“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
February is National Heart Month in the US and the UK. The healthcare community devotes a whole month to heart health. Your heart certainly deserves attention. This fist-sized collection of 2-3 billion cardiac muscle cells and more than twice as many other cells beats 100,000 times a day and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood daily to keep you alive. Its health is essential for your wellbeing. During Heart Month, you may receive many messages about the lifestyle choices that promote heart health, such as avoiding smoking, being physically active, and eating healthfully. Managing stress is also important.
Our heart activity changes in response to emotions and physical and mental activity because of its autonomic regulation by the brain (the autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that is responsible for our body functions that occur automatically without conscious control such as breathing, heartbeat and digestion), creating the heart-mind connection. Anxiety and depression are risk factors for heart disease and increased cardiac death. A lack of a sense of worth or purpose is also associated with increased risk of heart disease and death.
The communication between the heart and the brain is bidirectional. Signals from the brain regulate the heart. However, the heart also sends signals to the brain through its internal nervous system. We feel many of our emotions in the heart center, and with the heart sending signals to our brain, this affects our behavior. Our emotions can activate our stress response, and learning self-regulation skills can increase our resilience and wellbeing. Psychological wellbeing is associated with improved heart health, and mindfulness and stress management training may lead to increased wellbeing. The JabuMind app provides mindfulness and stress management training, and can lead to improved self-regulation.
Besides its function as the vital pump that keeps us alive, heart metaphors appear in writings in various cultures as far back as approximately 5000 years ago. Some of these metaphors are universal, often linking the heart to emotional states, reasoning, and the central point of places, things or arguments or as the seat of love. In Confucian texts, the character for heart was also used for mind.
In the iRest® practice provided in JabuMind, we use the metaphor of the heart’s desire representing what we want most or our purpose. When we turn our attention inward, “listening” to our heart, it tells us what is most important to us. And when we pay attention to all the signals from our nervous system and our whole body, they are always telling us whether what we are doing, or what we are about to do, is in harmony with our heart’s desire and our values, or not. They are constantly telling us if we are providing ourselves and others with love, kindness and compassion, and if we are doing what we truly love. Self-compassion is a part of non-judgmental mindful awareness. If we don’t extend kindness and compassion towards ourself and we don’t love ourself, it is hard to fill our cup with love adequately to share it. Extending kindness and compassion to yourself and living in harmony with your heart’s desires and values reduces stress and promotes wellbeing which is essential for heart health, and supports you on your way to living the life of your dreams for your “one wild and precious life.”
Since now is the only time that you will ever have, is it time to honor and care for your heart with love, kindness and compassion?
[If you’d like more information about heart health, the autonomic nervous system, and transforming trauma into healing, join Dr. Karen and Jill for a live talk and meditation on Tuesday, Feb. 22nd at 4:30 pm ET/1:30 pm PT. The event is free to all registered attendees. Sign up here!]