President and Co-CEO, HeartMath. She has been involved with HeartMath since its inception, first as founding executive director of the non-profit HeartMath Institute , then as executive vice president of HeartMath LLC, and for the past decade as founding director, President and CEO of Quantum Intech Inc. (dba HeartMath Inc) and more recently of HeartMath LLC.
Co-author with Doc Children of HeartMath’s Transforming Series: Transforming Stress, Transforming Anger, Transforming Anxiety and Transforming Depression, and is a key spokesperson on HeartMath, heart intelligence, managing stress in these changing times and heart-based living.
Physiological coherence; a scientifically measurable state characterized by increased order and harmony in our mind, emotions and body.
Coherence: A State of Optimal Function
The HeartMath Institute’s research has shown that generating sustained positive emotions facilitates a body-wide shift to a specific, scientifically measurable state. This state is termed psychophysiological coherence, because it is characterized by increased order and harmony in both our psychological (mental and emotional) and physiological (bodily) processes. Psychophysiological coherence is state of optimal function. Research shows that when we activate this state, our physiological systems function more efficiently, we experience greater emotional stability, and we also have increased mental clarity and improved cognitive function. Simply stated, our body and brain work better, we feel better, and we perform better.
Physiologically, the coherence state is marked by the development of a smooth, sine-wave-like pattern in the heart rate variability trace. This characteristic pattern, called heart rhythm coherence, is the primary indicator of the psychophysiological coherence state, and is what the emWave and Inner Balance technologies measure and quantify. A number of important physiological changes occur during coherence. The two branches of the ANS synchronize with one another, and there is an overall shift in autonomic balance toward increased parasympathetic activity. There is also increased physiological entrainment—a number of different bodily systems synchronize to the rhythm generated by the heart (see figure below). Finally, there is increased synchronization between the activity of the heart and brain.
The Heart–Brain Connection
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! 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. Earlier research mainly examined the effects of heart activity occurring on a very short time scale – over several consecutive heartbeats at maximum. Scientists at the HeartMath Institute have extended this body of scientific research by looking at how larger-scale patterns of heart activity affect the brain’s functioning.