Reducing Stress Is the Heart’s Work
You’ve probably sat through a Zoom meeting and watched a weak presentation, thinking, “What an incoherent presentation that was!” Or maybe you saw somebody mumbling and staggering out of a bar late at night and said to your friend, “That guy is totally incoherent.”
Notice how we refer to these scenarios as incoherent. Even if you don’t know the definition of incoherent, you’ve likely figured out that it is used to mean sub-par, confused, disordered, and so on.
Lasers create what physicists call coherent light, since the waves and particles emitted by the laser are completely ordered and in sync, flowing in a defined consistent, predictable pattern. On the other hand, regular light sources such as incandescent, fluorescent, or LED lights are defined as emitting incoherent light, since the light waves and particles are not aligned and ordered but rather, they bounce off each other. They do a fine job of illuminating a space, but there’s not much precision. Lasers, however, are capable of incredible precision and effectiveness due to their high degree of coherence. Sophisticated lasers can surgically repair a retina or knee cartilage, along with a host of other remarkable feats. Their exceedingly high degree of order, or coherence, at very low power is their secret.
Keep Your Heart in It
In the early 1990s, I was part of the founding leadership team of the HeartMath Institute, one of the greatest honors of my life. We were founded by a true visionary, Doc Childre, to understand the true function of the heart in many areas of life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In addition to using advanced tools of contemporary science to perform our studies, we created a simple system of tools that anyone can use to create a fulfilling life, led by the heart. Not just a philosophical system, HeartMath is a scientifically validated system of techniques to reduce stress and create increased coherence in all aspects of life.
Most humans are just getting by in life, like a regular light bulb that does a fine job keeping the kitchen bright but eventually burns out. We can get by for a while on innate skills and capacities, but many people are not operating anywhere near their full potential. To put it in this context, most of us are not exactly lasers, producing exceptional precision and power at remarkably low power. In our relationships and in our work, things break down when “our heart is no longer” into that relationship. This is true for athletes, teachers, health care practitioners, accountants, lawyers, doctors, performers, and people of all areas and walks of life.
In those early HeartMath days, we asked ourselves, “what if people could be taught to train their systems to be more like a laser—ordered, efficient, precise, and coherent—and less like a lamp light, unfocused, overheated, and prone to burning out? And what if the superpower accessible to each human wasn’t just about brain power, but actually about heart power?”
— Bruce Cryer
Why the Heart Matters
Our research revealed that when someone is experiencing a depleting, stressful emotion, the heart’s rhythmic pattern is actually disordered, unpredictable, and incoherent. When we’re in a stress state our system is incoherent and inefficient; therefore, more energy is required by the heart and we tire out more easily. However, our research has also discovered that when people experience positive renewing emotions such as gratitude, love, humor, compassion, or peace, the rhythms of their heart become extremely ordered, smooth, and efficient. You are saving energy while your system is being restored.
Think about it from your own life experience. When you’re stressed out, it can be very draining. Your insides feel chaotic sometimes; certainly not ordered, smooth, and efficient. But when you’re feeling positive emotionally, it’s energizing. Your perspectives are more positive and your energy is much higher. In other words, positivity is not draining; negativity is. Positivity is energy-producing; negativity is not.
Focus on the Good—For Good
When you’re in a stressful state, it’s because something is happening in your life that’s not what you want. That internal conflict—worry, frustration, or anger—causes the rhythms of your heart to become irregular and incoherent. Your body is spending a lot of energy to stay frustrated, which is why you’re also so exhausted after a particularly stressful experience. Not only is your heart experiencing the effects of stress, those chaotic, moment-by-moment heartbeats get circulated all through the body, including your brain. Ever wondered why your IQ seems to drop 30–40 points when you’re angry, or why your coordination becomes sloppy when you’re rushing, or why you can’t communicate what you’re trying to say when you’re feeling defensive?
Now think about when you’re feeling grateful for something—a sunrise, a kitten, a baby, a friend’s compliment, your health. We discovered that such times allow the heart to start beating in a beautiful, ordered, energy-efficient and coherent rhythm. In those early years at HeartMath, we also discovered you can easily learn to switch out of the stressful, draining incoherent state into a more efficient, fun, and energizing coherent state.
Bruce Cryer, President of The Graduate Institute, is adjunct faculty at Stanford University, and an author, mentor and leadership consultant. Bruce was a founding director of HeartMath, the acclaimed stress/performance institute where he also served as CEO for 11 years. He has worked in the holistic studies field for more than three decades and has taught programs on stress, performance, and creativity at Stanford since 1997, drawing on both his extensive business background and his years as a singer/dancer/actor and visual artist in New York.
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