How to Sharpen Your Brain with Your Heart
Like many baby boomers, I’ve been noticing my memory isn’t as sharp as it once was. Scientists call this “cognitive decline.” I don’t really like that expression, because other aspects of my cognitive functions are sharper than ever. For example, more often I can’t remember where I put my car keys or I enter a room forgetting why I went there and have to retrace my steps back to where I started to remember. However, my problem-solving abilities and intuitive discernment are getting more keen and refined.
A recent CNN news report said cognitive decline begins around age forty. I’ve read other reports that say we are sharpest up to age 25-35. One thing these reports hardly ever discuss is how our emotions affect our cognitive functions and that we can improve our minds, not just by playing puzzles or going back to school, but by reducing our stress and increasing how much time we spend in positive emotional states.
Stressful emotions that we all experience at times, like anxiety or worry, anger and fear, invariably lead to stress and tend to cause a desynchronization in the activity in the brain and nervous system, which directly impairs cognitive functions. In fact, it’s well established that ongoing stress is a major contributor to the decline of our cognitive functions. On the other hand, when we have a more positive outlook, when we’re feeling hopeful, appreciative, caring and loving, it improves the way our brain and nervous system process information.
According to Institute of HeartMath director of research, Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. “Our ability to focus and pay attention often has to do with how much stress we’re experiencing.” He adds that, “Each of us has the capacity to slow the natural aging process, remain alert and develop our brain power all the way into our 80s and 90s, because the brain has the capacity regenerate itself and grow new brain cells through a process called neuroplasiticity.”
Founded in 1991, the Institute of HeartMath has conducted many years of extensive research and field studies on stress, emotions and cognitive performance. They discovered there is a distinct mode of harmonious physical and psychological functioning that promotes emotional stability and optimal cognitive performance, called “heart coherence.” It’s a state where heart-brain interactions, mind, emotions and nervous system are all in sync. They key to entering this coherent state is using our heart to sharpen our brain. HeartMath also created coherence tools we can use to do this, and after a short period of practice, achieve a new internal coherence baseline that increases our ability to focus, our reaction times, our mental clarity and other cognitive functions. Study Shows HeartMath Techniques Help Improve Memory, click here to view article.
Using your Heart to Change your Brain
We become more internally coherent by learning how to change our heart rhythm pattern to work to our benefit. The heart rhythm pattern communicates information to the brain that influences how we think, feel and act. By learning how to replace negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and guilt with healthier responses such as compassion, care and forgiveness, we change our heart rhythm pattern. Our heart sends a different signal to the brain that provides us with different perceptions that create more integration and we better choices. When practiced regularly, heart coherence actually creates new neural patterns. Eventually, often within just six- nine weeks, the brain and nervous system rewire themselves to recognize these coherent heart-rhythm patterns as our new baseline – the norm. As our brain and nervous system synchronize with our heart, the brain develops a repository of healthy emotional responses from which it selects during times of stress. We reset our physiological and psychological response to stress and we increase our emotional stability and cognitive performance at the same time.
So, if we really want to slow cognitive decline, it’s important to manage stress, otherwise the effects of stress accumulate. So much of our stress is created by anxious projections about what might happen (and often never does) or by irritation, frustration or anger about what has happened that we can’t do anything about. We can develop the heart power and ability to change that.
This has certainly been the case in my life. I have learned how to shift into heart rhythm coherence when I feel stress and often the stressful feeling releases. I also often immediately gain the mental or intuitive perception of what I need to do next to help the situation. I find this an empowering and fulfilling way to live. So if I forget where I left my car keys or can’t remember the name of the movie I watched a week ago, so what!
Read about two additional tips offered in the article, Webinar Explains Coherence, How to Rewire Brain called The Prep and Recoup and Recover.
To learn more, become a member of Institute of HeartMath and receive regular updates on heart-brain research and access to the video-webinar “How Practicing Coherence Enhances Cognitive Functions and Helps Offset Cognitive Decline with Dr. McCraty.