Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This article is from a Davidson Institute Young Scholar Seminar hosted by John Kroeker. It incudes a reading list and a wrap up for the seminar, "Balancing Mind with Heart."
Heart Rhythm Meditation (HRM)
Heart Rhythm Meditation uses attention on breath and the heartbeat. Our breathing rhythm affects the physical heart, and the physical heart reflects our emotions and our internal physiological and unconscious states. With a focus on the breath, we can calm these internal states. What we practiced in the exercises required a physical as well as mental focus. As this is accomplished, there is a calm and large perspective that includes much more than the (racing) mind. The technique we use is to concentrate on something, like breath and heartbeat, because concentrating on nothing is so very hard in an age of Twitter!
This exercise is just sitting and being aware of your breathing. Find a good chair; sit in an aware but relaxed position. Use a pillow to brace your lower back if you like.
The breath is perfectly under control by your autonomic or unconscious systems, but it is also possible to observe the breath consciously, and that is what to do here. Pay attention to each in-breath, to each out-breath. See how each feels, see how many physical sensations you can find that are associated with each breath. Do the sensations change? There can be emotions tied to the breath—think of a sigh—(try it out!). So you can also observe that.
We simply don’t care if thoughts, noises, or feelings intrude. Of course they do. Just bring your attention back to the next breath. This is not about clearing your mind, just about paying attention to your breath. The great thing is-- there is always another breath coming around, like a new train to catch. Each breath wipes the slate clean and gives us a new opportunity.
See if you can observe your breath this way for 15 minutes—I think you may find it easier to do than you might think. Journaling is a great way to record your experiences in this practice.
Now when you are ready to go further, try the following. Counting to yourself, see notice the duration of each phase of each breath. One’s counting generally corresponds roughly with the pace of the heart—a second is about an average time between beats. The sole intervention that you do here is to lengthen either the inhale or exhale so that they are equal in time. The actual count will vary from one person to another, the point is to make the inbreath and the outbreath take the same amount of time. This practice is a balancing practice, and it has a harmonizing effect on the breath and the body, and so on the emotions and the mind.
Finally, notice if you are aware of the pulse or the heartbeat. The pulse may “show up” in your hands, neck, temples, legs, or some other place. In case of difficulty, go ahead and place your hands over your heart (which is a wonderful practice anyway), or find your pulse in the normal way at your wrists or neck.
Now you can count by the beats of the heart, as reflected in the pulse. Use whatever count you found worked before to make the breath even. You are now allowing the breath rate to be a perfect multiple of the rate of heart. In music, this is a harmonic relation. Right now, in this experience, this is the harmonizing of the two most pervasive rhythms of your life.
- Start by observing. Check in and notice that you are breathing (!) Also check in on your heart beat. Check. Still alive.
- Enjoy the sensation of the breath breathing all by itself for a cycle or two.
- Then extend the exhale for one or two heartbeats. You do this by gently pushing out a bit more air. It is good to remember belly-breathing here—by squeezing in your belly you raise your diaphragm and this efficiently squeezed air out of your lungs.
- Immediately release at the end of the exhale. Because our chests and lungs are elastic, the inbreath starts coming right in. In fact this feels very good because it has a bit more power than usual (you stretched the elastic).
- Enjoy this for a couple of breaths, and then do the “pump” at the top of the inhale. Make your belly soft and let a couple of beats more air in. It is OK to use chest expansion here as well. Again, release immediately. Now the exhale gets better—again, because of elasticity.
- Now refine this pattern and get better at it. You should have smooth transitions and nice long coasts in-between top and bottom pumps. Enjoy this. You are fully aware of being alive.
The result of this practice is that your breath is longer. Be gentle and relaxed or you may hyperventilate. If you do feel dizzy, no matter, just stop for a minute and go even more slowly next time—this is a normal part of the learning experience.
Once you get this, you will find that your breath is longer—8 heartbeats often the case, but 6 to 10 is fine, the count depends on your lung capacity and your resting heart rate. Because the breath is longer—fewer breaths per minute, but the same amount of oxygen and CO2 exchange—you feel very comfortable. However, this long slow breath will now really put you in that calm, alert state.
- Become aware of the breath.
- As we did yesterday with the swinging breath, extend the exhale.
- Then extend the inhale.
- Count. If you don’t yet feel your pulse, just count. It should feel like you are really pushing all the air out, and really breathing in all you can, but smoothly, with effort only at the ends of breath.
- Get the count even, in and out.
- Now hold at the top of the inhale for a bit. This is when you very likely feel your pulse and/or heartbeat itself.
- Continue: in, pause, out.
All the above should get to a huge slow breath. Try for ten minutes of this practice.
Look for: synching breath and heartbeat with counting. Holding the concentration (really, returning to it every time it wanders). Also what is going on, how do you feel now and afterwards?
This may feel a bit mechanical, but stick with it. Work on getting the mechanics correct AND enjoying the ride AND being aware of all that is going on. All that is a challenge.
Bonus step: if you get say a nice count of 8 beats in, 8 out, then hold for 8 (or whatever your N is).
What we call feelings can be pretty important, and are really a grab bag of many life experiences. We may feel a sense of purpose (“following your heart”), a sense of wonder or beauty (“my heart opened”), sincerity (“heartfelt”)—I am sure you can think of many others. These are just real human experiences that don’t fall into neat linguistic or linear categories. There are also negative feelings, like anxiety, annoyance, anger, or frustration that can really hold us back and that are unpleasant to have to endure to say the least.
It turns out that with tools we worked on this week—the breath, synchronizing with the heartbeat, and reaching a state of calm, relaxed alertness—we can now approach these feeling states directly, and with attention and awareness. It feels like diving into the physical area of your heart. For most people, this feels more like the physical area corresponding to the chest region between diaphragm and neck—pretty big.
First spend a few minutes getting back to where you have been, but find a comfortable level, with or without counting, with or without the heartbeat, as long as you are aware of the breath. Do make the breath big and slow by extending the ends of the inhale and exhale. That gives us the power we will need.
Now we make use of the imagination. You can imagine that the breath goes into and out of any part of your body (try it!) In fact, this is a good healing practice. Because we are dealing with our inner space, our inner reality, there is nothing to stop us from this manipulation of the breath. We imagine, actually, a flow of energy that exhales and inhales, independently of the physical current of air.
Now please imagine that you are breathing out of your heart, and so, what else?—that you are breathing back into your heart. As you breathe out, breathe out emotion. We do this every day with a breath called a sigh. Whatever emotion is in your (emotional) heart, breathe it out. Feel like you can let it go, let it go out to be reused and recycled by the universe. If you don’t have a particular emotion, feel as if you breathe out whatever you heart holds. As you breathe in to your emotional heart—breathing in whatever YOUR heart needs. If a particular emotion is present, breathe into that feeling. This inbreath brings the attention that the emotion craves. It brings the vital current of breath-energy into the emotion, sorting it out, airing it out, soothing it, loving and caressing it.
You may wish to breathe in compassion for your own heart. Your heart gives out caring, love and compassion every day, and it needs a recharge. This is the breath that can do it! So just as the breath of air lets go of metabolic wastes, and takes in the energy of life, your energetic, emotional breath can let go of old, tired feelings, and take in the emotional energy your heart needs.
Breathe out what you no longer need, breathe in what you do need. Do this to and from your emotional heart.
What you are doing is using your new awareness, and the bridge you are building to the rest of your inner selves via the breath, to communicate with your feelings. You can to some extent heal them, or at least find relief. You can certainly become much more aware of the nuances of your current life, and what you really feel.
This works, and is used every day by many people, but it does take practice. Use your imagination and go for it, then as you have found, real sensations, real benefits show up.
For me, this is one of the big payoffs. This is the way I calm anxiety, stay cool in the presence of overwhelming world problems, and get back to doing my best in my own way. It removes my blocks, so I can use my mind to best advantage.
Living from the Heart, by Puran and Susanna Bair, available from Amazon or from the IAM website. This is the book to get if you want the full cookbook, with variations, of the techniques we learned this week. There are lots of case stories.
Energize Your Heart a more advanced book, but it can also be used as an introduction.
Heart Rate Variability is becoming a serious topic of health research. A rather dry introduction is in Wikipedia here.
Some interesting recent research shows that meditation causes improvement in concentration, attention, and changes in the brain.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.