It’s no secret that stress is a top cause of acute and chronic disease. Many of us have experienced this in the form of a minor stress-induced cold, or possibly a more serious health condition, like heart disease or an emotional breakdown.
There’s plenty of research to prove it and an abundance of “stress management” products, classes, and strategies to help us better cope with this foreign-invader known as stress.
But, is stress something outside of ourselves? Some evil force that sneaks in when we’re not looking and wreaks havoc on our unsuspecting souls?
I would suggest to you, today (as I have to countless patients throughout the years) how important it is to look within, to our own reactions to circumstances we perceive a certain way.
Without looking within to cultivate our resilience, life can seem like a journey of solving one problem after another without feeling more inner peace over time. I’ve often described this reactionary state as a game of whack-a-mole, where we’re constantly reacting to our circumstances with no hope of victory.
So, if stress—or more accurately, our response to stress—comes from within, how can we measure our internal reactions objectively so we can learn to reduce our feelings of stress and increase our awareness of peacefulness within our very being even in the midst of challenging circumstances?
After all, many of us have been conditioned to see stress as something outside ourselves. That perceptions allows many of our reactions to be largely unconscious. We can feel justified in our reactions to circumstances, looking at the outside forces as a reason for our lack of inner peace. The challenge becomes how to find a way to learn how to develop inner peace and resilience if we are feeling overwhelmed by life. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wave a magic wand and when we have a challenge or problem we could go to that place inside us that has the wisdom to guide us how to handle challenging circumstances? I haven’t found that magic wand yet, but I believe I do know the next best thing.
There is a way, and it’s called: HeartMath or Heart Intelligence.
This widely accepted method and science has been proven to measure and improve your stress response, and consequently your overall health, for over 25 years.
In today’s post, my intention is to share how stress manifests from within, and how to use HeartMath and principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine as natural stress relief to change your baseline reactions and create a healthier, happier and more resilient life (and end the seemingly never-ending game of whack-a-mole).
What is HeartMath? The Ultimate Objective Measure of Your Stress Response
I was introduced to the science of HeartMath as a way to measure and control stress 20 years ago, and it’s been one of my passions and go-to tools ever since.
Founded in 1991, The HeartMath Institute has been dedicated to studying the innate intelligence of the heart, specifically heart rate and rhythm, and its powerful connection to our brain, emotions, stress response, and to other organs and systems.
Thanks to their researchers, we now know, for example, that the heart’s rhythmic beating creates the body’s largest electromagnetic field, which sends important messages to the brain. In fact, the heart sends more messages to the brain than the brain does to the heart.
What does this have to do with overcoming stress?
First off, it is well known that heart rate variability (HRV) is a key factor in our overall health, fitness, and ability to adapt and respond to stressful situations. If we have a steady, congruent heart rate, we will be resilient in the face of stress; whereas if we have an erratic, unpredictable heart rate we are more likely to succumb to disease when stressful times hit. Please note as you read further that we are looking at heart rate variability which is different than simply looking at how many times your heart beats per minute.
Now, here’s the really interesting part: researchers at the HeartMath Institute found one of the most powerful factors affecting our heart rate and rhythm is: our feelings, breath, and emotions.
For example, they found, in general, that negative emotions create an erratic heart rhythm, which disrupts our nervous system and leads to a reduced ability to cope with stress and other ailments.
While positive feelings and emotions produced a smooth, congruent heart rate variability that promotes a calm, balanced nervous system resulting in (you guessed it) emotional resilience, a stronger ability to overcome stress, and better overall health.
This research is ground-breaking for those of us who wish to address our response to stress, and its detrimental health effects, at its root cause: in a word, attitude.
In the years since its inception, HeartMath has created a variety of research-based biofeedback tools, designed to help balance the heart-brain connection and help you overcome stress by using breath work and exercises that enhance positive emotions.
I’ll get into that technology, known as Inner Balance™, coming up. But first, let’s take a look at a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective on what’s now known as HeartMath.
How Traditional Chinese Medicine Views Heart Intelligence
Long before HeartMath researchers came along, Traditional Chinese healers had an advanced beat on the power and true function of the heart.
They viewed the heart as much more than muscle or valve that moved blood around, rather they saw it as the king or ruler of the body. The “fire” organ, that controls and affects all others, and that all others will bend and sacrifice to support.
They also were keenly aware of the heart’s living consciousness, or “spirit” if you will, which is called “shen.”
Now you’ll know what your acupuncturist means when they talk about the importance of “calming and balancing your shen,” they are essentially working to restore balance your body at its life source: the Heart meridian.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, symptoms of an imbalanced Heart Meridian often show up as stress-related ailments such as insomnia, anxiety, a lack or overabundance of joy, an inability to speak freely, and eventually heart disease.
The heart is also intimately connected to the health of the stomach and liver, which may suffer if the heart meridian is imbalanced, or vice versa.
Remedies for an imbalanced Heart meridian include addressing chronic stress and reconnecting with your Heart center through practices such as Qigong, meditating, or spending more time with loved ones.
As a Doctor of Acupuncture Oriental Medicine who was taught and seeks to teach the importance of honoring Heart Intelligence and balancing “Shen,” the advent of HeartMath and their tools for restoring and resetting that inner stress response have been an immense blessing. I love to have practical tools to pass onto patients to make this journey easier and more enjoyable.
It’s been incredible to have something tangible, beyond explaining TCM theory, that I can recommend to patients to start addressing stress at its root cause.
Let’s look at those “tangibles” right now and how you can use them.
How to Use HeartMath Tools to Address Chronic Stress at its Root Cause and Build Emotional Resilience
Now that you understand how our inner reaction and conditioning to circumstances produces stress, and how that stress affects our central governing organ, the Heart, let’s look at my favorite tool to address this issue at its core.
Yes, there’s an app for that!
It’s called Inner Balance™ by HeartMath, and it’s available as an app to help you track your heart rate so you know when you’re defaulting to those old reactionary stress patterns. And it helps coach you, through breath work and positive imagery, to return to that restorative, peaceful place of balance.
Here’s how it works.
Because breathing patterns modulate the heart’s rhythm, the app tracks your breath and alerts you when you need to slow down and breathe more deeply and rhythmically.
This, along with positive imagery and thoughts, returns your heart rate variability to its optimal, coherent state which promotes health, emotional balance, and clear thinking.
Qigong and meditation provide the same benefits, and are highly recommended in addition to Inner Balance. The great thing about Inner Balance is it provides objective data while facilitating a consistent, conscious awareness of your stress response. Plus, you can use it anywhere, anytime.
This assisted-awareness is so crucial to your success in overcoming old programming, as our society is so conditioned to thrive on the whack-a-mole reactions to stress, that most of us are hardly conscious of it.
And the app makes those reactions impossible to ignore, so we can adjust them…and return to our true state of gratitude, calmness, and health.
There is much more to say about the heart-brain connection, heart intelligence, and its direct affect on the cause of stress and stress-related ailments, but I will leave it here for today.
Your mission (if you choose to accept it) is to try out the Inner Balance app for one week, and see for yourself what an incredible difference it will make to your ability to handle stress, your brain power, and overall emotional resilience and well-being.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
To learn more about Heart Intelligence and Heart Math science and studies, visit the Heart Math Institute at: www.heartmath.org.
In heart-felt appreciation,