Eric J Carlson | HeartMath: Heart-Brain Coherence
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HeartMath: Heart-Brain Coherence

HM LogoToday I began training for the HeartMath Coach/Mentor Certification. I came to HeartMath through a gentleman named Gregg Braden. Mr. Braden is an author who has spent the last 25 years researching ancient prayer, spiritual practices and physics in an attempt to uncover the mysteries of the Universe. Braden is a well educated and well spoken man. His book, “The Divine Matrix” is an extremely interesting read about “the power of attraction” theory. In his presentations, Braden discusses divine matrixHeartMath and the exceptional research that has come out of the organization in regards to the heart-brain relationship. In Western culture, feelings and mind have been divided for centuries. HeartMath has provided empirical evidence that the brain and heart are physiological connected. The vagus nerve is the most common understanding of their connection but there is much more. The heart is shown to have its own nervous system that contains over 40,000 neurons. The hearts nervous system allows it to process information independently of the brain. This is what allows heart transplants to work. The connections to the brain cannot be developed by an operation. It takes time for the fibers in the nervous system (vagus nerve) to re-establish communications with the brain. Yet, the heart transplant still works and the heart functions normally. The heart also secretes hormones such as ANF (atrial natriuretic factor) and oxytocin. It includes cells termed “intrinsic cardiac adrenergic” cells which have been found to release catecholamines such as norepinephrine and dopamine which were previously thought to only be released by neurotransmitters in the brain.

The Heartmath research is focused on how the heart and brain work together. The research has found that the closer the heart and brain are to psychophysiological coherence, the better the human being functions. Psychophysiological coherence means the heart and brain are working together as one cohesive unit. The genius in HeartMath is their work in tracing the rhythmic influence of heart rate variability (HRV) to higher functioning and well being. In addition, they have traced specific emotions to specific states of heart rate variability to display the interplay between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and hormone release. This is displayed below:

HM hormones and nervous

Developing the skills to bring oneself into coherence is the key to the training I am currently involved in. By viewing the picture above one can observe that living to the right of the y-axis is where we want to be. Heartmath has shown that living closer to coherence can help an individual in the following ways:

  • Decisions-making
  • Decreased arousal
  • High performance
  • Reduced Stress
  • Increased emotional stability
  • Listening ability
  • Reaction Times
  • Feeling States and sensitivities


These benefits contribute to overall well-being and assist an individual in energy management. No longer are seesaw emotions wreaking havoc on an individuals mental and physical stamina. Better self-regulation results in more energy by allowing the individual to identify self-defeating emotional states. This ability to identify is an important aspect of HeartMath. To properly self-regulate and understand if one has heart-brain coherence, development of self-awareness is required. Mindfulness skills are very handy in the HeartMath approach due to the requirement to understand what triggers an individual. Emotional conflict and confrontation can drain the emotional state of an individual if they are not paying attention to their feelings. Secondly, understanding how to re-energize and feed oneself with positive emotion is also important to prepare for challenging or high effort activities. These emotional interactions and understanding of mental and physical stamina is what HeartMath refers to as resilience. Emotions drive physiology which is displayed in the picture below. This picture is the Heart Rate Variability of a man who is engaged in an argument with his wife:

HM HRV aruging

The HeartMath approach also challenges how well you take care of yourself. When not engaged in work, are you participating in re-energizing activity? What are some of the activities that bring you joy and satisfaction? When we participate in activities that drive positive emotions we feel more refreshed. We increase our ability to maintain focus, respond rather than react and have energy throughout the day. The bell curve is very popular when discussing performance. We humans can maintain optimal levels for a decent amount of time, but without refreshing breaks, we plunder. See the graph below which is referring to an officer in the field of battle:

HM battle

HeartMath is further backed up with biofeedback devices that allow you to measure your Heart rate Variability. I received the EmWave Pro when I signed up for the Coach/Mentor class. It is a great device that allows me to check-in with my coherence. I have tested it when I have been in good moods and poor moods. The most telling record of my incoherence is when I am uptight about something. Just last week I was hurrying to get ready for work. I was caught up in the time crunch we experience in the morning, trying to get my daughter to school, eating breakfast, taking a shower etc… I though it would be a good opportunity to measure my HRV considering I knew I was out of coherence. The results are displayed below:

HM bad coherence

Now compare that graph to the following which I measured after progressive muscle relaxation and meditation:

HM good coherence


Overall, I am very impressed with the HeartMath approach to Heart-Brain Coherence and what that means from a psychological and physiological perspective. Additionally, the HeartMath approach aims at building our application of intuition. This is common sense since the techniques included in the HeartMath approach are such that we gain better awareness of our heart, emotions and sensations. I will co  ntinue to update the blog as I enjoy more classes…

Eric Carlson
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