Gregg Braden paces the stage in front of a packed auditorium. A former computer scientist who played senior roles at Cisco Systems and with the U.S. Air Force Space Command during the Cold War, in the 1980s he shifted his focus to exploring mountain villages, remote monasteries and forgotten texts. He writes books, speaks and consults with corporate and government clients. His theme: Connecting science and spirituality.
As I watch, he asks for a volunteer and a young woman steps on stage. He attaches sensors to her head and body to register readings of her brainwaves (ECG) and heart (EKG). The readings are projected on a screen as sets of squiggly lines.
The EKG readings show the pumping of the heart. There is a regular pattern but lots of jagged spikes and dips as well. The ECG is even more erratic. This is normal for human beings in many cir- cumstances, Braden explains.
The woman is about to experience a protocol developed by the HeartMath Institute, where Braden is an advisor. The Heart-Focused Breathing Technique is designed to guide you to a state of ease in just a few minutes. “The technique is as powerful as it is simple and can be used anytime you want to create greater relaxation or more energy,” reads the literature.
Braden asks the volunteer to focus on her heart and slow her breathing. “Then imagine you are breathing through your heart,” he suggests. He intensifies the experience by asking her to close her eyes and feel gratitude for something in her life at the same time— something that will trigger positive emotions.
Within less than a minute the squiggly lines start to smooth out. A few minutes later they are not only smoother and slower, but the lines on the chart start to synchronize with each other.
Later, when the woman opens her eyes, her face is calm, her eyes shining. How do you feel? Braden asks. “Really great,” she says. The readings are completely transformed from just a few minutes earlier.
“What were you thinking about?” he asks.
“My dog,” she says. “He always makes me feel good.”
The psychological exercise has a profound effect on the body’s physiology, reducing stress hormones and replacing them with natural feel-good chemicals like endorphins. It harmonizes heart and brain, mind and soul.
One of Braden’s interests is showing individuals how to maintain a calm, focused state amid the chaos and over stimulation of the modern world. Hence his connection with HeartMath, which was founded by Doc Childre in 1991, “to help individuals, organizations and the global community incorporate the heart’s intelligence into their day-to-day experience.”
The organization does this by connecting heart and science to reduce stress and unlock natural intuitive guidance for making better choices. Its research-based tools “enable people to align and connect their heart, mind and emotions to produce transformative outcomes.” Their core values are com- passion, resonance and transformation.
The demonstration we witnessed was an example of what science calls psy- chophysiological coherence.
“Coherence is the state when the heart, mind and emotions are in ener- getic alignment and cooperation,” according to HeartMath Institute Research Director Dr. Rollin McCraty. “When the physiological coherence mode is driven by a positive emotional state, we call it psychophysiological coherence.”
Those who’ve practiced Heart-Focused Breathing say they have experienced a sense of being uplifted and alive; more peaceful and less rushed in their busy lives; and a deeper heart connection within and with others.
The basic technique described below can be used any time you are feeling stressed or want greater balance.
The Heart-Focused Breathing Technique:
Heart Focus: Focus your attention on your heart area. Breathe a little deeper than normal, in for five seconds and out for five seconds. Placing your hand over your heart helps you maintain your focus there.
Heart Breathing: Now imagine while breathing that you’re doing it through your heart. Picture yourself slowly breathing in and slowly breathing out through your heart area.
Maintaining your focus and breathing through the heart area leads you natu- rally into a state of ease. When you’re ready to proceed with the rest of your day, you’ll do so with more energy and resilience for future challenges.
Try it now. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to tap into the flow state that is the key to living a produc- tive and creative life. Enjoy the ride.
More inspiration: Here’s another article on 4 ways to reduce your stress and anxiety.