed. Waiting in line is also a great time to use this technique instead of getting aggravated. You’ll be amazed at how different your experience of waiting can be. Instead of draining your energy by focusing on the negative you’re using the time to recharge. The more you practice, the more quickly heart coherence emerges and the easier it is to sustain.
Now that you have this powerful recharge tool, you may want to see for yourself how it affects your physiology. HeartMath has developed a number of biofeedback technologies that help you focus and improve your coherence over time. Used regularly it is proven to build resilience to stress and also give you new mind states that can help you self-coach during times of stress and anxiety.
Adding coherence to your meditation – or whatever method you use to unplug and recharge – will enhance your results
Note: There are a number of additional ways that you can learn to increase your coherence. You can check out the free webinars that HeartMath provides or if you prefer personal coaching I am a licensed Heartmath Coach based in the UK, providing coaching face to face and over skype. Contact me to arrange a call to discuss how Heartmath coaching can help you.
Importance of Heart Rate Variability for Your Health, Heartmath Institute. Link here.
Harmelink, A., Pilot Study of the Effects of Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback on Perceived Stress, Perceived Coping Ability, and Resilience in Accelerated Baccalaureate Nursing Students. 2016. South Dakota University. Link here.