Updated: Feb 16, 2019
Heart rates are influenced by breathing rates and patterns. You are just one breath away from improving Cardiovascular Disease.
Most of us learned in school that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, less commonly known is that the heart sends far more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart! Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function – influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. In other words, not only does the heart respond to the brain, but the brain continuously responds to the heart.
Different patterns of heart rhythm (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes—actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress. This helps explain why we may often act impulsively and unwisely when stressed.
In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect—it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings, emotional stability, and perceptual clarity. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence by sustaining positive emotions not only benefits the entire body but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel and perform.
"The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes—actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress."
Breathing patterns and rates are one of the main influencers of heart rhythms. When we breathe shallow and/or mouth breath, we’re signaling the autonomic nervous system to be in the sympathetic response (or stress response). When we’re diaphragmatically nasal breathing, we’re signaling the parasympathetic response (or relaxation response) of the autonomic nervous system. Another benefit of nasal diaphragmatic breathing is the stimulation of the vagus nerve which only happens with nasal breathing.
The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and known as the “wandering nerve” – vagus means “wandering” in Latin – because it has multiple branches that spread out from two thick stems rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem that wander to the lowest viscera of your abdomen touching your heart and most major organs along the way. The vagus nerve is the prime component of the parasympathetic nervous system and a driver of heart rate variability, which is, basically, the space between heartbeats.