According to the Institute of HeartMath, different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. For example, during stress and negative emotions the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, and the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions, such as rational thinking.
It has been found that a pattern of heart rate coherence supports these cognitive functions and emotional stability. Heart rate coherence is the development of a smooth, sine wave-like pattern on the heart rate variability trace.
Techniques to improve your coherence
There are techniques that you can use to encourage heart rate coherence, based around the principle of bringing the body’s physiological systems in sync with one another to balance body, mind and emotions.
This is done by breathing and mental focus techniques incorporating positive emotions to boost heart rate variability and positively affect how heart rhythms act on the brain. This helps to improve both decision making under pressure and lifestyle behaviours to improve resilience to physiological stressors.
1. Heart-focused breathing technique
This is the first step in achieving a more coherent state and allows you to optimise your ability to self-regulate your behaviour and maintain composure under pressure.
How it's done
Focus your attention to the area of your heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual. Do this for around 1 minute.
Suggestion: Inhale 5 seconds, exhale 5 seconds (or whatever rhythm is comfortable).
2. Quick coherence technique
Follow the heart-focused breathing technique with this quick coherence technique.
How it's done
Quick coherence steps:
1. Heart focused breathing.
2. Activate a positive or renewing feeling - Make a sincere attempt to experience a regenerative feeling such as appreciation or care for someone or something in your life while you practice the breathing technique.
Suggestion: Try to re-experience the feeling you have for someone you love, a pet, a special place, an accomplishment, etc., or focus on a feeling of calm or ease.
Over time, the accumulative effect of practicing these techniques regularly could help to rewire your physiological and emotional responses to pressure, helping you to cope better.
Last updated Friday 7 October 2022
First published on Tuesday 12 July 2016