Listening to the Heart

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In troubled times, people often give the advice “listen to your heart, not your head.” This is easier said than done. If you place your hand on your chest, or a finger on your wrist, you can monitor the rhythm of your heart. But throughout most of your day, you probably don’t even notice your heartbeat at all.

That’s because your brain masks the sensation of your heart; except when your pulse races while you are afraid or excited, which is probably a signal that you should pay attention to something going on in your environment.. This masking may be a way to keep you from being distracted — or annoyed — by the constant beating of your heart.
New research suggests that the brain’s ability to filter out the sensation of your heartbeat could also make you vulnerable to perceptual illusions that are in sync with your heart’s rhythm.

In a study [] published last year in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that people had a harder time identifying a flashing object when it was in sync with their heartbeat. Researchers also used functional MRI to measure the activity in the insula, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness. Activity in this region was suppressed in people watching images synchronized with the heart’s rhythm.

In an interview [] with Scientific American, study author Roy Salomon, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, said that the brain is able to tune out sensory inputs coming from the heart because it knows that it is “coming from the self.”

Other researchers are studying not how the body ignores the heartbeat, but how the rhythm of the heart can become aligned with the brain, mind and emotions to give rise to a flow of information called heart intelligence.

In a video [] on Science & Nonduality, psychologist Deborah Rozman PhD, describes the work that has been done by the HeartMath Institute [] in this area.

The heart communicates via the vagus nerve to different areas of the brain, including the frontal lobes, thalamus and the amygdala, the seat of emotional memory. The heart’s rhythm is far from constant, changing from beat to beat. This heart rate variability is of interest in both clinical fields [] and the exercise world.

Work done by the HeartMath Institute focuses on how heart rate variability can connect people to their intuitive side. One study [], published in 2004 in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, involved volunteers viewing pictures displayed by a computer — either disturbing (such as gory or bloody images) or calming (like images of bunny rabbits in nature).

Researchers monitored the heart rate variability throughout. They found that the variability changed before the picture was even displayed to the subjects — the heart knew almost five seconds before the computer randomly selected the picture whether it would be disturbing or calm. The heart transmitted different information to the brain depending on whether the picture displayed by the computer was disturbing or calming — also before the picture was shown.

“This research, replicated by several institutions,” said Rozman, “suggests that heart intuitive processes access a field of information that is not limited by the boundaries of time and space — through the energetic or spiritual heart. It’s the source of our deeper intuitive guidance — Heart Intelligence.”


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