Here is an article Peg Donahue and I wrote for More Magazine some years ago –still true and appropriate for this time of Thanksgiving
Giving Thanks: Good for Your Heart and Mind!
By: Karen Kallie and Peg Donahue
For centuries the heart has been connected with emotions of love, gratitude and compassion as well as with courage, wisdom and spirituality. More recently research has found that not only are these feelings are experienced by the heart, but they also have a very stabilizing and beneficial effect on total health.
We now know that stress and negative emotional states affect hormonal fluctuations, immune response, heart and brain function. Stress and negative emotions lead to disordered heart rhythms, and unbalance the autonomic nervous system affecting the smooth function body and mind. Fortunately the opposite is also true: positive emotion leads to increased harmony, coherence and balance within these same systems.
Significant positive changes in mind and body systems have been repeatedly documented when techniques are used that purposefully create feelings of appreciation, gratitude and unconditional love. The voluntary triggering of these emotional states was found to increase coherence in both heart rhythm and in the autonomic nervous system which regulates heart rate, breathing and other vital functions. This results in a positive effect on all psychological and physical functions.
It has also been found that people’s perception of stress shifted as they developed an inner resilience or “stress hardiness”. This translates to being less prone to react negatively to stress and being better able to actively manage and reduce unavoidable stress. That is all great news, but there is more. Improvements have also been documented with physical performance, creativity, problem solving and intuition.
Researchers are reporting that the heart has a mind of its own and is a major factor in how we perceive and respond to the world. The heart has been found to be a very complex processing center that doesn’t just receive information from the brain; it is often the originator of information with the brain being the second responder. This influences the brain to send smoother signals back to the body. Our heart and mind are in an ongoing and intricate two way conversation and we can benefit if we know how to participate.
Have you noticed that when you are in love you get sick less often and seem to be able to handle life with more ease, grace and self-confidence? Research is documenting the why and how of this, but you do not have to wait for the results or to fall in love to benefit. Start now by creating loving feelings from within. Begin with a choice to let go of negativity and shift to feelings that you do want. It may take some practice, but you have the power to create profound change from within with some very simple techniques.
Emotional Self Mastery
Our emotions are very real energies that move through us. If we do not manage them, they will manage us. They do not disappear if we ignore them, they merely go underground and silently erode our systems and wreak havoc with our health at a later time.
A very helpful process is to notice when you are focused on a negative feeling. Intentionally stop the action by imagining a huge red stop sign in your head, or imagine hitting the pause button on your remote control, or simply say â‚¬Ëœstop’ to yourself. Then use your imagination to get in touch with a memory or fantasy that triggers feelings of appreciation, gratitude or unconditional love. Feel as though you can breathe those feelings in and out through your heart. Keep doing this until you have shifted your emotional focus. Then see if you can adopt a feeling of ease maintaining it. This is a skill, so practice is essential.
Conscious breathing can be a big help in creating new patterns and healthier ways of thinking and feeling. Breathing easily, fully and deeply begins to put you in touch with deeper levels of your inner being. It helps to slow you down and makes you aware of what is occurring both within and around you. It tunes you in to your environment and your internal processes, strengthens your center of personal power and helps you be aware of how to make clear, positive, conscious choices that support healthy outcomes.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Another method of tapping into good feelings is keeping a gratitude journal. Expressing gratitude for all of the blessings in your life, big and small, helps to attract more of them.
So you have some very positive, life affirming information from ancient wisdom and recent science! However, you are required to integrate new ways of being in order to benefit. One way to put all the above suggestions together easily is a daily meditation practice. Meditation helps to relax the body, quiet the mind and develop the capacity to observe feelings with neutrality. It also helps to engage the heart in the way described above. This all helps to create a state of mindfulness that allows you to release stress more easily in the moment and develop the resiliency that will bring you all the gifts of higher level functioning…more than worth the effort for twenty minutes daily.