Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Coherence and Incoherence and the Heart

This past Sunday, as I was leading a workshop on "Keeping A Vital Heart," I was showing the group a picture of the heart rhythms when a person is experiencing Frustration and when a person is experiencing Appreciation.

The difference in the images was very striking: while the amplitude between the high and low points in the "heart waves" was about the same, the patterns of the heart activity were very different. The heart pattern for frustration was very spikey, and irregular. The heart pattern for appreciation was much smoother and more regular.

Is it a surprise that we experience cortical inhibition and chaos when feeling frustrated, and cortical facilitation and coherence when feeling appreciative or appreciated?

The word "coherence" is very important in matters of the heart. Coherence means we experience life as purposeful, manageable and meaningful. The heart thrives on coherence and is stressed when our lives lack coherence.

I began to think about the word "incoherent," which is usually used in relationship to how someone speaks. Someone who is incoherent is hard to understand and may speak in a jarbled, chaotic and confusing style. We feel evoke more comfort in a listener when we speak coherently, and more discomfort when we speak incoherently. Interesting to see the parallel between our thoughts and words and the experience of the heart.

One of the workshop participants made a comment about an article she had read on how multi-tasking makes us stupid. As I reflected on this, it made a lot of sense. Multi-tasking can be chaotic, especially when taken to the extreme. The more chaotic, the more incoherent our thought patterns, actions, and most likely our feelings.

I would love to see the heart rhythm patterns of a person who is frantically multi-tasking as we so often feel pressured to do in our fast-paced world, and a person who is fully present and focusing deeply on one task.

Somehow, I suspect there would be parallels between the frustration and appreciation diagrams. Multi-tasking may make us "stupider" because we become incoherent, lose our grounding and no longer have a sense of what is most important. Multi-tasking surely is stressful, so our bodies generate cortisol, the long-term stress hormone. Focusing deeply on one thing is its own kind of meditation, and may release oxytocin, the love or bonding hormone that counteracts the effects of cortisol.

Perhaps we need to look for ways to be more coherent in all aspects of our life and reduce incoherence as well! This will bring us more focus, inner peace and healthier hearts!

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