The Science

For more than 20 years, HeartMath has made significant contributions to both the scientific and practical understanding of the physiology of stress, heart-brain interactions and performance. From its published clinical research to its work with such clients as Mayo Clinic, NASA, and many global 100 companies, HeartMath has developed an international reputation for the practicality and simplicity of its tools, the immediacy of its feedback technology, and the sustainability of client results.

Using heart rate coherence techniques, we can train you to create an optimal and high performance state in which the heart, mind and nervous system are operating in-sync and in balance – known as ‘Coherence’. Coherence is a term used by scientists to describe a highly efficient physiological state in which the nervous system, cardiovascular, hormonal and immune systems are working efficiently and harmoniously.

Changing Heart Rhythms

Research has revealed that when we experience stress and negative emotions such as tension, anger or frustration, our heart pattern becomes irregular and incoherent, which negatively affects health, brain function, performance and sense of wellbeing. This is displayed in our Heart Rate Variability (HRV) trace – HRV is the beat-to-beat changes in our heart’s rhythm. It is one of the few automatic bodily functions that we have the potential to control intentionally.

This chaotic activity reinforces the stress reaction. However, when we regulate our breathing and experience positive emotions such as appreciation, care joy, and passion our HRV graph becomes much more ordered and coherent and the stress reaction is stopped. Ordered and harmonious heart rhythms are an indicator of your “coherence level”. High coherence is a state associated with positive emotional attitudes, which send signals to the brain that reduce stress, improve brain function, hormonal balance, immune response, coordination and reaction times and facilitate peak performance.

In the diagram above, the top image shows an HRV trace for someone who was experiencing frustration with a task. As you can see, it is chaotic. The second image shows an HRV trace for the same person after they initiated and sustained a state of appreciation. As you can see, it is smooth and coherent.

HeartMath works with the award-winning emWave bio-feedback technology to help train your system to reach a coherent state on demand. HeartMath is based on learning ways to intentionally balance our autonomic nervous system and manage the electromagnetic communication between our heart and our brain.

The techniques use a combination specialist breathing exercises and activation of positive emotions to create a coherent state of balance in our systems.

HRV and Breathing

Breathing moves air in and out of our lungs and also moves other fluids such as blood and lymphatic fluid. When we breathe we create rhythmic oscillations in pressure in the abdominal cavity and the thorax. These changes in pressure have far reaching effects on our body function affecting blood flow to the heart, blood pressure regulation and balancing the function of the brain and nervous system.

Several of our body systems have inbuilt rhythms that work best when they are in communication with each other. When we adjust our breathing so that the speed, depth and rhythm and muscle balance are perfect these systems work together in a coordinated fashion called coherence or resonance. Resonance amplifies the action of physiological reflexes which exist in our body for the purposes of maintaining stability (homeostasis).

As we breathe in, our heart rate naturally speeds up. As we exhale, our heart rate naturally slows down. Specialised breathing techniques can be used to smooth the heart rate and relieve stress quickly.

However, this type of cognitively-directed paced breathing can require considerable mental effort and is difficult for some people to maintain.

While our techniques incorporate a breathing element, paced breathing is not their primary focus and they should therefore not be thought of simply as breathing exercises. The main difference between the HeartMath tools and most commonly practiced breathing techniques is the HeartMath tools’ focus on the intentional generation of a positive emotional state. This emotional shift is a key element of the techniques’ effectiveness.

Heart Rhythm Patterns and Emotions

In addition to breathing, one of the most powerful influences that affect our heart’s changing rhythm is our feelings and emotions.

Research has shown that the heart is a key component of the emotional systems. Scientists now understand that the heart not only responds to emotion, but that the signals generated by its rhythmic activity actually play a major part in determining the quality of our emotional experience from moment to moment.

Positive emotions excite the system at its natural resonant frequency and thus enable coherence to emerge and to be maintained naturally, without conscious mental focus on one’s breathing rhythm. This state is termed psychophysiological coherence, because it is characterized by increased order and harmony in both our psychological (mental and emotional) and physiological (bodily) processes. Psychophysiological coherence is state of optimal function. Research shows that when we activate this state, our physiological systems function more efficiently, we experience greater emotional stability, and we also have increased mental clarity and improved cognitive function. Simply stated, our body and brain work better, we feel better, and we perform better.

emWave Bio-feedback Technology

HeartMath programs are facilitated by the award-winning, highly engaging emWave feedback technology (both handheld and computer based). The emWave is a fantatic training aid providing real-time, immediate feedback on HRV and coherence levels. Beyond the Barriers are licensed providers of HeartMath for both Sport and Business sectors in the UK. We offer a range of training courses to teach athletes, teams and coaches the powerful techniques and the use of the award winning emWave biofeedback technology.