Throughout much of recorded history, in the writings and oral traditions of many diverse cultures, people strongly believed in an intelligent heart. As a child, I often was told to go your heart for the answer and listen to your heart. When I did, I often found insight or clarity on a problem I was facing. In Sunday school, teachers talked about the “still, small voice in the heart” and it made sense to me. They never said the “still, small voice in the head,” which often for me was a voice of self-doubt.
As I grew older, I adopted views about intelligence that I learned in school: that the ability to learn, understand, reason, and apply knowledge was a function of the brain in the head. It never occurred to me that the intuitive sense or clarity I gained by listening to my heart had anything to do with my physical heart. So when I read about research into “heart intelligence” I was fascinated.
During the 1960s and ’70s physiologists John and Beatrice Lacey conducted research that showed the heart actually communicates with the brain in ways that greatly affect how we perceive and react to the world around us. Today, more than a half century after the Laceys began their research, we know a great deal more about the intelligent heart:
- The heart sends us emotional and intuitive signals to help govern our lives.
- The heart directs and aligns many systems in the body so that they can function in harmony with one another.
- The heart has its own independent complex nervous system known as “the brain in the heart.”
- The heart’s independent brain and nervous system relay information to the brain in the cranium, creating a two-way communication system between heart and brain.
- The heart makes many of its own decisions.
- The heart starts beating in the unborn fetus before the brain has been formed, a process that scientists call autorhythmic.
- Human beings form an emotional brain long before a rational one, and a beating heart before either.
Researchers at various institutions began showing in the 1980s and ’90s that success in life depends more on an individual’s ability to effectively manage emotions than on the intellectual ability of the brain in the head. These findings naturally resulted in people wanting to know how to infuse emotions with intelligence.
Doc Childre founded the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) in 1991 to study heart intelligence. Scientists at IHM posed a theory that heart intelligence actually transfers intelligence to the emotions and instills the power of emotional management. In other words, heart intelligence is really the source of emotional intelligence. In the book The HeartMath Solution, written by Doc Childre and his associate and longtime HeartMath spokesman Howard Martin, they explain:
“From our research at the Institute of HeartMath, we’ve concluded that intelligence and intuition are heightened when we learn to listen more deeply to our own heart. It’s through learning how to decipher messages we receive from our heart that we gain the keen perception needed to effectively manage our emotions in the midst of life’s challenges. The more we learn to listen to and follow our heart intelligence, the more educated, balanced and coherent our emotions become. Without the guiding influence of the heart, we easily fall prey to reactive emotions such as insecurity, anger, fear and blame as well as other energy-draining reactions and behaviors.
Early HeartMath research found that negative emotions throw the nervous system out of balance. When that happened, heart rhythms became disordered and appeared jagged on a heart monitor. The heart communicated that disorder to the brain and the result was cortical inhibition. Positive emotions, by contrast, were found to increase order and balance in the nervous system and produce smooth, harmonious heart rhythms that enhanced people’s ability to clearly perceive the world around them.
HeartMath research defines heart intelligence as the flow of awareness, understanding and intuition we experience when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment with the heart. It can be activated through self-initiated practice, and the more we pay attention when we sense the heart is speaking to us or guiding us, the greater our ability to access this intelligence and guidance more frequently. Heart intelligence underlies cellular organization and guides and evolves organisms toward increased order, awareness and coherence of their bodies’ systems.
Today there are dozens of scientific papers on HeartMath’s research in heart intelligence and dozens of universities studying its applications for emotional self-regulation, health, academic performance, intuitive development and more.
In next week’s Care 2 column, Deborah Rozman will write about new research on the spiritual, energetic heart.
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