Throughout much of recorded history, in the writings and oral traditions of many diverse cultures, people strongly believed in an intelligent heart. As a child, I often was told “Go to your heart for the answer” and “Listen to your heart.” When I did, I often found insight or clarity about a problem I was facing. In Sunday school, teachers talked about the “still, small voice in the heart,” and it made sense to me. They never said the “still, small voice in the head,” which often for me was a voice of self-doubt.
As I grew older, I adopted views about intelligence that I learned in school: that the ability to learn, understand, reason, and apply knowledge was a function of the brain in the head. It never occurred to me that the intuitive sense or clarity I gained by listening to my heart had to do with my physical heart. So when I read about research into “heart intelligence,” I was fascinated.
During the 1960s and ’70s, physiologists John and Beatrice Lacey conducted research that showed the heart actually communicates with the brain in ways that greatly affect how we perceive and react to the world around us. Today, more than a half century after the Laceys began their research, we know a great deal more about the intelligent heart:
The heart sends us emotional and intuitive signals to help govern our lives.
The heart directs and aligns many systems in the body so they can function in harmony with one another.
The heart has its own independent, complex nervous system known as “the brain in the heart.”
The heart’s independent brain and nervous system relay information to and from the brain in the cranium—a two-way communication system between heart and brain.
The heart makes many of its own decisions.
The heart starts beating in the unborn fetus before the brain has been formed.
Human beings form an emotional brain long before a rational one, and a beating heart before either.
Researchers at various institutions began showing in the 1980s and ’90s that success in life depends more on an individual’s ability to effectively manage emotions than on intellectual ability. These findings naturally resulted in people wanting to know how to infuse emotions with intelligence.
We’ve come a long way in learning how the heart, mind, and emotions work. Science has begun to catch up in accepting that there really is something to this idea of “heart intelligence” that’s been intuitively understood for millennia.
HeartMath research defines heart intelligence as the flow of awareness, understanding, and practical intuition we experience when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment with the heart. It can be activated through self-initiated practice, and the more we pay attention when we sense the heart is speaking to us or guiding us, the greater our ability to access this intelligence and guidance more frequently. Heart intelligence underlies cellular organization, guiding and evolving organisms toward increased order, awareness, and coherence of their bodies’ systems.
Today there are dozens of scientific papers on HeartMath’s research in heart intelligence and dozens of universities studying its applications for emotional self-regulation, health, academic performance, intuitive development, and more.
It’s one thing to understand the psychophysiology of heart intelligence, but perhaps the true value of the term is how you apply it to your own life. When you’re listening to someone, are you listening with all of your heart? Do you communicate from your heart—the deeper, genuine part of yourself? Before you make an important decision, do you contemplate the options from your heart, feeling how each scenario resonates within? Do you consult your heart before having a knee-jerk reaction?
Heart intelligence has advanced far beyond just a metaphor, and these simple questions can help you to start connecting deeper with your heart in everyday situations. Each time you go to your heart, you are tapping into an incredible guidance and filtering system that will help you navigate your unique path. I’ve discovered in my own life that heart intelligence is unconditional and infinite. How much and how often we decide to use it is up to each of us. In my own experience the more I use my heart intelligence, or my inner guidance system, the easier it is for me to live my life from my core heart values, such as care, compassion, gratitude, and love, and the more fulfilling my relationships and my life have become.
Try using your heart to establish healthier attitudes. Here’s a simple HeartMath technique you can try:
Attitude Breathing Technique
The Attitude Breathing Technique is a powerful pretreatment tool. Use this technique to prepare your attitude before engaging in situations that are likely to cause stress and to trigger an unwanted reaction. You can also use it if you are feeling off, irritable, or overwhelmed. Using Attitude Breathing can help you connect with your heart and find an attitude that can foster increased balance.
In Attitude Breathing, you focus on your heart and solar plexus as you breathe a positive attitude. The heart will automatically harmonize the energy between the heart and solar plexus, increasing the feeling of calm clarity.
Attitude Breathing Technique Steps
1. Recognize an unwanted feeling or attitude. This could be anxiety, sadness, self-judgment, guilt, anger, feeling overwhelmed—anything distressing.
2. Identify and breathe in a replacement attitude. Select a positive attitude and then breathe in the feeling of that new attitude slowly and casually through your heart area. Do this for a while to anchor the new feeling.
Tips for Attitude Breathing
Practice different combinations of attitudes that you want to develop. You can tell yourself, “Breathe genuine,” “Breathe courage,” “Breathe ease,” “Breathe neutral,” or whatever attitude you need. Even if you can’t feel the attitude shift at first, making a genuine and earnest effort to shift will at least help you get to a neutral state. In neutral, you have more objectivity, and you save mental and emotional energy.
Since 1991, Childre has helped oversee and develop HeartMath trainings, educational products and scientific programs. She was appointed vice president and CFO of the institute in 1992 and president and CEO in 1998. To know more about her, click here.