The Heart of the Matter – Finding Hope in Your Spiritual Pulse

by Margaret Nagib, PsyD - Christian Therapist & Faculty Member, TK Clinical Development Institute

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In my last blog post, I talked about taking your spiritual pulse.

Have you ever stopped to notice just how many phrases we use that refer to the part of our body that generates our physical pulse…..our heart?

You can “listen to your heart” and “know your heart”, discern the “heart of a matter” or have a “change of heart.”

You can be careful to “guard your heart,” and avoid having it broken or stolen, and then when you are with someone you love, you may give it away.

You can do something “to your heart’s content” or “halfheartedly” if you decide your “heart’s not in it.”

Or, you can “pour your heart out” while having a “heart to heart” talk.

You can be known as a “heartthrob”, a “sweetheart”, or a “cold-hearted heart-breaker.”

You can “know by heart”, “lead from your heart”, or make a fashion statement and wear it on a sleeve.

Researchers have uncovered some interesting facts that appear to be in line with how we as individuals, our popular culture, poets, songwriters, and the proverbs of old, speak of the heart.

More than a simple pump, scientists have described the heart as a highly complex system with a functional “brain.”  The “heart brain” (nervous system) actually enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain’s cerebral cortex.

In other words, we do in fact “know things by heart” and the things that we know by heart cannot be ascertained via our heads. The heart actually communicates information to the brain that influences how we perceive, think, and process emotions! The information that the heart communicates to the brain and throughout the body is sent via electromagnetic signals.

While the brain only emits an electromagnetic field of about an inch, the heart’s electromagnetic field radiates five to 12 feet and permeates every cell of the body. The heart’s electromagnetic field is charged with emotion and what radiates out can affect and potentially be discerned by others (or even animals) and affects the social climate around us.

So while you can’t read someone’s mind, you can read their heart!

Be Still My Beating Heart – What’s Love Got to Do with It?

When you are sad, depressed, or anxious there is also truth in the phrase(s) feeling “heartsick” or “heartbroken.”

The body has several responses to depression and anxiety including muscle tension, agitation or retardation, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, etc.

One of the best ways you can practically affect your emotional health is by addressing the connection between your physical heart and emotional health through heart rhythm biofeedback. Biofeedback is a process that helps to increase conscious awareness of the body’s reaction to stress so you can train yourself to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Rev. Jane Cairo, LCSW, and chaplain of the Christian treatment program path at Timberline Knolls, uses a specialized biofeedback device to help residents increase their emotional and spiritual health. Residents report great benefits in reduction of anxiety and depression as they work to become more aware of their body’s responses and learn to change their focus and breathing to decrease symptoms of an eating disorder, addiction, or mood disorder.

Biofeedback at Home

You don’t need a biofeedback device or a trained therapist to reap benefits of heart biofeedback. Try practicing these three easy steps at home:

Step one involves heart focus. This is where you actually guide your attention to your heart.

Step two is heart breathing.  Focus on your breath and imagine breathing in and out of your heart.

Step three is the most important of them all – heart feeling.

This involves focusing on or recalling a time when you felt a positive emotion like feeling loved. The goal is to re-experience that love in the current moment. This combined with heart focus and heart breathing can greatly improve your overall mental health and physical well-being.

Biologically, research has shown that heart rhythm reaches a state called coherence, which is ideal for relaxation, well-being and positive emotion.

Ready, Set, Hope!

Research also shows that the key to a healthy and happy heart is hope.

Psychologists who study hope believe that it may be the most important feeling state or emotion we can experience. Studies show hope is key to: physical, mental and emotional health; a meaningful life; academic success; athletic performance; patience and gratitude; healthy relationships and finally and most exciting, big dreams (AKA . . . “longings fulfilled”).

There is a Judeo-Christian proverb that says this, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

In other words, when the longings of the heart are fulfilled it brings life to the soul, but if the hope of that longing to be fulfilled is deferred it makes hearts sick.

Hope and healing, therefore, go hand in hand.

The health of our hearts and the fulfillment of our deepest longings seem to depend on it.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jena September 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Fascinating stuff! Our bodies are incredible, and it seems there is much to learn about whole-person wellbeing. Appreciate this info!

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