Follow your heart, but only if you know who’s leading who

April 7, 2016

To help me channel the excessive nervous energy that was surging through my body post accident, I dedicated 10 years to researching the effect that the heart has on mental and physical performance.  The culmination of all this research convinced me that there is only one sure-fire way of calming your mind and listening to your heart.


It is only when your brain is centered - which demands silencing of your thoughts - that you become aware of what your heart is telling you.  This then allows you to follow your heart. The million dollar question is, how do you center your brain?


We’ve all heard the expression ‘keep calm and breathe deeply’ or a variation on this theme.  Easy to do when you are in a peaceful natural setting, but not so if the pressure is on.


While there is no denying the benefits of giving your body enough time out from hectic everyday schedules and commitments, taking too much time away can cause a ‘collapse’.


How then do you keep centered when the chips are down?  The key is to incorporate self-regulation training into your every-day routine.


This is not to negate the importance of our genetics and childhood environments that have hardwired our brains to react in highly predictable ways; we are only all too aware of the limitations imposed on us by our hardwired brain-body reactions. 


The good news is that your brain can be rewired according to what you believe. Research has shown that the hypothalamus can adapt its energy regulatory abilities from being obesogenic to anorexigenic in a matter of weeks.   


After I was knocked off my bicycle with consequent brain and spinal cord injuries, I struggled when dealing with multiple demands and quickly lost my center.


To help alleviate my struggles I incorporate self-regulation techniques like Qigong, Taijiquan and deep breathing into my daily routine.


The reason deep, slow breathing works so well is due to the fact that  the heart follows the breath. Note it is not the heart rate that follows the breath, rather the heart rhythm.


By slowing breathing down to ±6 breaths per min, our 3 most vital bodily rhythms align. Our heart rhythm, breathing rhythm and blood pressure rhythm, which is our most powerful rhythm.


After all, blood pressure has to be maintained at all costs to keep our brain oxygenated


Indeed, engaging in 5 minutes of deep, slow breathing just prior to a stressful meeting, exam or sporting event not only helps to focus and calm us, but has been shown to enhance both reaction time and performance. 


This happens because the feedback from the heart - in coherence with breathing and BP - to the reptilian brain or R-brain indicates that all is well and there is no need for harnessing of excessive bodily resources in meeting an upcoming challenge.  The perfect time to be following your heart.


This does not mean that you will be less well prepared for a forthcoming stressor. On the contrary you will be more focused and relaxed and react quicker.  


This is so precisely because the heart – to - R-brain loop is now highly synchronised.


This allows the thinking brain to switch to heightened awareness instead of engaging in over-thinking and over-analysis.


Remember that the thinking brain is the one that controls the R-rain, so whatever you think – which comes down to what you believe – the R-brain will endeavour to execute.


It is therefore far more productive plus heart & body healthy to allow the R-brain to handle those energy sapping stressful events that keep on cropping up.  So long as you consistently train your R-brain by incorporating self-regulatory training into your every-day routine.


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