If you’re here, you’ve probably heard of heart coherence from Dr. Joe Dispenza or the Heartmath Institute.
But what is heart coherence, what are the benefits, and how do we reach it quickly? There are a lot of guided meditations out there about reaching heart coherence, but there aren’t a lot of written instructions and principles around the practice. And it seems like each guided meditation on heart coherence is different every time.
If you’re like me, I want to understand the principles of a practice, so I can maximize the benefits and even teach it to others.
As I’ve listened to guided meditations, there is usually some form of directing energy to your heart chakra, practicing gratitude, and breathing deeply.
But are all 3 of those ingredients necessary, or just one? Would another ingredient maximize the results even more? Do you have to put your hands over your heart? Does heart coherence produce alpha brainwaves?
Let’s dig in.
How to Reach Heart Coherence Quickly
- Practice Heartfelt Emotions
- Apply Energy to the Heart Chakra
- Breathe Deeply
Let’s go over each one in depth.
1. Practice Heartfelt Emotions (like gratitude, appreciation, or love)
“Heart Coherence begins with the steady, coherent drumbeat of the heart through cultivating, practicing, and sustaining elevated emotions: such emotions include gratitude, appreciation, thankfulness, inspiration, freedom, kindness, selflessness, compassion, love and joy.”Dr. Joe Dispenza
Gratitude is the most important ingredient for reaching heart coherence. In other words, practicing gratitude alone is enough to reach a level of heart coherence.
This does not have to be gratitude for specific things in your life (like your relationships, a roof over your head, or air conditioning). This can be “object-less”, choice-less, or nondual gratitude, which is a simple gratitude for all that exists.
If you’re familiar with nondual / direct path meditation in the Hindu Vedanta tradition, or even the practice of Enlightenment in Buddhism, you arrive at a place of peaceful awareness by letting go of the mind’s attachments (our worries, desires, and anxiety). The separation between ourselves and the universe dissolves, and we become “one with God”.
This connection with Source energy (as it is sometimes called in New Age circles), is quite enough to be grateful for on its own. It is our greatest source of infinite peace, wisdom, love, and energy. We can practice gratitude by simply “abiding” in God’s presence, as Jesus taught.
We don’t have to make a gratitude list in order to feel gratitude (though there’s nothing wrong with that). Our most powerful (and easiest) source of gratitude is in the generous present moment or the Eternal Now, as Dr. Dispenza or Eckhart Tolle teaches.
2. Apply Energy to the Heart Chakra
When you direct your gratitude toward your heart chakra (energy center), you deepen your heart coherence even further.
Dr. Dispenza teaches that you don’t have to hold your hands over your heart for this, but I do prefer it.
In Reiki, Qigong, and even Christian healing practices, the hands are used to apply healing energy. Plus, I find that I experience a deeper sense of peace, connection, and gratitude, whenever I hold my hands over my heart.
3. Breathe Deeply
Breathing slowly and deeply is also crucial for reaching deep states of heart coherence (and alpha brainwaves).
It should be known that breathing is an art and science unto itself, with its roots coming primarily from the Hindu Yoga tradition. These breathing techniques are known as pranayama, which means to “gain control of vital life force”, and is the 4th of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Side note: Yoga isn’t just poses. There are Eight Limbs of Yoga, and poses are just one limb (which are called asanas).
If you come from a theistic tradition (like Christianity, Islam or Judaism), it might interest you to know that Yoga means union with God. This is one piece of evidence to show that it is the goal of all spiritual traditions to transcend and become one with God (as Jesus taught, specifically). Union with the Divine is possible in all traditions, including Buddhism.
Though, Hindu Yoga is arguably the oldest and original source of most of the world’s major spiritual practices. In other words, Yoga was one of the first traditions to teach the world how to transcend ourselves, and reach the Divine. Pranayama breathing is one powerful wisdom that Yoga gave to the world.
Whether our goal is to heal ourselves, heal others, gain wisdom, or attain higher levels of enlightenment, peace, and joy, pranayama breathing is crucial.
The simplest way to practice deep breathing, is through box breathing (which you might already know about). This is done by breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, then breathing out for another 4 seconds. I like to make sure my lungs are expanding both my stomach and chest, for maximum oxygen.
What Does Heart Coherence Feel Like?
If you feel elevated emotions such as gratitude or love, you are probably experiencing heart coherence – no extra meditation, chakra work or deep breathing is necessary (though they will deepen your coherence). So if you’re feeling sincere gratitude, you are doing it right!
Further, when you experience true heart coherence, you will feel a greater sense of peace within yourself, as well as connection to the people and universe around you.
What is Heart Coherence? How Does Heart Coherence Work?
Technically, heart coherence is a particular pattern of heart rate variability (HRV). When there is a high rate of HRV (that is, your heart rate varies significantly), that is heart coherence.
This might sound weird at first (it did for me at least). Isn’t the heart supposed to beat consistently? When we go to the doctor, they measure our heart rate in BPMs: how many times your heart beats per minute.
Turns out, heart rate itself is not the best predictor of health. The variability of your heart rate is. Meaning, how well your heart beats faster when needed, and how well your heart slows down when needed.
This delicate balance of HRV is driven by our sympathetic (active) and parasympathetic (passive) nervous system – known together as the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The enteric nervous system is also part of the ANS, but is supposedly not relevant to the heart coherence discussion.
The sympathetic system speeds up our heart rate when needed, and the parasympathetic system slows down our heart rate when it’s time to rest. Both systems are consistently working together at the same time, depending primarily on our emotional state.
This is why our heart rate really does – and should – vary. Heart coherence balances our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
So, our HRV tells us how well our nervous system is responding to the needs of our body. When our heart rate varies as it should, that creates heart coherence, and thus coherence between our minds, hearts, and bodies. That’s how heart coherence helps our mind and body perform at optimum levels.
As the Heartmath Institute explains:
“Scientific studies have shown that when we cultivate—intentionally or unintentionally—emotions of appreciation, love, and compassion (as opposed to anxiety, anger, or fear) the oscillations of our heart rhythm are showing as being more coherent or consistent.”
Here’s where things get really interesting…
According to Psychology Today:
“The heart beats before the brain forms. When the brain is dead, the heart continues to beat so long as it has oxygen. In fact, the heart has 40,000 neurons and the ability to process, learn, and remember. It also has its own emotions.”
The heart actually sends much more information to the brain, than the other way around. Around 90 percent of vagal nerve pathways move from the body to the brain, with the majority coming from the heart system.
Turns out, the heart emits the strongest electromagnetic signal out of any part of the body. This signal is more than 100 times more powerful than the signal produced by the brain, and is measurable up to 3 feet around us. When our heart becomes coherent, we sync to 0.1 hz, which is the frequency that our bodies work most in unison, and one of the primary resonant frequencies of the Earth’s field-line.
So when we become coherent, we literally sync to the frequency of the planet itself. Further, it has been shown that when solar flares hit the earth, it affects human HRV planetwide (resulting in fluxes of both human invention and violence).
That means we are literally a walking, talking radio transmitter. A coherent heart sends stable signals to the brain, which impacts our brain chemistry (creating stress or calm), and emotional information is encoded in the signal. This signal tells our mind and bodies how to perform, what genes to turn on or off (affecting health and disease), elevates the energy of people and animals around us, affects what realities we manifest, and can even heal others.
People can also sync to our coherent signal, becoming a more peaceful, loving person themselves. When we talk about a person’s “energy” or “vibes”, this has scientific merit. We can literally sense the electromagnetic energy of others. According to Heartmath, this is theoretically also how a mother is able to know when their child is in danger, because we are able to emit and receive energy from the planet’s information-sharing, electromagnetic field.
We get to choose what kind of signal we transmit, through the practice of heart coherence meditation. And philosophically, this is fascinating because that means that we reach our highest potential as humans when we pursue love and gratitude. This confirms the idea that the universe (or at least the planet) is literally wired for love.
Is Heart Coherence the Same as Alpha Brainwaves?
You might already be familiar with the neuroscience of spirituality, and how we reach slower alpha and theta brainwaves when we meditate.
When we reach heart coherence, do our brainwaves also slow down to alpha? The scientific literature seems to say yes.
When we reach alpha and theta brainwaves, does that always create heart coherence? The answer seems to be: Not always.
The research seems to suggest that yes, when we reach alpha, our heart coherence can also increase. But Dr. Dispenza, the Heartmath Institute, and research by Dr. Les Fehmi, treat them as completely separate phenomena.
In other words, when we reach heart coherence, our brainwaves do slow to an alpha state. But when we practice nondual / Open Focus / Direct Path meditation, our brainwaves will slow to alpha, but that doesn’t mean our heart rate variability (HRV) becomes coherent.
Again this connects to what I said in step 1 of reaching heart coherence: Cultivating genuine, heartfelt emotion is the biggest driver of experiencing heart coherence. So practicing nondual awareness and other forms of meditation will create an alpha state, but not necessarily heart coherence.
Is Heart Coherence the Same as Flow State?
There are several blogs out there which say that heart coherence creates a state of flow. If you’re familiar with flow from research by Jamie Wheal or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, you know that flow is a mental state where we are at maximum creativity, productivity, and teamwork.
But research seems to show that heart coherence is not the same as flow. In one study, HRV and Flow State Scales “revealed that coherence could be induced without flow and vice versa. More surprising, the correlations between flow and coherence were different in each of the tasks.”
Flow has more to do with the type of tasks we’re performing, and the skill we possess in performing that task. Our skill must be balanced to the challenge of the task. If our skill doesn’t meet the challenge, or we have more skill than is needed for the challenge, we will not be in flow.
Now theoretically, heart coherence could help us perform more effectively in tasks that are already suited to flow states. Meaning, if we have the right balance of skill for the task at hand, heart coherence should help us perform even more effectively.
But more research is needed. At least we know that heart coherence doesn’t automatically produce flow states.
What Are the Benefits of Heart Coherence?
“Coherence is the state when the heart, mind, and emotions are in energetic alignment and cooperation. It is a state that builds resiliency—personal energy is accumulated, not wasted—leaving more energy to manifest intentions and harmonious outcomes.”HeartMath Institute Research Director, Dr. Rollin McCraty
The benefits of heart coherence are numerous:
- Reduction in stress
- Adaptability to change
- Psychosocial well-being
- Higher cognitive capacity
- Performance improvement
- Resilience/Problem solving
- Mental Clarity/Emotional stability
- Access to intuition and creativity
- Regenerative process/Anti-aging
Heart coherence creates more emotional awareness, emotional resilience, mindfulness, and connection to all things. It even produces synchronous alpha waves which make one profoundly relaxed, highly focused, and perform at extremely high levels with little wasted energy or stress to their system.
As Dr. Dispenza explains, heart coherence improves the autonomic nervous system by “digesting food, secreting hormones, regulating body temperature, controlling blood sugar, keeping our heart beating, making antibodies that fight infections, repairing damaged cells, and myriad other functions over which most scientists believe we have no conscious control”.
Couple all of this with the benefits I already mentioned about manifesting new realities, as well as social and global coherence (how our energy elevates the vibrations of the people and world around us), and that makes heart coherence potentially world-changing indeed.