Don’t go thinking it’s a recent yoga technique or that proffered by a new zen guru. Cardiac coherence is a type of therapy developed by cardiologists for their patients. 20 years after its discovery, this technique is being used to regulate the balance of the nervous system in people subject to stress. As well as being effective, this method is simplicity itself. You just need to remember three numbers: 3, 6, and 5. And spend 15 minutes a day doing it. Child’s play that takes care of your mind and pampers your body.
First and foremost an affair of the heart
The concept de cardiac coherence comes from American medical research conducted by the HeartMath Institute in the fields of neuroscience and neurocardiology. Software measures and represents the intervals between heartbeats in the form of a curve. No two intervals are alike, and this is completely normal. However, the curve can vary a great deal.
Researchers noted that this curve is erratic, with accelerations and sudden stops in people who are anxious, worried or angry. Conversely, when the subject is calm, or thinking about a pleasant experience, the curve forms a gentle wave with regularly-formed oscillations.
The researchers then established that this cardiac coherence curve is a precise indicator of states of stress, and that it also regulates breathing and blood pressure. The cardiologists soon realised why depression, bereavement or a serious problem have more serious repercussions than smoking for someone with a heart condition.
The heart and its neurones
Another even more surprising discovery is that the heart has 40,000 neurones connected closely to the brain via the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This ANS operates with two circuits, like the accelerator and brake pedals of a car: One is for acceleration (the sympathetic system) and the other for braking (the parasympathetic system). The heart makes its own hormones that affect the brain and induce various emotional states. And the brain responds by changing cardiac coherence. This is why the heart starts racing and thumping when emotions run high, and can soon slow down if calm is restored. Although the ANS can quickly adjust our heart rate, conversely the heart can help us to keep our emotions under control. And that’s where cardiac coherence control comes into its own. Through breathing and picturing of the heart, the regularity restored by cardiac coherence redresses the balance between the two nervous systems: the sympathetic one (the accelerator) and the parasympathetic one (the brake).
Cardiac coherence for channelling emotions
Initially used to regulate the heart rhythm in the prevention of cardiovascular disorders, cardiac coherence is increasingly being practised to manage stress and anxiety, keep emotions under control and restore a state of serenity.
When your heart is in cardiac coherence, it beats to a regular rhythm in complete harmony with your breathing. There follows a cascade of neuronal, hormonal and biochemical phenomena that restore a state of calm. This command of cardiac coherence, through slow breathing, activates the parasympathetic system. This gradually reduces the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. It improves defensive immune response, learning ability, memory and coordination. It also triggers feelings of pleasure while allaying anxiety.
Scientifically-proven positive effects
This technique was initially aimed at people with heart conditions. It has since been used on executives in a great many companies, on the back of results that speak for themselves. The percentage of executives who reported feelings of exhaustion went from 50% to 12%, insomnia rates among them went from 34% to 6%, and anxiety rates from 33% to 5%. After practising every day for a month, blood pressure is lowered twice as much as with a salt-free diet. Specialists also report a 25% reduction in stress hormone levels and doubled levels of the infamous “fountain of youth hormone” DHEA! Cue feelings of wellbeing and serenity. Plus, specialists say that you’ll see regulation of blood sugar levels, of the abdominal area, and a higher pain threshold along with improvement in inflammatory and asthmatic conditions. But whatever you do, don’t go thinking that this technique is complicated – it’s anything but. Let us walk you through it.
365, it couldn’t be easier!
To see results, remember 365: 3 times a day, 6 breaths per minute, for 5 minutes each set. In total: 3 sessions of 5 minutes each, adding up to 15 minutes per day.
A session consists of breathing in with the belly for 5 seconds and out through the mouth for the following 5 seconds.
A session comprises 6 inhalations-exhalations per minute.
These are to be repeated 5 times in a row, i.e. 30 in-out breaths in 5 minutes.
A session in the morning, at noon and in the evening. Every day. The important thing being to practise regularly. As the positive effects only last three to six hours. Which is why it’s beneficial to practise several times a day.
Where should it be practised?
Cardiac coherence can be practised anywhere – at home, at the office or on public transport. The easiest position is sitting down, with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor.
Timer or app?
You can practise cardiac coherence on your own while keeping an eye on your watch, or use a timer. Though it’s best to have an app like Respirelax or CardioZen guide you through it.
How do you make progress?
Once you have completed the first sessions, during the exercise, picture your heart or place your hand on it. This will help you to align your heartbeat with your breathing and so call upon your parasympathetic system, the key to calm and serenity.
You’ll very soon feel a sensation of warmth in your chest. You can also think about happy times or peaceful landscapes to reinforce the link between your heart and your brain.
This very special breathing frequency of 0.1 Hz is the foundation of cardiac coherence. It is not your natural breathing. This slower frequency matches that of your heart.
With the discovery of cardiac coherence, researchers unlocked the secret of “breathing-concentration” practices applied over thousands of years in yoga and qi gong, to which fakirs owe their success. Now it’s up to you to practise cardiac coherence and breathe new life into your heart and your life!