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Sorry, your brain doesn’t call the shots!

According to the HeartMath Institute, “most of us have been taught in school that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly known that the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart!

Young women playing tennis

Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function – influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. In other words, not only does the heart respond to the brain, but the brain continuously responds to the heart.

The effect of heart activity on brain function has been researched extensively over about the past 40 years. HeartMath Institute research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function.

During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. (This helps explain why we may often act impulsively and unwisely when we’re under stress.) The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes—actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress.

In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect – it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence, by sustaining positive emotions, not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform”.

There’s so much behind the research and if you’re interested in this sort of thing, I’d encourage you to check out the HeartMath Institute at heartmath.org for more information and detailed exercises you can do.

But the takeaway here is that your breathing is incredibly powerful and has a huge impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing. 

At regular intervals throughout the day (especially if you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or just out of sorts) take the time to breath.  Slow your breathing right down to 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out, there are many techniques such as box breathing that can help.  And while you’re breathing slowly, think about something positive. 

You could think about hugging your kids, how you feel when you go for a run (unless you’re like me and that is a cause for hilarity and embarrassment of all types 😊), the beautiful tree outside your bedroom window, the taste of your morning coffee, what ever makes you feel happy and brings you a level of peace.

Start a new healthy habit, give it a try today!

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