Heart-Brain Coherence Helps Soldiers with PTSD

The Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, California has a Military Service Appreciation Fund which has helped thousands of active-duty military personnel and veterans to reduce stress, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related conditions.

The Institute of HeartMath (IHM) is a non-profit organization that has conducted scientific research on the physiology of emotions and the science of the heart for nearly two decades. The IHM has also developed practical tools, education programs and services—collectively known as the HeartMath System—that help people to lower stress and to build emotional resilience.

About three years ago, the IHM began providing active personnel and veterans and their families with skill-building programs and emotion-regulation technology for lessening mental, emotional and physical suffering. More information about the Military Service Appreciation Fund can be found at http://www.heartmath.org/get-involved/caring-initiatives/military-service-appreciation-fund.html.

Robert R. Ireland, MD, DMin, MA, an independent contractor with the US Department of Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, wrote a guest editorial in Alternative Therapies that discusses the use of coherence-based personal training regimens to improve health, neurocognitive performance and mood.[1] This coherence-based training focuses on emotion self-regulation and the use of biofeedback to achieve psychophysiological coherence, which in plain English means that a person’s heart and brain are working together optimally. Although further research is necessary, Dr. Ireland reports that:

Emerging evidence demonstrates that (heart rate variability) coherence biofeedback training improves executive functioning, including sustained attention and working memory[2] and may be useful in the treatment of major depression[3] and hypertension.[4] It has been adopted by military units as a tool to assist with self-regulation, especially for controlling mood swings associated with posttraumatic stress disorder.

The IHM website mentions that, in their De-Stress Workshop for Veterans, participants begin increasing their focus and becoming aware of ways to manage nervous feelings and to create more inner security. The results are improved personal readiness and greater emotional balance to help them meet the demands of the military-to-civilian transition, which normally can include stressors such as frustration, impatience, anger and worry.

How It Works

Over the years, the IHM research has shown that negative emotions lead to increased disorder in the heart’s rhythms and in the autonomic nervous system, adversely affecting the rest of the body. In contrast, positive emotions create increased harmony and coherence in heart rhythms and improve balance in the nervous system. They have also demonstrated that dramatic, positive changes can occur in our heart rate when we self-apply certain techniques. These techniques include shifts in perception and the ability to reduce stress and deal more effectively with difficult situations. The IHM observed that the heart—through changes in its heart rate—was acting as though it had a mind of its own and was profoundly influencing the way we perceive and respond to the world.

To try some of their highly effective techniques go to: http://www.heartmath.org/free-services/tools-for-well-being/tools-for-well-being-home.html. I’ve used their Quick Coherence technique many, many times and it’s always worked for me.

So simple yet so effective. And anyone can do it, anytime. Send it to everyone you know.

Sources and Further Reading

(All sources accessed on March 7, 2011.)

Amir, Nina. “Institute for HeartMath Helps Battle PTSD and Stress Disorders.” Examiner online. Published January 27th, 2011. Accessed March 7, 2011. http://www.examiner.com/self-improvement-in-national/institute-for-heartmath-helps-battle-ptsd-and-stress-disorders
Ginsberg, J.P. Ph.D., Berry, M.E., M.A. and Powell, D.A., Ph.D. Improving Cognition in Recently Returned Combat Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder by Heart Rate Variability Coherence Biofeedback. Soon to be published. Currently on Institute of HeartMath site. http://www.heartmath.org/research/research-publications/improving-cognition-in-recently-returned-combat-veterans-with-post-traumatic-stress-disorder.html
Institute of HeartMath: http://www.heartmath.org/about-us/our-focus/soldiers-veterans-military-families.html; http://www.heartmath.org/get-involved/caring-initiatives/military-service-appreciation-fund.html; http://www.heartmath.org/research/science-of-the-heart/introduction.html
Ireland, Robert R. MD, DMin, MA. Is Electrophysiological Coherence-Based Wellness Coherent? Alternative Therapies. Jul/Aug 2010, Vol. 16, No. 4.  http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/downloads/pdf/research/publications/electrophysiological-coherence-based-wellness.pdf
Research referenced in the above:
Thayer JF, Hansen AL, Saus-Rose E, Johnsen BH. Heart rate variability, prefrontal neural function, and cognitive performance: the neurovisceral integration perspective on self-regulation, adaptation, and health. Annalsof Behavioral Medicine. 2009;37(2):141-153.
Karavidas MK, Lehrer PM, Vaschillo E, et al. Preliminary results of an open label study of heart rate variability biofeedback for the treatment of major depression. Applied Psychophysiological Biofeedback. 2007;32(1):19-30.
 McCraty R, Atkinson M, Tomasino D. Impact of a workplace stress reduction program on blood pressure and emotional health in hypertensive employees. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 2003;9(3):355-369.
McCraty, Rollin, Ph.D., Atkinson, Mike, Tomasino, Dana, B.A., and Trevor Bradley, Raymond, Ph.D.  The Coherent Heart Heart–Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order. Integral Review. December 2009. Vol. 5, No. 2. http://www.integral-review.org/documents/McCraty%20et%20al,,%20Coherent%20Heart,%20Vol.%205%20No.%202.pdf
Riley, David, MD, McCraty, Rollin, PhD and Snyder, Suzanne. Mae-Wan Ho, PhD: Pursuing the Science of Global Coherence. Alternative Therapies. Jul/Aug 2010, Vol. 16, No. 4. http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/downloads/pdf/research/publications/pursuing-the-science-of-global-coherence.pdf

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Touchy Subjects is owned and operated by Brenda Piquette. All information on the Touchy Subjects blog is copyright Brenda Piquette 2010 / 2011. Note: This information is provided for entertainment purposes only and should be verified for accuracy.


[1] Ireland, Robert R. MD, DMin, MA. Is Electrophysiological Coherence-Based Wellness Coherent? Alternative Therapies. Jul/Aug 2010, Vol. 16, No. 4. http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/downloads/pdf/research/publications/electrophysiological-coherence-based-wellness.pdf

[2] Thayer JF, Hansen AL, Saus-Rose E, Johnsen BH. Heart rate variability, prefrontal neural function, and cognitive performance: the neurovisceral integration perspective on self-regulation, adaptation, and health. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2009;37(2):141-153.

[3] Karavidas MK, Lehrer PM, Vaschillo E, et al. Preliminary results of an open label study of heart rate variability biofeedback for the treatment of major depression. Applied Psychophysiological Biofeedback. 2007;32(1):19-30.
[4] McCraty R, Atkinson M, Tomasino D. Impact of a workplace stress reduction program on blood pressure and emotional health in hypertensive employees. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 2003;9(3):355-369.

About Brenda Piquette | Continual Threshold

At Continual Threshold, we offer quick and easy, compassionate, self-directed healing tools that you can adapt for your needs and integrate into your daily life to heal and to grow as a person.
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