Dr. Mimi Guarneri is the founder of Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine and author of The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing. In her 30 years as a cardiologist, she’s witnessed first-hand the incredible mysteries of the heart, a topic she spoke to us about for Editor Diana Aydin’s article in the December/January 2016 issue of Mysterious Ways magazine.
We asked Dr. Guarneri to tell us more about her view that the heart does so much more for us than simply pump our blood…
The heart is so complex and mysterious!
It’s fascinating. Think about it from a religious and spiritual position. In Catholicism, we talk about the sacred heart. In Buddhism, we say the heart is the seed of the soul. The heart in the human body is the midpoint between what connects us to the ground and what connects us to heaven.
So if you think about the ground under your feet and you think about the divine above your head, the heart is transitive between those two worlds. The heart is an organ that is intuitive.
In other words, there’s more going on with the heart than just its biological function?
It is the connection to higher power and consciousness.
Does the brain really pick up on cues from the heart?
The heart has been shown to respond to emotional events before the brain. The brain is connected to the heart through the nervous system. Research has shown that when the heart perceives a threat the brain is signaled to produce stress hormones in response.
Some people with panic attacks have been found to have a heart arrhythmia before the panic attack. The heart arrhythmia signaled to the brain, “a threat,” which the brain responded to with panic.
You see a lot of stories in the media about elderly couples who die close together, like in the movie The Notebook. What role does the heart play in this?
Well, you lose the will to live because you’re not with the one you love. You’re not with the person you shared your whole life with. If you’re a couple that has been together for 60 years, that’s a profound impact. Your friend, your confidante, your spouse…all of these things are lost.
It’s been well known in medical literature that people frequently die right after their spouse dies. Cardiology recognizes “broken heart syndrome,” which is associated with a rapid loss in heart muscle strength in the setting of bad news and stress. Fortunately the majority of people recover.
Can “the will to live” actually make a difference in whether someone lives or dies?
Yes. People who have a purpose and a reason to live have less medical events. Frequently, when a spouse dies, the other follows within a few months unless they have a purpose and the will to live. I really believe the soul knows when the physical body is going to make its exit, its transition.
How many times do we hear that people pass and they have the paperwork ready, everything in order? I have always felt like the soul knows in advance and people do things, like get their affairs in order, because it’s the soul guiding them. They don’t know why they are doing it. They just do it.
You’ve cited research from the HeartMath Institute that shows a couple’s heartbeats actually synchronize during sleep. Is this phenomenon unique to couples?
The HeartMath Institute has done some very interesting research. They have demonstrated that the heartbeat of a baby can be seen in the brainwaves of its mother. They have also demonstrated that heart rate variability becomes synchronized in couples. This is true for all animals that bond and are connected emotionally.
It’s like if you went into a room with a lot of grandfather clocks and start the pendulum on one clock. Before you know it, all the clocks start ticking and beating to the same pendulum. That’s the same thing that happens with the human heart.
Does that mean when one spouse dies, the other’s heart doesn’t function the same?
We don’t know. All we can say is, based on research, it appears they come in synch with each other. You see this with couples—they finish each other’s sentences, they know what the other one is thinking. Sometimes they don’t even have to talk, and they know what the other one is thinking, feeling and so on.
How does the heart respond to spiritual triggers, like prayer or meditation? Could that aid physical and mental health?
Meditation has been shown to decrease cardiac events, i.e. stroke, sudden death and heart attack, by 48%. Meditation is more potent than medication. Meditation has also been shown to increase telomere length and telomerase activity, which are associated with aging.
Repeating a mantra is also powerful medicine. Repeating a phrase, such as “My God, My all,” throughout the day breaks the cycle of “monkey mind.” As a monkey jumps from branch to branch, so does our brain jump from worry to worry.
By repeating a mantra over and over again, you break the cycle of monkey brain. Research shows improved sleep, decreased stress and decreased anxiety.
How can we better listen to what the heart is saying?
By getting quiet. When we pray, we talk to God. But it is equally important to get quiet and listen to God’s guidance. Breathe slowly in for five seconds and out for five seconds. Imagine you are breathing in and out through your heart.
As you breathe think of something or someone you love or appreciate. After you are in a relaxed state, ask yourself the question, “How would my heart handle this challenge?” The answer will come.
What mysteries about the heart still puzzle you?
The heart appears to store memories. Dr. Paul Pearsall is a psychoneuroimmunologist who has written many books, like The Heart’s Code. In this book, he relays the stories of heart transplant recipients taking on the personality traits and memories of the donor. Some of the stories are truly amazing and way beyond coincidence. To me this is a great mystery!
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