The Coherence of the heart and how positive emotions impact it

What is Coherence? 

The beauty of having a language with a vast vocabulary is that a single word can be dissected into having several different meanings, with each meaning giving rise to an entirely different dimension that exists for a unique context being referred to.
Such a word is “Coherence”. Coherence is that term that broadly has many meanings in different fields.

In layman or simple language as Merriam-Webster defines it, we can refer to Coherence[1] as being “that logical connection which unifies the different and diverse aspects of a relationship or any other element or value in such a way that all of them start making sense as a whole”. This means that coherence is a concept, one which is based on uniting different ideologies so that they are synchronized as one.

Apart from having applications and principles based upon it in the field of Physics, Coherence is a fulfilling terminology that goes beyond this field too and has a strong impact on one’s personal life as well. 

What is the Coherence of the Heart?

These days, mental health and well being of an individual human being is undoubtedly one of the most highly discussed topics. If we begin talking about the physical well being and contentment of an individual, then the coherence of the heart is likely to make an appearance in the conversation.

The “Coherence of the Heart” is the state of the heart in which the heart, the mind, and the overall emotional state of an individual are in strong alignment and cooperation with each other. There is no imbalance involved anywhere in the entire equation, and this balanced, sustained state helps in giving rise to mental and emotional stability in an individual. 

The Psychophysiological Aspects of the Coherence of the Heart

Logically speaking, the heart in a state of “Coherence” is not at all an aesthetic or abstract concept. It is very much real and exists to be experienced by everyone when it is triggered by the right kind of stimulus.

When we are talking about the physiological aspect of the heart is in coherence with the brain, we are referring to the fact that the Heart Rate Variability (HRV), as seen on an Electrocardiogram or ECG, rises, then goes down and while doing so, it remains fully in synchronization with the breathing rate. The Heart Rate Variability[2] or HRV is an increasingly popular way of visualizing the heart’s physiological changes which cause a fluctuation in its activity.  

These breath-to-breath changes are what psychologically promote a sense of contentment, mindfulness, and well being in the individual. Apart from synchronizing the main components of the brain and the heart, this overall change brings a very warm and welcoming change in the mental health of the individual which is discussed in the preceding sections. It helps to set up a resilient and positive, happy individual as there is a “coherence” or connection set up between the major emotional psychological systems of the body. 

Heart Rate Variability, Positive Emotions, and their Coherence: A Linkage Finally Explained

By definition, heart rate variability is the measurement of variation in time between each heartbeat. To understand this, if our heartbeat is 60 beats per minute, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it literally beats one timer per second. There is a difference in duration between heartbeats, even in just 60 seconds. This mechanism is controlled by the Autonomic Nervous system (ANS). ANS is further classified into the Sympathetic nervous system and the Parasympathetic nervous system. The brain receives various kinds of stimuli, triggers, and pieces of information. These are constantly processed in the hypothalamus of the brain. 

This hypothalamus, then, sends signals through ANS to the relevant part of the body to perform an action or act in a specific way. Heart rate variability measurement helps in detecting any disturbance in this mechanism. If the heart rate variability is low, it indicates that a person’s sympathetic system is over-activated and the person goes through more fight or flight drive. On the other hand, if HRV is high, it means that person can adapt to any condition swiftly and remains relaxed to any stress stimulant or a triggering event.  

As specified earlier, once when it was found that the interlinking of the major psychological systems helps in increasing positive, optimistic feelings in an individual, a significant amount of research work was carried out to determine the reason behind this occurrence of events, and the connection as to what conditions or triggers could help in inducing such behavior in every other individual. Many models were proposed, all of which were focused on giving possible theories for explaining this phenomenon.

One of the models, the “Psychophysiological Coherence Model[3] especially helped in revealing the linkage in a better way. It was found through this model that different emotions of an individual get manifested in specific formats in the individual’s heart rhythm.

These changes are independent of the heart rate variability but are very easily identifiable by just looking at the state-specific waveform as predicted on the ECG. Furthermore, it was found that interpreting or “reading” behavior through these waveforms has an accuracy of about 75%[4], which is considerably higher and a figure that is suitable to be deemed as reliable.

After this study confirmed these facts, sometime later, it was found that positive emotions in particular, when experienced by an individual gave rise to a “sine wave” pattern[5] naturally, independent of any changes in the breathing quality. 

This helped in giving rise to the accurate usage of the term, “Psychophysiological Coherence” in places where heart rhythms were emerging in coherence due to the experience of a positive event or were self-activated during an individual having an experience of positive emotions.

However, these coherent heart rhythms were not only restricted to “self-activating” positive emotions only, but it was also found that if made a habit to practice optimism, self-regulation, and self-improvement in one’s personality from time to time, then this could lead to the diversion of all the focus and attention of an individual towards eliciting positive responses overall in his personality.

But this very mechanism is dependent on each individual and it is up to them if they learn to implement it in their daily lives or not.  Once when implemented, these techniques could help an individual to stay positive in an emotionally triggering situation, a stressful event, or even an expected overwhelming turn of events[6].

An experimental study when carried out in individuals who were habitual of playing violent video games revealed that these individuals had significantly decreased heart coherence levels, and increased aggressive states.[7

The Bottom Line

So, to conclude, it is a well-known fact that everything looks great in a balanced state. Some people might face a lack of regularity or focus on one or more of their daily life activities at one point or the other. This lack can either be due to a psychological impairment of mental function or a serious neurological deficit. Whatever the reason is, it can greatly harm the self-esteem and shatter the confidence of an otherwise normal individual. However, by practicing self-regulation, either by breathing calmly, or by focusing on composing oneself, making either of these a regular habit of one’s life, an individual can very easily trigger the positive emotions that cause coherence to develop in the heart and make an individual appear lively, cheerful, and with a better, sustained sense of his surroundings. 

References

[1] Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Coherence. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved July 17, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coherence.

[2] Stys, A., & Stys, T. (1998). Current clinical applications of heart rate variability. Clinical cardiology, 21(10), 719–724. https://doi.org/10.1002/clc.4960211005

[3] McCraty R., Atkinson M., Tomasino D., Bradley R. T. (2009b). The coherent heart: Heart and brain interactions, psychophysiological coherence, and the emergence of system-wide order. Integral. Rev. 5 10–115

[4] Leon E., Clarke G., Callaghan V., Dotor F. (2010). The effect aware of behavior modeling and control inside an intelligent environment. Pervasive Mob. Comput. 6 559–574 10.1016/j.pmcj.2009.12.002

[5] McCraty R, Atkinson M, Tiller WA, Rein G, Watkins AD Am J Cardiol. 1995 Nov 15; 76(14):1089-93.


[6] Childre D., Martin H. (1999). The HeartMath Solution. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco


[7] Hasan Y, Bègue L, Bushman BJ. Violent video games stress out people and make them more aggressive. Aggress Behav. 2013;39(1):64-70. DOI:10.1002/ab.21454


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