Emotions and Heart Health

Did you know that in 1983 the heart was reclassified as an endocrine organ? This is because the heart is much more than just a muscle that pumps blood. The heart produces and releases a number of hormones, including dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine, and ANF (atrial natriuretic factor) which affects blood vessels, the kidneys, the adrenal glands, and the brain. I had no idea.

I am quoting once more today from Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life by Dr. Claudia Welch. Although this book was written specifically for women suffering from hormonal imbalances, there is plenty of material that refers to men and women of all ages.

If you were wondering when I was planning to get all new-age freaky on you and bring up the heart chakra, the energy center that surrounds the heart, today is that day.

When I studied the chakras (7 major energy centers of the body) as the centerpiece of my YogaRhythmics teacher training, I may have been one of the least new-age freaky women in the group. I came to the training as a dancer and movement specialist, along with one other woman who was already a fitness instructor. She took me aside one day and asked what I honestly thought about all this chakra mumbo-jumbo. And I told her the truth: I believe in the concept of the chakras because I can actually FEEL the energy of each center. For me, this is a no-brainer.

Anyway, we all know that our emotions are intimately linked to our bodies. Our "gut" is now known to be the center of our immune system, and seems to have another type of "brain" which feeds information to our "higher" brain. The heart is another part of this system, directly linked to how we feel. Anger and depression have very clear effects on the heart. As Dr. Welch tell us: "Our thoughts become our biology." (p. 137.) Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration are all governed by our emotions. When we are agitated, so is the heart. When we are calm and peaceful, so is the heart. Chronic stress and anxiety can cause a chronic rise in blood pressure, overtaxing the heart.

But beyond the physical organ we call the heart is the heart center. The heart chakra is the center of the entire chakra system. And this center is where we give and receive love, caring, affection, gratitude and joy. An open-hearted person is capable of both giving and receiving. Some people are only capable of one or the other. And some are not capable of either. A broken heart is reflected in a person's heart center. Grief can close down the heart chakra and make it difficult or impossible for a person to feel joy. Exercises which physically open the front of the heart center are useful for helping people begin to feel more open-hearted. A collapsed chest and slouched posture can cause one to feel more depressed and sad, while lifting and opening the front of the chest can allow deeper breaths, increased oxygen, and a more positive attitude. It's all connected.

"Broken heart syndrome" is an actual term used for people who suffer from stress-related heart failure. Sufferers may not have any arterial blockage whatsoever. It can hit those who eat the proper diet, exercise, and do everything right. Perhaps not surprisingly, broken heart syndrome is more common in women than in men. As Dr. Claudia Welch suggests, "Women take everything to heart." (p. 130.)

A simple exercise to practice for the emotional benefits to your heart and your life is gratitude. You can start a gratitude journal. Or just set aside a few minutes per day, morning, noon, or night, to remember how much you have to be grateful for. This is a nice thing to do on Thanksgiving, but it will have a greater impact on your attitude and your health if you practice daily. It is impossible to feel angry, resentful, and irritated while you are feeling grateful! Let me know how it goes.