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The heart sends far more signals to the brain than the brain to the heart.
So, if you want to up your emotional quotient (EQ), you have to get to the heart of it all, literally.
For the longest time, we’ve thought our brains have been running the show when it comes to how we experience our emotions, but according to science from the HeartMath Institute, our hearts are the real bosses when it comes to emotional processing, attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving.
Vulnerability has been the mental health darling now for over a decade thanks in great part to prolific researcher and New York Times Best Selling author of The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown.
We are so fortunate we now know that becoming aware of and communicating our more raw, authentic, emotional selves makes us better parents, partners, and humans. But now we’re ready for vulnerability 2.0. We need the skills to develop vulnerability in ways that are simple, powerful, and sustainable. The answer is actively practicing openheartedness.
What is Openheartedness?
It’s a quality that we can develop, and it’s associated with so much good like being kindly candid, sincere, forthcoming, and having an agility with responding to the emotional appeal of others. Yes, we definitely need more openheartedness in our lives.
John Welwood, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, and author of Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love offers a deeply inviting expression of openheartedness. “To live with an open heart is to experience life full-strength.”
There are many, many ways to open our hearts, which range from physical yoga practices (called heart or chest openers) to meditative practices (like imagining a light radiating from your heart center) to even thinking about someone you love for a prolonged period of time to sustain positive emotion.
The HeartMath Institute helps explain what’s happening with our heart when we practice heart coherence, the clinical approach to heart opening.
Heart coherence is a state of cooperative alignment between the heart, mind, emotions, and physical systems. During times of stress and painful emotion (small or large), the rhythm of our hearts become erratic and disordered, which in turn impacts our brain and its higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to feel clear-minded, make effective decisions, and rationally reason with others. In contrast, when we learn to help our hearts maintain rhythm coherence, our entire mind and body reap the benefits. We feel more emotionally stable and can sustain positive states for longer periods of time.
Why Openheartedness for Vulnerability?
When we actively practice openheartedness, we organically open our channel of emotional depth. Having heart coherence allows us to feel more openly and deeply, which is the fuel of vulnerability.
Craig Toonder, a somatic psychotherapist in private practice in Oakland, California, describes the heart as “the primary organ of transformation of self, other, and the world. It is the organ of connection and relationship. This fact informs a therapist to perceive, soften, and open his or her own heart qualities as an essential part of the therapeutic work. With the current lens of psychotherapeutic thinking and theory so actively focused on neuroscience, the significance of the heart is often overshadowed or lost.”
From a spiritual perspective, all of our emotions get purified in our heart center; it’s where heaven and earth meet in our body, and it’s the place where liberation and nirvana have been described as being experienced from. The heart is the real sacred “nerve center” of transformation.
The bottom line is, if you are practicing opening your heart, you can access your emotions and the insight your emotions provide innately. By comparison, a closed heart is the “walls we build up inside” that shut us off from our emotional selves. The most incredible thing is this process of heart opening is totally organic, and when we are willing to practice, walls fall, and our awareness of what’s really going on inside expands tremendously. When we have better information, we can better communicate it. When our hearts are more open, we are calmer. We get the info and the graceful state to communicate that info, which is the ideal place for “being vulnerable.”
How To Open Your Heart Daily and Right Now.
Heart Math Institute’s Doc Childre, speaking to The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath’s Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart’s Intelligence has said about heart coherence “Whatever techniques you practice, realize that the message of the heart becomes clearer when the mind is quiet. And in order to truly quiet the mind, we need to bring the head into alignment with the heart.”
Joe Dispenza, a multiple New York Times Best Selling author, researcher, lecturer provides another simple piece of advice when it comes to choosing our heart opening practices. “Heart and brain coherence is the process whereby we learn to self-regulate. Developing our ability to generate emotions from within, rather than waiting for something outside of us to dictate how we feel.”
I’ve personally made it my mission over the past decade to experience hundreds of ways to open my heart, to explore the mental health and spiritual benefits.
Here are my favorites for getting to the heart of heart opening that anyone can use anytime. You can use one for a quick practice, or all the practices as a stellar sequence.
1. Reminding yourself to soften when you want to harden.
This is a mental reframe, but it’s directly connected to our hearts. So often, our anger, stress, overwhelm, and frustration can take us over, so the immediate reminder to soften with ourselves and others helps us choose the path of lesser resistance inside. You can think of this as the active practice of giving yourself and others grace. When we remind ourselves to soften, we give our bodies, our self-relating, and others permission to flow and move, as opposed to constrict and close.
2. Do a body scan with breaths to quiet the mind and get you back into your body.
Putting your full attention on one part of your body at a time is one of the quickest ways to get out of your head and into your body. Start with the top of your head, and be sure to include your inner space too (the space inside your head and body). Take 5-10 minutes to go from the top of your body down, ending with your feet. If you feel pain, discomfort, or tightening anywhere during your scan, breathe, and keep your attention there for a moment so the area can soften. (For a great guided body scan or full heart opening practice you can see this.)
3. Tapping on your breast bone.
By making the number one with your pointer finger, then placing it at the base of your throat, then following your finger down to where it attaches to your hand on top of your breastbone, you can find your heart center. Gently tap on it for a few minutes (think you’re gently knocking on the door to your heart). No need to do it too hard or too soft; do your best goldilocks and lean into what feels good. Tapping here stimulates blood and energy flow to your heart, and bonus, you are stimulating your thymus gland as well, which helps with immune function.
4. Thinking of someone you love with attention in your heart.
Once you find your heart center (see number three) you can keep your attention there for a few minutes inside your body. Allow yourself to feel into the love you have for someone (it could pet, a person, a deity),but make sure the love is strong for you right now. Feel that love with attention in your heart, then once you feel it, visualize it flowing and filling your entire body as energy or light. Rest here, and take note if your heart feels more open. Emotions may come up, discomfort or pain may come up; allow it to be there, feel it fully, and express gratitude to your heart for allowing you to feel it all.
Feeling your heart is as natural as lying naked in bed; it’s just we’ve become really good at closing our hearts and feeling it’s normal. The good news is it doesn’t take long when we practice opening our hearts to unthaw, break down walls, feel, rest in a state of openness, and let loving openness flow outward to everything in our lives.