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The Benefits of Coherence: A Heart Centered Life

By Vincent Pedre M.D.
January 20, 2011
File under: Positive Psychology, Relaxation Techniques


What is coherence and how can ‘being in coherence’ benefit health?

In physics, the concept of coherence is used to describe the interaction or coupling of different fluctuating systems. The synchronization of different systems or processes is key in this concept, which has created holograms, lasers, radio antennas and radio telescopes that can see far into the history of the universe. So, how does this concept apply to humans?

The Institute of Heartmath, a nonprofit research organization, has dedicated the last 19 years to studying how heart-based living and coherence can lead to greater adaptability to life’s challenges. The HeartMath system uses technology and training to teach people how to rely on the intelligence of their hearts in concert with their minds.

These researchers have created a system designed to reduce stress, self-regulate emotions and build energy and resilience for healthy, happy lives. What does coherence mean to you?

The question brings us back to our hearts. The beat-to-beat variability of our hearts is actually a powerful indicator of the level of coherence we are experiencing. Research has shown that these moment-to-moment changes in our heart rate are an important indicator of our resiliency and flexibility.

In other words, looking at this one marker helps predict a person’s ability to deal with stressors and changes in their life. To understand this, we need to look at a hidden part of the nervous system that is always active even though we are not consciously aware of its workings.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a part of the nervous system that works automatically to control the heart rate, digestion and respiration. An imbalance in our ANS contributes to feelings of stress and anxiety, often causing panic attacks and insomnia. While it is true that these visceral functions operate below our consciousness, through proper training we can achieve control and balance over our ANS.

When you achieve coherence in your heart rate rhythm, there is an increase in relaxation-inducing parasympathetic activity in the ANS, increased heart-brain synchronization and greater balance between physiological systems. Think of positive emotions, such as love and appreciation, as being coherent. Think of negative emotions, such as anger, frustration, fear and lack of self-love, as being incoherent. When you visualize in this way, you begin to understand the power of coherence in your daily life.

To be coherent would then be defined as being fully integrated with all aspects of yourself. When you are in coherence, the world and your life within it become a wonderful symphony.1 Everything falls into place. Your body, mind and soul are one.

How do you achieve coherence? Follow these simple steps:
1. Slow your breathing, inhale and exhale to a count of seven
2. Focus your attention on your heart
3. Send feelings of love and acceptance to your heart.

Practice this exercise for at least 10 minutes. Frequency is important. The more you do this, the longer you will be able to sustain positive emotional states and meet the challenges of your day to day stressors.

The benefits of coherence are far-reaching and include, reduced anxiety and depression, better immune function and hormone balance, reduced levels of fatigue, improved cognition, enhanced learning and other health benefits, such as lower blood pressure.2 3

For more information: Institute of Heartmath

Vincent Pedre, M.D. is an Integrative, Holistic General Practitioner and Board-Certified Internist in private practice in New York City. Follow Dr. Pedre on Facebook.

More from ecomii:

1. Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.  Coherence: Bridging Personal, Social and Global Health, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, a Peer-reviewed Journal, 2010;16 (4):10-24.

2. R. McCraty.  Heart Rhythm Coherence Feedback: A New Tool for Stress Reduction, Rehabilitation, and Performance Enhancement, Proceedings of the First Baltic Forum on Neuronal Regulation and Biofeedback, Riga, Latvia, November 2-5, 2004.

3. R. McCraty, et al.  Impact of a Workplace Stress Reduction Program on Blood Pressure and Emotional Health in Hypertensive Employees, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2003; 9(3):355-369.

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