One of the most transformative moments of my coaching education was learning the concept of coherence and how to use breathing to achieve it. We were working in pairs with other student coaches, learning to bring each other into a state of coherence through breathing exercises. I showed up to class that morning a complete wreck. The night before I had taken a pregnancy test and found out that I was pregnant with my second child. I was a mess of hormones and emotions, and my mind was flying a thousand miles a second. And I was supposed to achieve coherence? Yeah, right.
The HeartMath Institute, a research institute founded in 1991, defines coherence as "...the synchronization of our physical, mental and emotional systems. It can be measured by our heart-rhythm patterns: The more balanced and smooth they are, the more in sync, or coherent we are. Stress levels recede, energy levels increase and our brain and what HeartMath calls the “heart brain” work together. It is a state of optimal clarity, perception and performance. "
Sounds pretty good, right? And getting your body, heart, mind and spirit into a state of coherence is easier than you might think. It has to do with channeling one of the most powerful emotions in the world. Love.
By combining the forces of breath and love, we can go from a state of uncertainty, stress and fear, into a state of relaxation, clarity and coherence. If you've ever done yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises, this will not be too much of a stretch. The difference is only the intention. By using love as your guide, you go beyond relaxation and into a place of deep purpose, fueled by humanity's strongest positive emotion.
It starts with getting your body into a state of relaxation through breathing. Sit comfortably and focus on your breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to push away thoughts that try to creep in. If you find it hard to keep distractions at bay, try counting your breaths. Breathe in 1-2-3-4, breathe out 1-2-3-4. Or try a four syllable mantra with your breath. Breathe in I-can-do-this, breathe out I-am-so-calm. Let your shoulders relax. Let your jaw loosen.
Once you get your breath into a good cadence, start to focus on the area directly around your heart. This is your "heart space." Put your hand over your heart and focus your breath into this space. Imagine the breath actually pushing through your heart space, filling you up. Then, as you exhale, imagine the whole area relaxing and opening, making a space for you to fill.
Finally, when your body has relaxed and your heart space is open, imagine someone that you love. Picture that person's face, hear their laughter, concentrate on your love for them. In my coaching class, I saw the face of my eldest daughter smiling at me, her curls framing her face. I was instantly filled with love and gratitude. Take that love energy and breathe it into your heart, exhale it back through. Each breath filling you more and more with the sense of love and gratitude. Before you know it, your body will be in a place of coherence. Heart, mind and body working together.
Being in a state of coherence is a great place to explore big questions. If you are trying to figure out a next big life step, it helps to get yourself into coherence before exploring those themes. I've found that I am able to think clearer and approach problems from a much more authentic place, not letting ego, self-doubt and fear cloud my judgement.
When practicing these techniques with clients and workshop participants, I have had my share of skeptics. Some felt that it was too "touchy-feely" or outside of their comfort zone. However, once they tried it, everyone was able to get to a deeper place, a more raw version of themselves that was ripe for self-exploration. I had one client tell me weeks later that she was very doubtful at the workshop, but later tried it at home and was surprised at how much her body was able to relax and her priorities were able to reveal themselves.
So this Valentine's Day, take a moment to get into your own heart space and focus on someone that you love. You just might make some new discoveries and uncover some new things to love about yourself.
For more information about HeartMath research and it's application in education, coaching, therapy and healthcare, visit https://www.heartmath.org