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Positive Emotions - The Secret to Positive Health?

by Dr Alan Watkins(more info)

listed in heart, originally published in issue 16 - December 1996

Traditional stress management techniques usually deal with stress after the fact, hours after your body has been subjected to heavy tides of adrenaline and pulses of cortisol. ... What is really required are techniques that can be used effectively right when the stress is happening, that can hijack the stress response and prevent the stress hormones sweeping through our bodies. Such techniques have now been developed, and what's more these new approaches are backed up by published scientific research.

Changing Heart Rhythms

It is well known that negative emotions, such as anger, frustration and anxiety, provoked by the stress and pressures of modern day living, can not only suppress your immune system but can also increase your risk of developing and dying from heart disease. Numerous scientific studies have shown that repeated episodes of unmanaged negative emotions, can cause the release of destructive hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Constant overproduction of these hormones in response to persistent daily hassles has been shown to profoundly suppress immunity and set the stage for a whole variety of illnesses. Negative emotional states have also been linked to accelerated ageing and decreases in cardiovascular efficiency.

The evidence clearly shows that we are under increasing amounts of stress. The rate of depression has nearly doubled in the last twenty years and our ability to balance home and work pressures is being severely tested. Whether you work in the constantly "downsizing" large corporate world, the insecure small business market or are struggling with the trials and tribulations of modern day parenting, learning how to manage your mental and emotional responses to the daily hassles that are part and parcel of modern day life is not only an intelligent investment in your future, but absolutely necessary for your survival in the twenty first century.

Traditional stress management techniques usually deal with stress after the fact, hours after your body has been subjected to heavy tides of adrenaline and pulses of cortisol. Relaxation techniques, massage, proper diet and exercise are important and help to offset the effects of stressful episodes. However, they still do not totally compensate for the wear and tear on our bodies that comes from experiencing stress producing thoughts and feelings in the first place. What is really required are techniques that can be used effectively right when the stress is happening, that can hijack the stress response and prevent the stress hormones sweeping through our bodies. Such techniques have now been developed, and what's more these new approaches are backed up by published scientific research.

The techniques, developed by The Institute of Heart Math (IHM), a non-profit education and research organisation in the US, are easy to learn and quick to apply. They can rapidly diffuse stressful perceptions and generate more creative and positive responses. Stopping a negative reaction right when it is occurring can be tricky. We've all heard "stop and count to ten" or "think positive". If you try counting to "ten", frequently by "three" your emotions feel like they are ready to explode. The techniques developed by IHM can prevent the explosion, not by suppressing negative emotions rather by transforming them. These techniques employ positive emotions to transform stressful thoughts and feelings. In contrast to the detrimental effect of negative emotions, IHM have shown that their positive emotional focus techniques can produce profoundly beneficial physiological effects on the nervous, hormonal and immune systems. Balancing the physiology through the use of positive emotional focus techniques also promotes a perceptual shift through a mechanism known as cortical facilitation. Such techniques thus save unnecessary wear and tear on the body and promote a positive, healthy balance.

The first of these techniques, called "Freeze-Frame" teaches you how to harness the electrical energy generated by the heart. This may sound unusual, but the energy produced by the heart is the largest source of bio-electricity found in the body and 40 to 60 times greater than the electricity produced by the brain. The energy produced by the power station of the heart reaches every cell in the body and can be measured up to 18 inches away from the body with sophisticated modern electronic instruments called magnetometers. Our light really does shine and it can be measured scientifically!

How do these techniques work? It is well known that the brain sends messages, via the autonomic nervous system, to the heart, and the hormonal and immune systems. What is not well known is that the heart also sends messages back to the brain providing a two-way communication system that directly affects perception, reaction speeds and decision making ability. Researchers at IHM have found that the quality of electricity produced by the heart depends on our thoughts and feelings. By analysing the heart's power output, through studying the ECG spectrum, IHM has demonstrated that thoughts and feelings like appreciation and care produce an ordered and coherent electrical signal. Conversely, thoughts and feelings like anger and frustration produce chaotic jagged, and incoherent signals. This electrical information whether coherent or incoherent is transmitted to the brain and it affects perception. Interestingly, the quality of the energy produced by the heart of an athlete at peak performance looks very similar to the quality of the energy of a person who is experiencing sincere appreciation. Thus, Freeze-Frame allows people to clean up the energy output by the heart, minimising energy wastage and maximising the coherence of the electrical signal that travels from the heart to the brain.

Freeze-Frame, and the other techniques developed by IHM, have now been taught to thousands of Americans. Corporate America is showing particular interest with many of the top Fortune 500 companies, in addition to US government agencies and all four branches of the military, realising that a healthier, happier work force means improved productivity and more effective organisations. Similarly, considerable interest is now being shown by major corporations, NHS Trusts and numerous individuals in the UK and several pilot programmes are under way with some of the UK's leading companies.

Teaching individuals how to bring more order to the electrical output generated by the body's major power station, the heart, using positive emotional focus techniques, helps shift perceptions from stress producing patterns to ones that are more calm and balanced. These perceptual shifts are mirrored by shifts in autonomic, hormonal and immune function. The autonomic changes are measured by changes in heart rate variability. Heart rate variability (HRV) is the measurement of the beat to beat changes in the heart rate, with increased variability being an indication of positive health while reduced variability indicating a dangerous lack of flexibility in a heart on the point of breaking. HRV is also related to the ageing process with HRV and overall cardiovascular flexibility decreasing with age. Research has shown substantial improvement in HRV can be generated and sustained through the use of the positive emotional focus techniques developed by IHM.

Freeze-Frame

The changes produced in the heart rhythms following Freeze-Frame are mirrored by changes in respiration and pulse transit time, a measure of blood pressure. All these systems synchronise, and dance to the same rhythm – the rhythm of the heart. This phenomenon is called entrainment and is well recognised in nature. The fact that the heart, the lungs, the intestines and the brain all start to perform "in sync" is what generates the inner experience of balance and harmony. The electrical output of all these centres literally locks in and transmits at the same frequency.

The steps of Freeze-Frame are intentionally simple so that the technique can be easily applied in normal day-to-day situations. This is how Freeze-Frame works:

Step 1 Recognize the stressful feeling, and Freeze-Frame it. It's like pushing the pause button on your VCR or taking a time-out!

Step 2 Make a sincere effort to shift your focus away from the racing mind or disturbed emotions to the area around your heart. Pretend you've breathing through your heart to help focus your energy in this area. Keep your focus there for ten second or more.

Step 3 Recall a positive, fun feeling or time you've had in your life and attempt to re-experience it. Focus on the feeling rather than the thoughts or visual image.

Step 4 Now, using your intuition, common sense and sincerity ask your heart, what would be a more efficient response to the situation you are Freeze-Framing, one that will minimise future stress?

As you practice Freeze-Framing, your own intuition, common sense, and sincerity become more active and available. While you won't necessarily have crystal-clear revelations every time you Freeze-Frame, you can at least increase your capacity to arrive at convenient and practical solutions.

Step 5 Listen to what your heart says in answer to your question. The Freeze-Frame technique is simple, powerful, effective, and becomes automatic as you practice.

IHM President Doc Lew Childre's book, Freeze-Frame, describes this technique in more detail and presents numerous stories from people on how they are using Freeze-Frame to stay calm and balanced under pressure. Freeze-Frame can be an especially valuable stress management technique because it is easy to learn, only takes a minute to do and deals with stressful situations when they are actually happening before they take a toll on our bodies.

Positive health is not just about improved physical well-being but requires us to take positive steps to manage our mental and emotional responses, developing our emotional intelligence and emotional maturity instead of draining vitality through non- productive reactions. Such maturity will create the conditions required for perfect mental, emotional and physical health. As Doc Lew Childre says in his book Freeze-Frame "Patterns of mental and emotional chaos can play a major role in strangling the physical body's vitality, aging it before its time".

Thus we no longer have to be at the mercy of the stressful world we live in. We can take positive steps through the use of positive emotional focus techniques to regain control of our health, manage our energy and balance our physiology. We can develop wider perspectives and create more vital and exciting futures full of possibilities and enthusiasm. The hidden power of the heart is the key to unlocking the door to perfect health and Freeze-Frame gives us access to the power within us.

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About Dr Alan Watkins

Dr Alan Watkins, is a locum lecturer in medicine at Southampton General Hospital. In addition to being a licensed trainer in IHM techniques he is the founder and chairman of the Brain Immune Network Group (BING) a forum for physicians and scientists interested in brain-immune communication and is the editor of The Physicians Guide to Mind Body Medicine (Churchill Livingstone, 1997). For further information on courses and workshops please contact Dr Alan Watkins, University Medicine, D Level Centre Block, Southampton General Hospital, Tremona Road, Southampton S01 6YD.

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