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Heart and Right Brain Insights

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. is a fascinating true story written by a neuroscientist who had a stroke at age 37, about her lengthy but full recovery and what she learned about the left and right hemispheres of the brain. When an aneurysm ruptured in her left brain, leaving her without language temporarily, she discovered the wonders of her right brain. A blissful sense of peace, fluidity and oneness, like nirvana, enveloped her. She was able, with great difficulty, to make the phone call for help which saved her life. 

While her left brain slowly recovered, Jill was at first unable to understand any words spoken to her or to communicate verbally, but she was acutely aware of the energy and intention a person brought to her – kindness and compassion, or frustration and impatience. All sound was chaos, noise; everything radiated pure energy, without clear boundaries. The inner dialogue was silent. She was aware of how everything affected her energy; that some people (anxious, irritable) quickly drained her energy while others (kind, gentle) gave her energy. She no longer thought linearly, and had to be taught to put socks on before shoes. 

“I liked knowing I was a fluid. I loved knowing my spirit was at one with the universe and in the flow with everything around me. I found it fascinating to be so tuned in to energy dynamics and body language. Most of all, I loved the feeling of deep inner peace the flooded the core of my very being,” she wrote. Whenever her wounded brain needed time out from an overload of stimuli, which was often, she would sleep. This was crucial to her recovery. Her mother devoted herself to Jill’s care and gradually introduced new things to re-learn. After 8 years, she decided she was fully recovered.

“I learned how to feel the physical component of emotion. Joy was a feeling in my body. Peace was a feeling in my body…I could feel when a new emotion was triggered. I could feel new emotions flood through me and then release me…I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow right out of me…Certain emotions like anger, frustration or fear felt uncomfortable when they surged through my body. So I told my brain that I didn’t like that feeling and didn’t want to hook into those neural loops… I suddenly had much more say about how I felt and for how long…Nothing external to me had the power to take away my peace of heart and mind. That was completely up to me.” She realized that the surge of an emotion (such as anger) lasted just 90 seconds before it was completely flushed out of the blood stream; and at that point, we are at choice about whether or not to keep running the circuit of anger and return to the present moment. She calls this “stepping to the right” – choosing a peaceful mind.

Prior to her stroke, she believed, “the judging and analytical character in my left mind dominated my personality,” inhibiting the right brain. “At the core of my right hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feeling of deep inner peace. It is completely committed to the expression of peace, love, joy, and compassion in the world.” It seems clear that the right hemisphere is connected more with the heart and emotions and with intuition; some call the right hemisphere the “feminine” aspect. The question of balancing the hemispheres showed up for Jill as the desire for normal functioning in the world while retaining the ability to access deep inner peace, compassion, and oneness. 

“Sadly, the expression of compassion is often a rarity in our society. Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy degrading, insulting, and criticizing ourselves (and others) for having made a ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ decision.” These negative thought patterns generate increased levels of anxiety and/or hostility. The more we repeat these patterns, the more ingrained and automatic they become.

“My right hemisphere is all about right here, right now. It bounces around with unbridled enthusiasm and does not have a care in the world…it is filled with gratitude…content, compassionate, nurturing, and eternally optimistic…my right mind character is sensitive to nonverbal communication, empathic, and accurately decodes emotion…it is my intuition and higher consciousness…it is tuned in to my gut feelings…My right mind sees unity among all living beings, the big picture.”

On the other side, “My left hemisphere is preoccupied with details and runs my life on a tight schedule…It clenches my jaw and makes decisions based upon what it learned in the past. It defines boundaries and judges everything as right/wrong.” She adds, with appreciation, “My left mind is responsible for taking all of that energy, all that information about the present moment, all the magnificent possibilities perceived by my right mind, and shaping them into something manageable.” She refers to the left brain as a great weaver and teller of stories. “Most impressively, our left brain is brilliant in its ability to make stuff up, and fill in the blanks when there are gaps in its factual data.” She realized that this story-teller created upsets because of these fabrications and repetitive thought-loops. 

Tending the garden of the mind: “Learning to listen to your brain from the position of a nonjudgmental witness may take some practice, but once you master this awareness, you become free to step beyond the worrisome drama and trauma of your story-teller.” When her brain is running loops that feel out of control, counter-productive or harshly judgmental, she surrenders for 90 seconds for the physiological emotional response to dissipate, acknowledges the feelings, then says firmly: “I am really not interested in thinking these thoughts or feeling these emotions anymore. Please stop bringing this stuff up.” Jill believes that we must pay close attention to how much time we spend hooked into anger or despair, acknowledge these emotions, and then make a conscious choice to return to the present moment.

If the story-teller persists, she recalls something fascinating to ponder, or “something that brings me terrific joy,” like her dog. “I whole-heartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry in our right brain…constantly running and always available for us to hook into, in the present moment.” To come back to the present moment, we must consciously slow our minds, not be in a hurry. Focusing on slow, relaxed breathing is a great way to do this. Attending to smells, sounds, sensations in the body, or listening to music can help. “When I am simply grateful, life is simply great!”

“Once I consciously take over the responsibility of tending my mind, I choose to nurture those circuits that I want to grow, and consciously prune back those circuits I prefer to live without…with determination and perseverance, even the gnarliest of vines, when deprived of fuel, will eventually lose its strength and fall to the side…You alone choose who you are and how you want to be in the world…Own your power and show up for your life.”

I believe that this book sheds light on the heart-brain connection. It seems as though the ego has its home in the left brain, while the heart is in close contact with the right brain and they share emotional qualities of connection, compassion, gratitude and intuitive wisdom. So when we bring our awareness to our heart and away from the “thinking” brain, essentially we are choosing to experience through the right side of the brain, where we can access insight and see the bigger picture. 

It’s very valuable for me to recognize that a pure, biochemical emotion runs its course in just 90 seconds. This can be seen in babies, who have not developed the “thought-loops” we adults hook to our emotions that can keep us stuck there for hours or days. After a red-faced, all-out screaming fit, within a minute a baby can be smiling and cooing. Jill taught herself the skill of detaching from those thought loops by “moving to the right” side of her brain, and even by purposely interrupting the repetitive thought patterns. 

The tips she shares for “moving to the right mind” are very much like what HeartMath teaches: setting the thoughts aside, slowing and deepening the breath, being in the present moment, focusing on a beloved pet or something that brings joy. 

What Jill learned through the painful process of recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage can guide us all in our goal of becoming balanced: less frequently highjacked by our stressful stories, better able to recover from emotional upsets, more aware of energies, more compassionate with ourselves and others, able to access the bliss of oneness. 

Four steps for healthy communication in relationships

One of the biggest reasons people seek coaching is for help in their relationships. Whether it’s a marriage where it’s becoming more difficult to connect…or a work situation where communication has shut down…or a family with old unhealed wounds that seem to get re-opened frequently, relationship stress can be very painful! Typically, we choose to avoid conflict, often by putting up walls,  communicating minimally, and distancing. Is this happening for you?

Most people lack skills in “emotional self-regulation” – the ability to take care of oneself emotionally. Without those skills, we will typically “act out” our feelings rather than express them to ourselves and others. Acting out can be as subtle as an angry expression on my face, could take the form of coldly criticizing someone, or be as blatant as yelling an insult.

What is the alternative?

  • Taking some slow, calming, deep breaths while focusing on my feelings
  • Acknowledging to myself when I feel angry, upset, fearful, and exploring what need or needs of mine aren’t being met (this one step has been proven to lower stress levels significantly!)
  • Taking care of myself by meeting my need another way
  • Asking another person to just listen

In a coaching session, first you’ll receive deep listening and empathy for the painful situation you’re in. Next, you’ll learn and practice self-regulation skills. As you become accustomed to slowing your breathing and shifting your focus, you’ll have the opportunity to receive intuitive guidance from your own heart. These are resiliency skills from HeartMath. You will learn the skills of giving empathy to yourself, and to other people, even when you are in the midst of a disagreement, and without having to agree with them. You’ll have an opportunity to do role-plays in which you try on seeing the world through another’s perspective. The result: improved communication and greater ease in your relationships!

Would you like to explore further? Call or email me to book a time for your FREE one-hour consultation, in person or by phone. If you choose in-person, you are invited to have a cup of tea or coffee with me at my home office. 828-545-9681.

The Connection Practice helps our youth!

Many people in our time feel disconnected – the opposite of feeling heard, supported and lifted. This disconnection results in confusion, conflict, bullying, depression, and addiction and is reflected in the rising number of at-risk kids.

We need a solution that restores hope.
The Connection Practice is a self-empowerment skill that does that.

This scientifically-based practice is elegant in its simplicity and awesome in its application.  The award-winning Connection Practice combines empathy and insight to enhance social and emotional intelligence, resolve conflicts and heal relationships. It integrates methods from the Institute of HeartMath® and Non-Violent Communication to help people understand one another through heart connection.

When this practice is integrated into classrooms and considered as important as reading, writing and math, the numbers of at-risk kids will decrease rapidly.

“Threat Assessment in Schools,” a guide by the US Secret Service and Department of Education, calls connection the “critical emotional glue” and “a central component of a culture of safety and respect.”

Teaching empathy and creating connection are at the core of the Connection Practice. Integrating the Connection Practice into the school day can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes. It makes teachers’ jobs easier by improving behavior, preparing children for learning, creating more cooperation and teaching children how to handle conflict themselves. Guidance counselors are embracing it too.

A new tool that can streamline the process of bringing empathy into classrooms (and even boardrooms) is the magnetic Connection Practice Board. This video will give you a brief introduction: https://vimeo.com/303564198

Heart-Brain Coherence

Heart-brain coherence, which plays a major role in the effectiveness of the Connection Practice, has been thoroughly researched by the Institute of HeartMath®. For example, a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education showed a statistically significant connection between reduced test anxiety and improved test performance, in students who had learned the skill of heart-brain coherence.

  • 75% of the students experienced lower levels of anxiety during tests.
  • The test scores improved on average by 10 to 25 points.
  • Students experienced less fear and frustration, and made fewer rash decisions.  They participated more in class activities and demonstrated emotional connection, humor, persistence and empathic listening.

In addition to K-12 classrooms, the Connection Practice is an effective tool for after-school programs, university courses, and community classes.

Individual coaching is available for adults, couples, or families. I am a certified coach and curriculum instructor with Rasur Foundation International, which originated the Connection Practice, as well as a certified HeartMath coach and holistic health guide. For a FREE consultation, click here. For a sample of what I can offer to a classroom, click here.

Website: https://connectionpractice.org

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of the Connection Practice,
exhibiting at California Student Mental Wellness Conference

Gratitude: the Honey in Our Hearts

“Near your breastbone, there is an open flower. Drink the honey that is all around that flower.” -Kabir

Honey, in my heart

Honey, in my heart

“Love is the answer, whatever the question.” -A Course in Miracles

“Long life, honey in the heart.” -traditional Mayan blessing

Our hearts have a gift to offer, to us and to the world. According to the Institute of HeartMath (IHM), the heart generates an electromagnetic field which is 5,000 times stronger than that generated by the brain and permeates every organ, every cell in our bodies. It is the most powerful generator in the body, and this field extends at least three feet beyond our own skins. If we are frustrated, angry or upset, the heart rhythm (heart rate variability pattern) is erratic and irregular. But if we are breathing calmly while focusing on gratitude and appreciation, the heart rhythm becomes smooth and regular. This state is called “heart-brain coherence.”

What happens as a result? Every system in the body is “entrained” with the heart, which allows it to function at its best. That means that the digestion, the immune system, the nervous system, and yes–the brain–all work much better. Studies done by IHM show that during states of high coherence, stress hormones like cortisol drop, while levels of DHEA (an anti-aging hormone) rise.  Benefits have been demonstrated for blood pressure, digestion, asthma, diabetes, insomnia, congestive heart failure, anxiety, and depression.

How does all this affect our brains? We can think much more clearly, even access creative insights and intuition from this state of maximum well-being known as “high coherence.” Consider: when we are very stressed, we are in a state of “fight or flight,” in which our old reptilian brain takes over and we are not using our higher cortical brain functions. We are wired that way for survival, actually. The problem is that most of our everyday, chronic stressors–technology, interpersonal conflicts–do not call for fleeing or fighting, but do require the ability to think clearly and communicate well.

So how can you cultivate high coherence? It’s simple!

1) Focus on your heart. Drop your awareness from the mind to the heart. Touch or tap on your chest if that helps you.

2) Breathe quite slowly and rhythmically, feeling your belly and chest expand with the breath and relax with the exhalation.

3) Focus on a feeling of appreciation or gratitude, the warm feeling in your heart that is evoked by a beloved pet (such as cuddling with my sweet cat, Honey), or a dear grandchild, a beautiful place like a waterfall or a beach–whatever comes most easily and naturally to you. It’s not the thought, it’s the feeling that produces all the benefits.

4) Continue your slow, rhythmic breathing and enjoy the feelings of love and appreciation, knowing that you are attaining heart-brain coherence!

5) Here’s one additional practice that I often do with my cat: Breathing slowly into my heart, I feel my loving feelings; breathing out, I imagine sending this energy to her heart; breathing in, I take in a bit of her heart energy and I sense her love for me. You can do this with a person, a pet, a tree, a stream…the person does not have to be present. Observe how you feel as you do this. Are you calmer, more content and clear?

Practice this frequently, so that when you are frustrated or overwhelmed, you can interrupt the runaway train of stressful thoughts and reactions, and return to peace and clarity. A daily practice firmly establishes a helpful habit!

“Love is that flame that, once kindled, burns everything, and only the mystery and the journey remain. We have no immunity to love, and gratitude is one of the great arms of love.” -Rumi

 

 

 

The miraculous human heart

 “Near your breastbone there is an open flower. Drink the honey that is all around that flower. Waves are coming in; there is so much magnificence near the ocean!”  – Kabir

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  – Antoine de St-Exupery

heartOur human heart beats 100,000 times a day, 2 gallons of blood/minute, yet is much more than a pump. The heart is also an endocrine gland, secreting 5 hormones, and is part of the central nervous system.  The heart’s hormones affect how we learn, remember, explore. Over 60% of the heart cells are neural cells, like in the brain; the heart stores memories (especially emotional ones). The heart has its own intelligence. The amygdala, a part of the old “reptilian” brain which can trigger the “fight or flight” response, is a receptor of cardiac information. Much new information impacts the heart first, and then the brain.

The human heart is the most powerful electomagnetic (EM) generator and receiver in the body, and is an organ of perception and communication. The magnetic field produced by the heart is a torus (fractal); it is 5,000 times more powerful than the brain’s EM field! And it’s detectable over ten feet from the body. EM fields produced by the heart regulate DNA, RNA, protein synthesis. The bloodstream conducts EM impulses throughout the body. The heart both transmits and receives EM energy and thus is highly involved in perception.

All living organisms give off electric energy and magnetic fields. Electromagnetic (EM) communication goes on between all living organisms, all the time. Magnetic fields influence enzymes, cell growth & metabolism, and tissue repair. Both electrical and magnetic signals can be amplified.

Migrating species (salmon, birds, bees) use earth’s geomagnetic lines for navigation.

The hippocampus in the brain responds to magnetic frequencies, communicates with the amygdala and modulates emotional responses and immunity, and deciphers meaning. Too much sustained cortisol (stress hormone) in the system means the hippocampus can’t do its job.

Entrainment

When the EM fields of two hearts come together, they entrain to each other and interchange information. In fact, heart sparkleswhen the EM fields of any two life forms come together, they entrain. The mother’s and infant’s fields are entrained in utero, and during holding and breastfeeding. The infant’s heart must have this or it cannot develop properly.

Alterations in the heart’s EM spectrum are emotions, which show up as changes in heart rate and heart rate variability; the heart thus conducts information from the world to the central nervous system and brain, encoded in cardiac wave patterns.

scan0002Heart Coherence involves synchronization, resonance, and entrainment. One may begin by shifting to a heart focus, or focus on external sensory cues. The heart is the most powerful oscillator in the body. Other oscillating systems in the body automatically entrain to it: respiration, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the digestive system synchronize. When the parasympathetic dominates, the body relaxes.

For heart coherence, it’s helpful to remember and re-experience feelings of caring, love, and appreciation. As coherence deepens, hormones in the body alter: a 23% drop in cortisol; 100% increase in DHEA (anti-aging hormone, assists healing); dopamine production in the heart is enhanced, improving information transfer from heart to brain; and IgA (an immune enhancing hormone) increases.

In addition, blood pressure drops, peripheral vision increases, hippocampal activity increases, sending messages to the neocortex. Learning and intuition increase. There are fewer arrhythmias, and improvements in congestive heart failure, asthma, diabetes, fatigue, mitral valve prolapse, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

The coherent heart field affects others positively. We are immersed in living energy fields of communication generated by intelligent life forms, including all living beings. The heart is an organ of perception, whereas the brain is more like a computer. The verbal is linear, but the heart is holistic.redbud

Imagine the electromagnetic field of a tree (and its state of coherence).

We can breathe in the tree’s energy, breathe out our own heart energy back to the tree. Or we can do that with each other’s hearts. As wonderful as it feels to get into coherence just by ourselves, the combined energy field when several people are breathing together and practicing coherence is yet more profoundly peaceful.

Much of this material is derived from The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

 

What is a HeartSpeak class?

“What will I learn in a HeartSpeak class?”

scan0001HeartSpeak is the language of feelings and needs. It’s based on “Nonviolent Communication,” for which I am very grateful to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Can communication sometimes be violent? Verbal violence is not only making threats of punishment. Much more of our speech is violent in that it is not respectful of the other person. Our minds may be full of thoughts, opinions, evaluations, judgments, criticisms, comparisons and analysis. Unfortunately, when we communicate these things to others, it usually does not help us connect with them. It takes us out of our hearts and into our heads.

On the other hand, when we speak about our own feelings and needs, these are universal and less likely to provoke a defensive reaction. It allows others to hear us better. For example, if in the midst of a conversation I say, “I’m really upset, and I need some space!” it will have a very different impact than if I said, “You shouldn’t tell me how to live my life!” A person hearing “You shouldn’t…” may feel angry and defensive, and start arguing, defending, justifying–none of which helps people to connect at the heart.

Empathy is the effort to recognize, and reflect back, the feelings and needs of another person. Since we can never really know, it’s always a guess–such as, “Are you feeling overwhelmed right now, and are you needing some peace and quiet?” Even if we guess wrong, the other person is usually helped to get in touch with what their own inner state is, and that is a gift. Although we may really want to help them solve their problems, most people prefer to come up with their own answers with the help of the reflection you give them through respectful, empathic listening.

Like any new language, HeartSpeak is not learned in a day, and it’s helpful to practice and try it on! That’s why a HeartSpeak class includes lots of experiential exercises like role-plays and sentence-completions. And it’s fun! We laugh a lot.

The first of the upcoming HeartSpeak classes is a free taste. After that, there are five more classes, for $60. I encourage you to take all six classes so that you can establish a firm foundation and get plenty of opportunities to practice! You’ll be learning to make neutral observations that avoid triggering people; expressing feelings (not thoughts) and needs (not strategies); making a positive request that’s do-able in real time; and giving empathy to ourselves and others. We devote special time to anger and how to manage it effectively, without suppressing it but recognizing the judgmental thoughts that give rise to it.

I hope you’ll visit the other pages on this website to understand more!