Could the Energy of Our Hearts Change the World?
Somewhere, our hearts, physics, and the Earth’s electromagnetic field all connect—and their intersection is both incredible and intuitive. For almost thirty years, a small group of scientists at the HeartMath Institute in Northern California have been researching the science of the heart—in particular, a physiological state supported by an overwhelming number of medical and scientific studies that was eventually termed the “heart-coherent state.” When we are in that state, HeartMath has found, our hearts beat at a particular frequency that facilitates gratitude, happiness, and better communication. Part of the Institute’s work has been to develop tools to help people shift into that state on-demand—the impressive results had groups from kindergarten teachers to all five branches of the armed services booking HeartMath trainings.
Since developing their curriculum, HeartMath’s research has branched further afield, investigating the magnetic field of the heart, and its relationship to the magnetic fields of the Earth—and how that connection might improve the world by radiating good energy out into it. Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., director of research and founding member of the Institute, breaks down the fascinating ideas and science behind their curriculum, along with the major implications it could have.
A Q&A with Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.
So much of your research is about communication between the brain and heart—what is the significance of that?
The quality of the signals the heart sends to the brain profoundly affects our perceptions, brain function, and emotional experience. The heart literally sends more neurological signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. (HeartMath didn’t discover that; it’s been known since the late 1800s, but largely forgotten and under-appreciated.)
Here are the four ways the heart and brain communicate:
Neurologically, via the transmission of nerve impulses: This is probably the most important means of communication between the heart and brain.
Energetically, via magnetic fields: Every time the heart beats, it creates a magnetic field that we can measure, using a magnetometer. Remember in science class in school, when you dumped iron filings on a glass plate, and they all magically lined up with the filed lines of the magnet? Those magnetic field lines are also produced by the beating heart (and the Earth). The heart’s magnetic field communicates to all the cells in the body, and it also reaches out and can affect the people around us. In fact, we can measure the energetic interaction of the magnetic fields between people.
Biochemically, via hormones and neurotransmitting chemicals in the body. The heart is a major source of hormones: It secretes atrial peptides and catecholamines, like norepinephrine. Perhaps the most interesting hormone secreted by the heart is oxytocin—the heart manufactures and releases as much oxytocin as the brain.
Biophysically, via blood flow through the heart. The pressure wave you experience when you feel your pulse on your wrist or neck also squeezes all the cells as it passes by, and that’s also a source of communication and information. You can measure it with any pulse sensor, and even observe large electrical voltages occurring in the cardiovascular system, and brain cells responding to that pressure wave.
Again, it’s counterintuitive, but the heart sends much more information to the brain than vice versa. It is estimated that around 90 percent of vagal neural pathways move from the body to the brain, and the vast majority of those 90 percent come from the heart and cardiovascular systems.
The point is that there’s much more going on in the heart than traditional paradigms have taught us. When you’re sitting in your chair and you stand up, your heart responds: Your heart rate changes as much as twenty beats per minute in the space of one or two heartbeats so you don’t pass out. In our rigorous experiments on intuition, we found that the heart responds first to unknown future events that the brain couldn’t predict—the heart sent measurably different neurological signals to the brain in anticipation of that event.
What is the heart-coherent state, and how do you measure it?
The heart-coherent state is a measurable state that people naturally shift into when they’re feeling kind, appreciative, and compassionate. You know those days when you walk out the door in the morning, and it’s beautiful out? You may not word it this way, but a feeling of appreciation overcomes you? You’re probably in a heart-coherent state. If somebody says something that puts you off and you’re feeling judgmental, you know you’re not in a heart coherent state.
A deep understanding of the physiology of heart-brain communication led us to develop techniques that allow people to shift into that optimal state any time, anywhere. These tools allow people to self-regulate for better heart coherence, which has been shown to have a lot of health benefits: better hormonal balance, improved immunity, reduction of stress hormones, and lower blood pressure, to name just a few.
How have you incorporated this heart-centered approach into your techniques and meditations? What makes them different from more traditional meditations?
The vast majority of meditations involve sitting in isolation for some time period. I was a meditator for many years—I might have a great meditation in the morning before I left my house, but before I even got to work, when I hit traffic, I’d be angry, frustrated, and impatient. HeartMath techniques are built to be accessed in the moment of stress, so you can better regulate your own emotions when the traffic jams of life hit, not just when you’ve put aside time to meditate.
“The heart is really the source of emotional intelligence, transferring intelligence to emotions and strengthening our ability to manage them.”
Rather than focusing on the third eye or the pineal gland, we direct energy and intention to the heart. The heart is really the source of emotional intelligence, transferring intelligence to emotions and strengthening our ability to manage them, so HeartMath techniques are about bringing you to a heart-coherent state in the moment.
How do you put the HeartMath techniques into practice in larger groups?
In the past couple of years I’ve interviewed a lot of people, including principals of schools, executives of big companies, and community leaders. The common thing they all say, even though they say it different ways, is that people can’t get along with each other. In response, we’re developing new programs to increase harmony and social coherence to help team members appreciate differences and get along with each other.
We’ve spent a lot of time researching the energetic communication between people. Have you ever been talking to someone, and they’re saying one thing to you, but you feel that there’s something else going on, and there’s a disconnect between the two messages? By measuring the energetic communication between people, we’ve been able to show that there really is emotional information being carried via the magnetic field that the heart’s radiating.
One common situation is a person feeling anxious internally, but not communicating verbally that they’re feeling bad, so they end up sending mixed messages to those around them. We’ve developed a technique to combat this called “shift and lift,” which helps us shift past the pettiness or drama that we might be reacting to, lift the magnetic field environment that we’re putting out, and make more connections with the people we’re interacting and communicating with. These techniques have measurable results, from shorter meeting times to reduced bickering and higher output.
What are HeartMath trainings like, and who are typical clients?
We start with teaching some personal regulation techniques so participants can self-regulate, then we transition to team exercises, like identifying core heart qualities and values.
Every businessperson has learned some type of communication or listening technique over the course of their career. But when you are physiologically in a heart-coherent state, communication is a really different experience. It’s not uncommon that after a five-minute exercise, half the room ends up in tears because they’ve never been heard like that before. It’s hard to explain and put words around what happens in the trainings, but for many people, adding heart coherence to their existing communication/listening techniques is transformative.
“It’s not uncommon that after a five-minute exercise, half the room ends up in tears because they’ve never been heard like that before.”
We do a lot of work in law enforcement, helping officers maintain their composure when they’re in a potentially stressful situation. There are a number of Olympic and professional sports teams we work with, too.
One of our trainers has been working in Lebanon with Syrian refugees. He runs three programs: one for children, one for women, and one for victims of torture. Many refugee children manifest their stress in bed-wetting; it’s a huge issue when you’re dealing with an impermanent housing situation. In as little as three to four weeks, he’s had success rates of over 90 percent of the children stopping bed-wetting. With torture victims, it’s a longer process (about six weeks), but he is able to help reconnect them with their hearts—the success of the programs have been amazing.
Can you explain the Global Coherence Initiative?
Most mothers, at some point or another, have had the sensation or knowledge that their kids were in trouble—even when they were on the other side of town, or in another city. That type of intuition is being mediated by some type of mechanism, and our hypothesis is that the magnetic field of the Earth is doing it.
The Global Coherence initiative has installed sensitive magnetometer systems at sites all around the world (we’ve got one here, at our location in Northern California, but they’re also in Canada, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, New Zealand, with plans for our next in Colombia) to measure the rhythms of the Earth’s magnetic fields. Our hypothesis is that we’re all connected in a measurable way through the magnetic fields of the Earth. It’s a big information-sharing system, if you will.
The idea of a global magnetic-field environment is not new: We believe the Earth’s magnetic field connects all living systems, so trees, animals, plants, etc. are all within that field. The research we’re doing now is starting to verify this theory.
We’re finding that our personal magnetic field works with the Earth’s magnetic field, and when we tune ourselves correctly, we can receive the information it contains. There are typically hundreds of cell phone conversations happening and each phone is radiating a magnetic fields in the space around you right now. If you get out your phone and make a call, the receiver of your phone creates a resonant link tuned to a particular resonance that you grab onto to connect to the cell tower. Our hearts work the same way, but it’s what we care about that tunes us to the information around us.
What are the implications of your research?
Our model suggests that this all starts at the individual level, and that we all need to take responsibility for our own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Being kind, for example, or more compassionate, and more appreciative as people practice these techniques feeds that information into the larger Earth field environment. There are personal health benefits, of course, but what we’re developing now are tools and techniques for increasing social harmony—helping people get along in a global context.
Personal, social, and global coherence are the three big bins we work in. And as we become personally more self-regulated and heart-coherent, and especially as we start doing that in groups, whether that be work teams, or sports teams, or church groups, that strengthens and amplifies what we’re feeding the global field. And as we feed the field more love, care, compassion, kindness, that puts a signal out that gets more people in touch with, and resonating with their frequencies, and becoming kinder and more appreciative. So they’re linked, the personal, social, and global: It’s a big feedback system.
What are the Schumann Resonances, and how are they connected to this work?
To understand Schumann Resonances, you first need to understand the ionosphere—the bubble-like layer of plasma that circles the Earth. Plasma has a unique property in physics: Low-frequency magnetic waves (like the kinds that carry radio signals) bounce off of it like a mirror. When people talk to someone on the other side of the planet via radio, their radio wave goes up, bounces off the ionosphere, and connects with someone holding another radio. When the magnetic waves happen in this cavity between the earth and the ionosphere, the ones that fit in a resonant way become amplified as standing waves, and those that are not resonant are quickly dissipated; those are called Schumann Resonances. (Schumann was the German mathematician who predicted that such waves had to mathematically exist in this cavity).
The Schumann Resonances were first measured in 1959-1960—there are eight of them, all of which are the same frequency as human brain waves. They are important, because since our brains operate at the same frequency as the Schumann Resonances, we can make a resonant link via one of those waves—that resonant coupling allows our brains to exchange energy and information with the magnetic field and vice versa.
Something less well-known but worth understanding in this context are field-line resonances: The Earth has a geomagnetic field with a north pole and south pole, and its field lines radiate out into space hundreds of thousands of miles. These field lines can be thought of as guitar strings. When you pluck a guitar string, it vibrates and makes a sound. The magnetic lines of the Earth vibrate at a lower frequency than the human ear can hear. But they vibrate nonetheless, and solar wind blowing by is constantly plucking those strings. Just like guitar strings, if you change the tension, or tighten them, the frequency changes. One of the primary resonant frequencies of the Earth’s field-line resonances is 0.1 hz—and that is exactly the same frequency as the human heart rhythm when we’re in a heart-coherent state.
“We’re all like little cells in the bigger Earth brain—sharing information at a subtle, unseen level that exists between all living systems, not just humans, but animals, trees, and so on.”
0.1 hz is a fundamental frequency—it’s the rhythmic frequency of human and animal communication and cardiovascular systems. The late Dr. Halberg (who coined the term circadian rhythms) suggested that we have the rhythms present in our brains and bodies because we evolved in the frequencies of the Earth. So we’re all like little cells in the bigger Earth brain—sharing information at a subtle, unseen level that exists between all living systems, not just humans, but animals, trees, and so on. Some of the projects we do demonstrate that HeartMath and the study of these frequencies in general are all part of the science of interconnectivity. Future research will investigate whether trees respond to human emotions—or even to or global events the way people do.