The Heart Speaks (Are You Listening?)

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A broken grief, anger, anxiety, stress.

“I want people to start looking at their lives and see how these events, this stress, grief, anger has affected their health,” she says.

Journey Into the Heart

Guarneri’s own journey to understand the all-too-fragile heart began in childhood.

“On an evening when I was 8 years old, my vivacious 40-year-old mother told me she had pain in her chest, then got into bed and died of a medications] to slow the heart down, we’re giving medication to stop stress hormones,” she says. Her goal is to teach people to gain control over that stress and help them cope better without the drugs — to learn to heal their own hearts.

A sophisticated form of technology called functional MRI has provided deeper insights into the mind-body connection, says Guarneri. Through functional MRI, scientists can see in real time what has seemed so elusive — that the thought-emotion centers of the stress test or electrocardiogram, that are not taught in medical school: the mental heart, affected by hostility, stress, and depression … the emotional heart, able to be crushed by loss and grief … the intelligent heart, with a nervous system all its own … the spiritual heart, which yearns for a higher purpose … and the universal heart, which communicates with others,” she writes.

What Is the Heart, Really?

The ancient Greeks and Chinese believed the spirit resided in the heart. To the Egyptians, the heart was an inner book, storing a person’s entire life – emotions, ideas, and memories. In the past century, scientists stripped the heart of its poetry; it was a mechanical pump, requiring extraordinary measures to fix.

Like those before her, Guarneri learned in medical school to block her emotions and treat the heart as a broken machine.

However, several memorable patients — Russ, Paul, and Jean, whose stories are

tai chi on the immune system, he says. A new grant from the National Institute on Aging will be used to study effects of brain doing the driving. That’s the brain center that stores old memories, she explains. “When someone pushes your buttons, you react immediately; you’re reacting to something else that happened long ago. When it’s such a quick reaction, you haven’t had time to process.”

In her book, Guarneri talks about the “heart brain” — the heart’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body. The heart is a gland that produces hormones and chemicals, like dopamine and adrenaline, which are involved in emotions, she explains.

“While we may believe the brain is our decision maker and ruler, the 10-ounce heart is more powerful than we ever imagined — functioning as a sensory organ, hormone-producing gland, and information-processing center,” she writes.

At the Institute for HeartMath, a nonprofit research and education organization, researchers have studied the heart-brain communication system. That research shows that it’s possible to retrain how your heart-brain connection to produce a more stable heart rhythm, Guarneri explains.

Negative emotions like rage and frustration will trigger changes in the heart rhythm, creating a chaotic heart pattern that adversely affects the whole body, she explains. However, positive feelings like appreciation and love can produce a stable heart rhythm, which trains other organs to function optimally, she adds.

HeartMath has developed a core technique to do just that called Freeze Frame. When in a stressful situation, you must stop the moment “as if you’re freezing a frame in a movie,” says Guarneri. Then consciously shift to a positive emotion in order to reverse the effects of hostility or stress.

“People who are able to practice this self-management technique are able to generate consistent changes in their heart rhythm,” she writes. “By consciously shifting to a positive emotion, they can reverse the negative effects on the heart.”

“If you’re in an angry, frustrated state, your body is producing stress hormones that are creating a chaotic heart rhythm,” Guarneri explains. “There’s an outpouring of adrenaline and cortisol that increases heart rate, blood pressure, and make platelets stickier, all of which can cause a heart attack.”

“An animal reacts on instinct,” Guarnier tells WebMD. “Reining that in … that’s what separates us from dogs.”