What do we really know of the human heart? This question kept arising lately, catching my eye in an ad for Valentine’s Day, or within my work as a physical therapist in home health, where I regularly see the effects of various life stressors; heart failure, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. The most inspiring guidance for me was from a passage in the Bible that literally sprang off the page today and initiated a new line of thought,…which for me, connected the dots:
“For the Lord does not see as man sees; for a man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1Samuel 16:7
I am a trained scientist, licensed medical provider, herbalist and natural-healing supporter. This allows me to look at a situation, or problem from multiple points of view, often keeping me outside of the proverbial ‘box’,…which my clients are grateful for. Therefore, if Our Creator doesn’t worry about the outer appearance, and is focused on the heart, well, this seems to be pretty indicative that it’s the most important reflection of who we are. This intrigued me to look deeper into what the heart really tells us.
The Biologist in me looks anatomically at how the heart is put together functionally. This was nicely summarized by University of Rochester Medical Center https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/:
‘The heart is the hardest working muscle in the human body. The heart is located almost in the center of the chest. The adult hum
an heart is about the size of a fist.
The heart beats at an average rate of 80 times a minute. That's about 115,000 times in one day, or about 42 million times in a year. In a 70-year lifetime, an average human heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times. The heart works hard even when you are at rest.
The heart is made up of:
4 chambers (2 atria and 2 ventricles) that get blue (deoxygenated) blood from the body. They pump out red (oxygen-rich) blood back to it:
The atria get blood coming back to the heart.
The ventricles pump the blood out of the heart.
Blood vessels that include a network of arteries and veins that carry blood throughout the body:
Arteries carry blood from the heart to the body tissues.
Veins carry blood back to the heart.
4 valves to prevent backward flow of blood:
Each valve is meant to allow the forward flow of blood. It prevents backward flow.
An electrical system that serves as a natural pacemaker. It also conducts electricity to stimulate the heart muscles to contract. This controls the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat.’
A pretty impressive summary of statistics, and quite similar to reading information on new electric gadget you might buy off the shelf.
Then, the Medical Provider in me looks at that list of functions and sees all kinds of things that can go wrong,…so many moving parts! And what if the electrical flow is blocked?! This was unfortunately the sort of information I was seeing when I briefly looked at the WebMD page on the heart. It gave a very basic description, then a list of 18 major cardiovascular diseases and dysfunctions that can occur. Of course, they were linked to the latest drug and surgical treatments. Kind of hair-raising and liable to increase someone’s anxiety, if you are looking for self-care and functional answers. Definitely not helpful to anyone wanting to take control of their health!
So now, the Herbalist and Natural Healer took a stab at the internet options and came up with all kinds of botanical blends, aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, homeopathic and ayurvedic medicine approaches to heal an ailing heart. The key factor that placed Ayurvedic medicine apart, is that the ancient practitioners developing this healing art recognized long ago that the heart is strongly connected to the emotions, and the heart responses are interrelated to higher level thinking. This in turn governs our chemical, and electrical responses with good and bad outcomes,…depending on what we were thinking. Consider the concept of Chakras developed thousands of years ago which we now know correlate to large nerve networks up and down the spine, called plexus. Chakras/Plexus were noted to produce specific effects in health, depending on what the emotions were up to. These are very real centers of focused electromagnetic energy,…the stuff that keeps us alive. But like most electrical conduits, they can be blocked, or over-loaded, with not so wonderful effects.
Interestingly, in Sanskrit the heart Chakra is called Anahata, meaning unstuck, unbroken and unbeaten. Negative motions such as loss, betrayal, hate, anger, resentment, envy and grief, which is experienced in the loss of a loved one, either through death, or relationships ending, will bring us out of emotional balance and drain our healing energy in trying to deal with the situation. We can definitely feel stuck, or broken in high stress moments.
If you are presently struggling with negative feelings, it may feel like a heaviness and aching over your heart. Like someone is literally beating you on the chest. And that someone is you, unknowingly activating the Heart’s responses to negative emotions, creating the sensation that your heart is ‘broken’. This is often when the immune system fails us, as it is being drained of energy-resources in a high stress event, and ‘clogged up’ by toxins our cells make in response to stress events.
So,… more science exploration. And this is where the really cool information started to flow as I researched the latest scientific findings on the heart, through the Heart Math Institute website
: Amazingly, the heart has actually been found to contain sections full of brain cells! Not overly surprising at this point in the discussion, and not just a couple cells at random either,….There are tens of thousands of these brain cells, clustered together in what are called ganglia. The Little Brain, they dubbed it. This complex, and networking ganglia, not only receive information from the main brain and body about stressors, they TELL the main brain and body what to do about it!‘…a newly emerging view of the heart as a complex, self-organized system that maintains a continuous two-way dialogue with the brain and the rest of the body. Heartmath.org This includes creating its own hormones to affect nerve and body functions, like blood pressure, fluid flow, kidneys and digestion function and, of course, your immune system. The heart will send out pressure waves(vibrations) and generate changes in nerve conduction to your brain, as well.
Consider if you have ever had a problem thinking clearly if you are emotionally upset? How about the term “Listen to your heart.”? Especially, when thinking about an issue that seems confusing and disorganized. Once you place your intention on what the heart is really ‘saying’, are you able to discern right choices from wrong? Think about it a moment. Actually, feel about it! This is your Little Brain communicating to your higher thinking. Steering you to what feels right!
The most important fact is the heart is storing all these memories and events in its own brain cells. This is a powerful piece to consider if undergoing counseling, or you are a counselor for folks with Post Traumatic Disorders. There can be all sorts of wonderful philosophy and mind training applied, however, the memories stored in the heart must also have a chance to be
Heart Ganglia-HeartMath.org resolved. Because your heart really and truly can ‘ache’ from all these emotional injuries, and is why it’s important to recognize why you occasionally need to take yourself out of the traditional approaches and find a method to achieve emotional balance and flexibility in this crazy World. What does stress do to your heart? A couple of studies show us the impact:
Over one-half of heart disease cases are not explained by the standard risk factors such as high cholesterol, smoking or sedentary lifestyle.(2)
According to a Mayo Clinic study of individuals with heart disease, psychological stress was the strongest predictor of future cardiac events such as cardiac death, cardiac arrest and heart attacks.(3)
Three 10-year studies concluded that emotional stress was more predictive of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease than from smoking; people who were unable to effectively manage their stress had a 40% higher death rate than non-stressed individuals.(4)
So, you may be thinking,…it can’t just be ‘stress’ that’s the problem,…right? Wrong! What’s important to recognize is that stress is not just emotional, it’s chemical, hormonal and vibrational! It’s from exposure to environmental pollution, EMF frequencies from cell phones, TVs and computers; it’s unhealthy food and additives, toxins in water and overloads of sugar, fats and salt that are not in their natural element, having most nutrition genetically engineered or manufactured out it. And as that goes, we as humans, are not in our natural element either,…neither? The hunter-gatherer of our ancestors spent most of the day actively seeking food, shelter and protection. Most modern day humans spend time sitting and watching TV ads that prompt them to walk the 20 feet to the kitchen for snacks, then back to the couch to finish watching the show. There are reasons American’s are very unhealthy and unhappy. When we don’t have energy due to struggling with stressors, inside and out,…the couch and a bag of chips looks pretty inviting, and the food industry knows this, pushing an unhealthy agenda.
Good news! You can correct and heal your heart,…this most vital of organs!
Let’s review and list some options:
[ The heart has a Little Brain in it that can impact your entire body and thinking.
Option: Check out the Heart Math Institute website https://heartmath.org for information on Heart-Brain Coherence; a technique to synchronize the information flow. Very powerful!
[ The heart gets irritated if you are irritated,...especially if you do this regularly for sustained periods, or re-play negative emotions in your brain (FYI-this is actually worse than the first time you experience the event, creating an even bigger negative heart impact.)
Options: Learn a new technique to manage emotions that fits your lifestyle. Possibly, this could be learning Mindfulness ( ie., pay attention to what you feel!) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356 , or
Non-Violent Communication (NVC) https://www.cnvc.org/online-learning, if speaking to others is stressful, or
Diaphragmatic Breathing https://www.verywellmind.com/abdominal-breathing, to stop the initial phases of fight or flight responses, or
Meditative Walking https://liveanddare.com/walking-meditation which lets you do something physical to release tension build-up.
[ The heart can get injured from sustained damage when we lack the needed helpful responses to manage negative stress, causing fatigue, illness, muscle and join pain to occur due to physiologic overload.
Options: Explore the Healing Arts to help regain energy, clear out toxins from bad chemistry and pain. Ayurvedic Physicians, Acupuncturists, Physical Therapists, Naturopaths are good places to start because they typically are trained in full body care. Of course, this does not eliminate other options you may know of, such as medical or chiropractic practitioners in your area that promote empowering body balancing, versus dependency on medications and regular adjustments. It all depends on YOUR beliefs, and of course, check in with your heart for what feels right. Ask friends and family, research the websites and pick up some of those free wellness magazines in grocery stores,…check out what may be available in your area.
[ The heart regulates your blood flow, your oxygen levels to your body and brain, your energy levels, your immune system, your kidneys and your sense of well-being.
Options: Slowly and gently, start changing what goes into your body that you have control over. Read Labels and Ingredients!! Start eliminating anything you buy that is made with heat processed oils https://foodbabe.com/cooking-oils/ as they are actually toxic substances, modified to meet edible grade requirements.
The short list to cook with: Organic unrefined coconut oil, avocado oil, grass fed cow butter, virgin olive oil.
Buy fresh, unprocessed food (organic meats, vegetables, fruits) and use your new oil selection to cook it up…you will be delighted by the flavor and how it satisfies your hunger quickly!
Stop eating Wheat and Corn to start, then research ways to reduce grains (bread, cereal, crackers) in your diet. Most manufactured grain foods have unhealthy oils, additives and sugar, or are Genetically Modified and altered (watch for the GMO label), to the point of being non-compatible with human digestion. This can cause bloating and digestive issues, and because they lack nutrition, they ultimately don’t satisfy your hunger, making you want more.
***NOTE OF CAUTION: Prescription medications should NEVER be stopped cold-turkey! Serious illness, even death can occur from stopping a medication your practitioner prescribed. Please consult your practitioner and together work with your pharmacist to do a medication review for anything that may be causing unnecessary side-effects. Then, create a plan with their guidance for any changes.
[ The heart functions best when your emotions are positive with gratitude, love, generosity, kindness, compassion, and all the other happy feelings we know are out there.
Options: Need I say more?
Find ways to increase times to be happy, which is ALL DAY! Find micro-moments of a few seconds to bring a positive thought into your mind, blocking and replacing any negative ones. It works! You just have to WANT TO do it! Who wants to be unhappy? Consciously, no one,…but unconsciously, there is an addictive quality to using misery, anger and resentment act as a protective shield, not allowing your heart to open up because we are afraid to see what is really inside. This is where the deeper work happens,…when your let your heart be free of held-in pain, worry and hurts.
Finally, find a good counselor that makes your heart happy! This is an important step in letting a professional guide your journey to better mental and spiritual health.
Remember, that Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit are all connected, so focus on what will support each aspect of who you are.
It's time to let your Heart guide you, and enjoy your life!
I hope you found this blog to be helpful. Please provide comments and suggestions if you have time. There is so much more available to learn about creating a healthy heart, and I encourage you just get started, by checking out the links I provided above.
Best Wishes in Health,
Karen A. Shupp
A Modern Day Medicine Woman
1. Kubzansky, L.D., et al., Is worrying bad for your heart? A prospective study of worry and coronary heart disease in the Normative Aging Study. Circulation, 1997. 95(4): p. 818-824.
2. Rosenman, R.H., The independent roles of diet and serum lipids in the 20th-century rise and decline of coronary heart disease mortality. Integr Physiol Behav Sci, 1993. 28(1): p. 84-98.
3. Allison, T.G., et al., Medical and economic costs of psychologic distress in patients with coronary artery disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 1995. 70(8): p. 734-742.
4. Eysenck, H.J., Personality, stress and cancer: Prediction and prophylaxis. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 1988. 61(Pt 1): p. 57-75.