Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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 LEAD WITH YOUR HEART                             


Spring is here and I really want to share some techniques of positive psychology with you! I am, like everyone, subject to moods, but because of my profession I have the luxury to spend time investigating new ideas and trying them out myself. Some years ago psychology did take a positive turn away from only studying problems and began to encompass exciting new strategies to increase life happiness. Of course it's great when therapists and life coaches can help people solve their problems but it's even better when accompanied by positive techniques to improve life satisfaction. I assure you that I have fun testing out these new ideas and they do work!


As a therapist and life coach I use cognitive-behavioral strategies to help my clients achieve the goals they are requesting when they arrive for services. The rational brain, when properly trained and harnessed to solve problems, is a marvelous tool for helping clients decrease stress, resolve life problems and improve life satisfaction. Many of the techniques described in my website articles are cognitive-behavioral strategies.


Today however we are going to talk about the heart. Yes, we know that the heart is a pump located somewhere in the middle of our body with aortas and ventricles and pumps blood throughout our body to maintain life. But we now know the heart is much much more! I'm going to tell you about some of the exciting scientific discoveries about the heart and then I'll give you some suggestions about how to use this information to improve your life. Interestingly enough, poets and mystics have long known that the heart has deep cultural significance and is the center of our emotional being. Our language tells us that you can love someone from the "bottom of your heart" and that a loss of love will leave you "brokenhearted." How many times have you "listened to your heart" when making important decisions?


Let's start with an amazing finding about heart transplants.  Many cases have been documented showing clear evidence of personality changes after a heart transplant directly related to what are termed "transplant memories" from the heart donor. Let me tell you about a few of these amazing cases. A heart was transplanted from Jerry, age 16 months, to Carter age 7 months. Later Carter was able to pick out Jerry's father from a group of people. He ran up to this man, climbed onto his lap and called him "Daddy." Carter said that Jerry ran to his daddy and he just went along with him. In another case an 8-year-old girl received the heart of a 10-year-old girl who had been murdered. After the transplant the recipient began to experience traumatic nightmares about the murder which were specific and accurate enough to allow the police to identify and apprehend the killer. In another case a girl age 14 was the heart donor for a 47-year-old man. After the operation the man displayed personality characteristics of the girl including an annoying tendency to giggle like a teenager. So where did the heart transplant memories come from? The conventional view is that memories are only stored in brain tissues.


New research is showing that both the brain and the heart are critically important and interact in all areas of life. In fact, the actual numbers of neuronal connections going from the heart center to the cognitive centers is greater than the number going the other way!  The field of neurocardiology has advanced the concept of the "heart brain" which allows it to act independently of the brain in the skull. The heart communicates with the brain and the body in four ways: neurologically through the nervous system, biophysically through pulse waves, biochemically through hormones and energetically through electromagnetic fields. The heart's electrical field is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the electrical activity generated by the brain, and the magnetic field produced by the heart is more than 5000 times greater in strength than the field generated by the brain. The heart's electromagnetic signals can be detected anywhere on the surface of the body and a number of feet away from the body in all directions. Interestingly enough, the heart also produces the hormone oxytocin known as the love bonding hormone. Precognition research shows that the heart is the first responder before the brain or the autonomic nervous system. Much of this research is available on the website Dr. Gary Schwartz, The Energy Healing Experiments (Atria, 2007) has documented the many fascinating ways in which the heart communicates directly to the individuals brain but also ways in which heart signals (such as EKG waves) are detected in another persons brain (EEG waves.)


I've spent some time on the scientific data to demonstrate the importance of paying attention to your heart. Yes, you can learn to listen to your heart and follow your heart.  Information from your heart can be received most clearly when your brain is in a meditative state and you focus attention on the messages you can receive from your heart. If you haven't studied meditation per se, you can use meditative music such as hemi-sync (Monroe Institute) for access to your heart. Heart focused breathing can be used, slow and deep breathing as you picture your breath going in and out through the center of your chest. This heart focus is even more effective when you generate feelings of appreciation and gratitude and/or profound feelings of love and caring for yourself and others. You can use these techniques in the morning to prepare for the day, at night to promote restful sleep or during the day when you encounter stress. We teach mental strategies to quiet the mind, but these specific heart focused techniques can be used to counter the heart pounding and jitters of the stress response. Breathe in and out true feelings of calm, peace and balance starting in your heart area. If you are interested, the HeartMath project can provide you with more information and even technical equipment to promote the heart response.