For most people, the term “heart coherence” doesn’t sound familiar. Not only people like you and me will wonder what it means, many doctors probably can’t exactly explain what it means. The HeartMath Institute in the US has researched it for over 20 years, and personally, I would define it as “a scientifically measurable state of the body that benefits health by generating a continuous flow of positive emotions.” In other words, heart coherence is good for both the physical body and our emotional state.
What is Heart Coherence?
The meaning of heart coherence is a psychophysiological state characterized by optimal order and harmony in both our psychological (mental and emotional) and physiological (physical) processes. In a state of coherence, the heart, our lungs, and our brain work together in perfect harmony.
Research from HeartMath Institute shows that this state can be easily achieved and that people who control this process benefit from more efficient physiological processes, greater emotional stability, increased mental clarity, and improved cognitive function. In short, if we can achieve heart coherence, everything in our body works better, and we have better health, both physical and emotional.
What is heart-brain coherence?
In a state of heart-brain coherence, the heart and brain work together flawlessly and function as a whole. Characteristics of such a condition are:
- calm, relaxed breathing
- a steady heartbeat
- experiencing positive emotions
- relaxed attention
Dr. Rollin McCraty, Research Director of the HeartMath Institute, explains: “Coherence is the state in which the heart, mind, and emotions are energetically aligned and working together. It is a state that provides emotional resilience and personal energy, leaving more energy to manifest intentions and harmonious results.”
What are the characteristics of heart coherence?
When we are in a state of heart coherence, there is a smooth sinusoidal pattern measurable in the heart variability. This characteristic pattern also referred to as heart rhythm coherence, is the primary indicator that can be measured with the emWave 2 or emWave Pro, two devices developed by HeartMath Institute to measure and display the degree of coherence. A number of physiological processes change with heart coherence. Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems synchronize with each other, creating a stable degree of homeostasis.
When one reaches a state of heart coherence, there is a healthy collaboration of three factors:
- Heart rate variability
- Heartbeat rhythm
All three of these systems will display a sinusoidal and smoother display pattern. This is in contrast to what a pattern looks like of a stressed person. Then the display pattern is erratic and irregular.
How do you achieve coherence?
Heart coherence can easily be achieved within a few minutes. Our emotions and feelings are of unprecedented importance.
Sit quietly in a place where you will not be disturbed and evoke a feeling of appreciation and make sure you breathe calmly. You can do this in the car, while taking a shower, or just relax on the couch. If you struggle with this, recall a memory that you are grateful for. You can also use certain music or look at a photo. Anchoring can be a valuable resource in this regard.
When you have the grateful feeling and the emotions associated with it for yourself in the foreground, let this feeling continue. You can create a smile on the inside of your mouth. This may sound strange, but it makes it easier to hold onto this emotion.
After you have evoked these positive emotions, experienced them for a few minutes, and you are using an emWave Pro, you will be able to see on your heart monitor that you have reached a state of heart coherence and that your heart rate variability (HRV) has increased in value.
How can you measure heart coherence?
There are various heart coherence apps with which you can measure coherence and HRV. You can find this in the Apple App Store and in the Google Play Store.
Of course, the most reliable and complete measurements are obtained with equipment that has been specially developed for this, such as the emWave 2 from HeartMath Institute. This is an advanced heart rate monitor that can also measure subtle changes in the heart rhythm and coherence. These subtle changes are reflected in the heart rate variability (HRV). Read more about the emWave 2 or emWave Pro.
In the video below, Howard Martin, one of the founders of HeartMath, shows how the device monitors and measures HRV and provides the person with continuous feedback.
Respiration and heart coherence
Just as our breathing affects our heart rate, so does the heart rate affect the breathing. Our breathing and our hearts are the brake and accelerator, and they work very closely together. When we inhale, the heart rate speeds up. When we exhale, it slows down. In science, this is also called “respiratory sinus arrhythmia.”
This balance, which always brings the system to rest, is comparable to our nervous system. In comparison, our sympathetic nervous system triggers our organs to act (accelerator pedal), while our parasympathetic nervous system (brake pedal) restores. In this way, a balance is always restored in the body.
Just like breathing, heart coherence indicates the same kind of balance: the acceleration and slowing of our heartbeat are in balance. Scientists have discovered that there is a connection between our breathing and heart rate. By breathing rhythmically, the parasympathetic nervous system (brake pedal) restores peace in the body and, therefore, also in the heart.
When you find yourself in a stressful situation, your heart will be pounding in your throat. By breathing calmly and rhythmically, for example, by means of “box breathing,” you can quickly restore peace in your body and mind.
Breathing and a state of heart coherence are inextricably linked. As soon as you evoke and experience a sense of gratitude, the body relaxes, and the breathing deepens.
Why heart coherence in stress and burnout?
The contemporary approach to stress and burnout is mainly based on a cognitive-psychological perspective. Indeed, it can bring many benefits if we reason a situation logically and place it in a different perspective.
Nevertheless, there are still great gains to be made by approaching stress and burnout complaints from a holistic perspective. Stress also has a major impact on our physical condition.
Our heartbeat is determined by our thoughts, the emotions that cause them, and our breathing. As a result, our system is constantly in overdrive (accelerator) during stress or when the balance is lost. By focusing on our breathing, we can rebalance our heart rhythm and restore peace of mind.
The way we breathe tells a lot about our physical and/or mental state. Hyperventilation and other incorrect breathing patterns are often the norms for stressful people. They breathe too quickly, too slowly, too shallowly, or hold their breath frequently. These unconscious breathing patterns can lead to many complaints, both physical and mental.
Heart coherence for better breathing
People with acute or chronic hyperventilation often suffer from stress complaints. Consider, for example, hyperventilation just before a performance or a presentation.
In most cases, hyperventilation is caused by an unrealistic response to potential danger. The wrong breathing manifests itself as a result of all kinds of underlying tensions, fears, and thoughts.
As a result, we start to breathe high and shallow on the chest. The result is that with hyperventilation, we get too much oxygen and too little carbon dioxide in the blood. This creates an imbalance between the two. The low CO2 content, in particular, plays a major role in hyperventilation as the acidity (pH value) of the blood rises.
Heart coherence and hyperventilation
By training heart coherence, people with hyperventilation achieve great benefits. A good exercise for this is the HeartMath Institute’s Quick Coherence® technique. In doing so, you use the power of the heart and positive emotions to balance your thoughts and emotions.
You can apply the Quick Coherence® technique when you feel a negative emotion, such as frustration, irritation, fear, or anger. By applying this easy, but very effective technique, you will quickly be able to overcome your hyperventilation and restore inner harmony. Watch how to use this technique in this video.
Sleeping and heart coherence
Many people want to improve their sleep. In 2018, almost 25% of people over 25 years old indicated that they regularly experienced sleeping problems.
It’s all about balance, including sleep. For example, when you experience stress, you recover from it during restorative sleep. It’s important to understand that what we do during the day affects how we sleep at night.
If we allow the stress during the day to build up in our system and not relax enough, we disrupt our natural resilience and balance, and we can get a considerably disturbed sleep pattern. Practicing relaxation techniques during the day and right before going to bed can help improve your sleep.
Relaxation techniques to sleep better
Of course, there are various methods of relaxation and sleep improvement. It is important to avoid bright (blue) light before going to bed anyway. So switch off the TV, tablet, and smartphone at least an hour before going to sleep. It also helps to dim the lights, which stimulates the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
When you are still mentally busy, a soothing evening meditation can calm your brain so you can fall asleep more easily. Half an hour of yoga can also be wonderfully relaxing for the body and mind.
Replace unwanted emotions
During the day, many people have to deal with unwanted emotions like frustration or anger, for example, at work or in traffic. For stress reduction, it is important to process emotional reactions, such as irritation, worry, fear, judgments, and blame during the day, so you don’t (literally) take them to bed.
If you notice during the day that you feel stressed, make sure you can discharge immediately. The following HeartMath Institute technique will help you deal with the situation better. You learn to adapt and maintain a different attitude such as non-judgment, caring, patience, appreciation, or compassion.
|Unwanted feelings||Replacement feelings/measures|
|Anxiety||Breathe calm and balance|
|Feeling overwhelmed||Breathe tranquility and peace|
|Sadness and depression||Breathe in appreciation and without judgment|
Attitude Breathing®: heart coherence exercise from HeartMath
The HeartMath Attitude Breathing® exercise is a proven method to deal effectively with stress. The following steps will allow you to experience less stress:
Step 1: Recognize an unwanted attitude: a feeling or attitude you want to change. These can be things like worry, fear, frustration, anger, self-judgment, guilt.
Step 2: Identify the emotion and breathe in an attitude that would counterbalance the emotion you want to change. We call this the substitute attitude. Select a positive attitude and then slowly and casually breathe in the feeling of that new attitude through the heart area. Do this for a while to anchor the new replacement feel.
By anchoring a positive emotion to the new attitude and actually feeling this positive emotion, you create a state of heart coherence. Again, heart coherence is the state in which the basic body systems – heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration – work closely together in harmony.
Quick Coherence® heart coherence meditation
With the Quick Coherence® technique, you are able to restore peace of mind and relax your body within a minute with just a couple but really powerful steps, even if you find yourself in a stressful situation.
Using the power of your heart to balance thoughts and emotions, you can achieve energy and mental clarity everywhere and feel better quickly. Use the Quick Coherence technique, especially when you start to feel uncomfortable, like when you experience emotions like frustration, irritation, fear, or anger.
By consciously evoking a sense of well-being, you will physically respond to this, and this is reflected in inner harmony and more balanced heart rhythms, improving and relaxing brain function, allowing us to access higher insights.
Step 1: Focus on the area of the heart. Imagine your breath flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, a little slower and deeper than usual.
Suggestion: Breathe in for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, or whatever feels comfortable for you.
Step 2: Make a conscious effort to experience a positive emotion, such as appreciation or care for someone or something in your life. Consider, for example, a loved one in your life or your pet.
Suggestion: Try to hold the feeling you have for the person or pet and focus on the feeling of calmness and gratitude.
Other sleep improvement measures
Stress gets stuck in our muscles. Obstinate people often have stiff necks. In order to remove the build-up of stress, it’s important to regularly work on these tensions. Take a walk in the fresh air or do various stretching exercises throughout the day. Physical exercise also releases endorphins, which give you a calm feeling and relax you while you recharge your energy. By relaxing physically more often, you will notice sleep improvement in the short term.
Caffeine is the fuel of our hectic society and stimulates our nervous system. Drinking coffee only in the morning helps to calm your nervous system during the day, so you are relaxed again when you go to bed at night. Of course, not everyone is equally sensitive to caffeine, but it’s healthier anyway to let your body reset its own regenerative rhythms, so you don’t rely on stimulants. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during the day and flush toxins from your system.
As mentioned earlier, it’s inadvisable to watch TV just before going to sleep. The bright, blue light and restless images of an action movie activate your brain, and when you switch off the TV to go to bed, you feel like you could run a marathon. My advice is not to put a TV in the bedroom. A bedroom is to sleep.
A quality place to sleep is essential for a good night’s sleep. Provide a comfortable and quiet sleeping environment, well ventilated, including a good mattress. To enter sleep mode, you can dim the lights and listen to soothing music before going to sleep. I myself regularly listen to binaural beats to calm the brain.
Heart coherence for sleep
When we are in a state of heart coherence, we feel relaxed and happy. Our breathing deepens, and our blood pressure drops a little. All these factors play an important role in falling asleep well.
Heart coherence training thus contributes significantly to a good night’s sleep. By taking a few moments daily to train heart coherence – and preferably also just before going to sleep – we quickly enable ourselves with some practice to solve our sleeping problems and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
The influence of breathing on heart coherence and our emotions
Our breathing influences a surprising number of bodily processes. Consider how you breathe in a stressful situation. Your rapid breathing, high in the chest, is not going to calm you down. The opposite: you feel relaxed and comfortable after intensive laughter or crying when your diaphragm relaxes, and you can take a great deep breath. Your breathing is also essential in achieving positive emotions and heart coherence.
Breathing to control emotions
Although rapid breathing can be very valuable under stressful circumstances – for example, if you have to flee physically – it is also a good thing with conscious breathing. You can also influence your stress levels. With your breathing, you can calm down your heart rhythm, which increases under the influence of stress.
By simply breathing slowly – four seconds in and four seconds out – you slow down your heart rhythm, and you can transform from a stressful, emotional state to a more relaxed state in a relatively short time and take control of your emotions, allowing you to quickly achieve a state of heart coherence. While breathing, try to relax your tongue. The human mind is neurologically accustomed to “lingualize” every thought. So when you relax your tongue, your mind relaxes too.
Of course, the most important thing is that you do not force your breathing too much, because then you can get out of breath again. Feel, or learn to feel, what feels best for you. For example, you can also apply the technique of box breathing.
What is box breathing?
Box breathing is a relaxing breathing technique that teaches military and police personnel to stay relaxed in stressful situations. Below you will find the steps that describe box breathing. A sniper must control his breathing enough to shoot someone almost a mile away. Good breathing and relaxation are essential in this regard.
With box breathing, you breathe in for four counts, then hold this breath for four seconds and exhale again in four counts. After taking your breath, wait for a count of four, so you have to take your breath again. This way, you create a breathing cycle that has a very relaxing effect on the nervous system.
Positive emotions and breathing
We all have the experience that we breathe calmly under relaxed circumstances and can more easily evoke positive emotions. Breathing can be an essential support in this.
Our breathing and our heart rhythm are inextricably linked: a fast heartbeat means rapid breathing and vice versa. When the heart rhythm changes due to a positive emotional shift, our breathing rhythm automatically synchronizes with it.
In addition, the positive emotional focus offers a wide range of benefits, which, especially in combination with a calm breathing rhythm, reinforce each other. This is the point at which heart coherence arises. Our heart and breathing synchronize better under the influence of positive emotions, and this gives us access to improved intuition, greater creativity, and enhanced cognitive function.
Respiration and heart coherence
For getting into a state of heart coherence, breathing is an essential tool. In combination with a positive, grateful attitude, you can amplify the emotions with your breath. For this, you breathe in with deep, slow breaths, and you feel thankful for everything you have in your life (not physical). Just experience a feeling of deep appreciation and gratitude during your breaths. Under the influence of relaxation and breathing, the feeling will resonate in the heart region and increase in strength.
You will be surprised how wonderfully addictive this feeling will be. You always want to feel like this. For that reason, it’s not surprising that an almost permanent state of heart coherence is such a great experience. Maybe it will take some practice at first, but anyone who has learned to generate this feeling will appreciate it. With proper breathing, you will be better able to regulate your emotions and experience heart coherence.
Heart coherence for Highly Sensitive People (HSP)
Highly sensitive people – also called HSPs – are people with a very sensitive antenna. They sense in advance how someone else is feeling and can react extremely emotionally to strong physical stimuli, such as sounds, smells, images, or tactile feelings (touch). This sensitivity causes many HSPs to be constantly stressed, feeling restless. For this group of people, heart coherence training can offer a solution.
HSP characteristics and symptoms
The main characteristics of highly sensitive persons are:
- They are often introverted and shy.
- Their reactions are often indirect because they first have to ‘digest’ the question or situation.
- They tend to linger a bit longer in a situation.
- They are highly receptive to ASMR.
- They need (very) much me-time to digest and recover.
- They can quickly become overwhelmed when interacting with extroverts or in unforeseen situations.
- They have fantastic empathy.
- They are beneficial to people around them, often to the point of losing themselves in them.
- They are very complex thinkers and make connections that are invisible to others.
Symptoms that highly sensitive individuals may face include:
- Frequent or even constant stress
- Sudden crying spells due to overwhelming feelings
- Personal (emotional) neglect due to constantly trying to help others
- You experience other people’s problems as your own
- Small triggers can cause large emotional swings
A highly sensitive person reacts strongly to a raised voice; clattering dishes, unpleasant music, and especially meaningless conversations can quickly drive them crazy. On the other hand, they experience positive moments of life more vividly: travel, the taste of their favorite food, sunsets and sunrises; these are moments in which an HSP can be completely absorbed. Thus, high sensitivity is both a gift and a curse.
Possible causes of HSP
It is not only introverted people who are highly sensitive, also extroverted people can be HSP. The causes of this mental characteristic lie in the brain’s functioning:
- Dopamine levels are low.
- Mirror neurons are more active.
- The prefrontal part of the brain, which is responsible for the receptivity of emotions, is very sensitive to impulses.
Due to the often constant state of stress (the opposite of heart coherence) that highly sensitive individuals are in, they have an overstimulated nervous system and depleted the endorphin system. A low pain threshold, restlessness, food sensitivities, and disrupted sleep patterns make the HSP more sensitive to environmental factors.
What you can do? Managing HSP
- Get enough sleep and relaxation, such as meditation.
- Drink less or preferably no coffee. Caffeine causes a storm of emotions in the hypersensitive and can lead to significant mood swings.
- Find time for yourself and turn off distractions such as your phone, TV, and doorbell.
- Surround yourself with people you feel good about, pleasant things, sounds, and smells.
- Invest in your health, both physical and mental. Nourish yourself with pure and unprocessed foods full of vitamins and minerals. Take a nice foot bath with eucalyptus and peppermint. Meditate to soothing music etc.
High sensitivity and heart coherence
Since HSP causes constant stress for many people, heart coherence can be a remarkably positive contribution to the existence of HSPs. Especially since highly sensitive people are so sensitive to emotions, they are also capable of experiencing positive emotions.
Training positive emotions with a HeartMath heart coherence trainer such as the Inner Balance can restore balance in their lives. In a state of heart coherence, they are more resilient to stressful situations and can minimize the impact of stress.
Heart rate variability for peak performance
It has been clear for some time that there is some link between our heart health and peak performance. Yet only relatively recently have scientists been able to demonstrate that it is not only the physiological health of the heart that plays a role in this.
Researchers at the HeartMath Institute in the US found a remarkable connection between the mental, emotional and physiological processes throughout the body. In this state of heart coherence, the body’s performance is optimal, not only physically but also mentally.
Heart coherence is measured through the heartbeat
Heart coherence is measured via heart rate variability (HRV). It appears in the form of a smooth, sinusoidal pattern. The emergence of heart coherence can also be recognized by synchronization and harmonization that takes place between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems within the greater autonomic nervous system. In fact, many physiological systems follow when the heart is in a coherent state.
The end result is deep integration between the heart and brain. In this state, all of the body’s primary systems (heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration) work harmoniously together, so we are able to deliver peak performance, both mentally and physically.
Relaxation and heart-brain coherence
However, this harmonious cooperation between the heart and the brain is completely different from a state of simple relaxation. When we relax, the parasympathetic nervous system (brake pedal) only takes the upper hand over the sympathetic nervous system (accelerator). In a state of brain-heart coherence, there is a synchronization between the heart and the brain. As this synchronization, harmony, and order between both systems increases, you are more able to draw on a great source of power and energy.
Since relaxation is a low-energy state, a state of coherence is primarily based on the power of positive emotions that flow from heart-centered consciousness.
The heart is recognized in many spiritual traditions as the gateway through which life force and consciousness enter our reality. When we tap into this primary source of energy, we have “rocket fuel” to deliver peak performance, both mentally and physically.
The trick is to channel this energy in everything we do so we can be able to perform intelligently.
Heart rate variability and emotions
The heart has at least 40,000 neurons, also called the heart brain, and these are in close contact with our brain, including the amygdala, thalamus, and cortex. There is a constant interaction between our brain and the heart-brain.
Heart coherence and heart rate variability
Most people recognize our heart rate as a graph, in which you can clearly see how many heartbeats take place within a certain period of time. These heartbeats thus turn out to be not only a mechanical rhythm but also an intelligent way by which the heart communicates with the rest of the body.
What seems? The interval between the different heartbeats varies continuously or minimally. It is only a matter of milliseconds between the heartbeats that separates these intervals. The intelligence of the heart reveals itself optimally when there is heart coherence. This heart coherence is measured, among other things, on the basis of heart rate variability (HRV).
The HRV is a particularly sensitive measure of emotional changes, which are directly reflected in this. With a change of emotion, this is immediately noticeable in the heart rate variability. For that reason, HRV is an important indicator of both physiological resilience and behavioral flexibility. It indicates how the person is able to adapt to stress and changing circumstances.
While it was previously believed that any irregularity in the heartbeat could be considered “unhealthy,” scientists at the American HeartMath Institute concluded that a greater HRV actually indicates greater resilience to deal with change and stress.
Coherence and emotions
Heart rhythm variability is affected by factors such as emotions, thoughts, and exercise. These not only affect how fast or intense our heart rate is but also how our brain functions.
The scientists at HeartMath found that positive emotions not only have a positive influence on our heart rate but also improve the synchronization between different body systems, such as breathing, muscle tension/relaxation, blood pressure, and also make you feel clear of mind.
Training heart coherence
The coherence of the heart can be trained. Although many people are, as it were, “trapped” in their negative patterns and stress, this pattern can be rationally abruptly interrupted: “STOP!” By focusing on the heart area for just a few minutes and experiencing a warm feeling of gratitude, love, or joy, this pattern can be broken.
The HeartMath Institute has developed a number of techniques and tools to train the coherence of the heart to break the patterns of incoherence and help people improve their emotional balance, health and performance.
An example of this is the “emWave Pro” with HRV analysis, a device that supports the development of self-regulation of emotions. The device also indicates when someone has reached the desired state of heart coherence. It is a way of monitoring whether the learned skills lead to the desired result.
Guided Heart Coherence Meditation Joe Dispenza and Gregg Braden
Joe Dispenza and Gregg Braden often refer to the term heart coherence in their seminars and retreats. With guided heart coherence meditation, it’s easier for people who are just starting out with meditation to get into a state of heart coherence. By using headphones with binaural beats, it is even easier to bring the brain into a theta state (meditative state).
Short questions heart coherence
How does heart coherence feel?
When we experience positive emotions of appreciation, joy, caring, and love, our heart rhythm changes and looks like an ordered, harmonious wave. This is called a “coherent heart rhythm pattern. experiencing a state of heart coherence.
How can I increase my heart coherence?
Coherence can be achieved by consciously influencing the breathing pattern. By breathing slowly, deeply and rhythmically, you support a coherent heart rhythm pattern. Deep belly breathing helps to relax the body and mind. By combining such a breathing pattern with the experience of positive emotions, you can increase this coherence.
What is Heart Coherence Meditation?
A coherent state triggers the release of soothing healing hormones. This makes it easier to experience a sense of peace and positive feelings. The Heartmath Institute Quick Coherence technique is a short meditation to achieve a state of coherence.
Why is heart coherence important?
Research shows that a state of coherence supports immune function, reduces stress, increases stress tolerance and improves heart function. In general, people who exercise regularly report that they are more resilient to stressful circumstances and feel happier.
How is heart coherence measured?
A state of coherence is measured by the analysis of heart rate variability (HRV). In a coherent state, the heart rhythm pattern becomes more ordered and looks like a sine wave at a frequency of around 0.1 hertz (10 seconds).
What is Coherence Breathing?
Coherent breathing is a form of breathing that involves inhaling with long, slow breaths at a rate of about 5-6 breaths per minute. With this coherence breathing you calm the autonomic nervous system and relax your body and mind.