Thursday, March 1, 2012

How Well Do You Know Your Heart

How Well Do You Know Your Heart

Many years ago, I read an interesting novel by Rose Tremain called Restoration. Set in the mid seventeenth century England, the book's lead character Robert Merival, along with a fellow medical student, happen upon a man with an open wound on his chest that allows his beating heart to be seen, and touched by the human hand. When they reach in and touch the man's heart, the two marvel that when touched, the heart has no feeling. This organ, to which we ascribe all things relating to the most powerful of human emotions, itself has no feeling. The human heart has no feeling! Something about this "heart fact" continues to intrigue me, so I decided to look at some of the things we do, or don't know, about the complicated and much discussed human heart.

If asked to put their hand on their heart, most people would place it on the left side of their chest, but in actuality, it sits closer to the centre. The left lung is slightly smaller than the right, to accommodate the heart. The heart weighs less than one pound, with the average woman's heart weighing only 8 ounces and a man's only 10. A woman's heart beats faster than a man's. Some scientists believe that the longer the ring finger is in boys, the less chance they have of having a heart attack.

Here are more nitty gritty details about your heart. The heart is almost entirely muscle, the myocardium, and is strong enough to lift approximately 3000 pounds, close to the weight of a compact car. Your heart beats about 35 million times a year.....100,000 beats per day, 70 beats per minute, with enough strength to shoot blood a distance of 30 feet! By the time we turn 70, the heart will have beat 2.5 billion times!

The heart is the first organ to show at nineteen days and scientists believe that by eight weeks, when the embryo is only an inch long, the heart is fully developed. The heart starts beating in the unborn fetus before the brain is even formed. Scientists still don't know what makes it start beating, but know it is generated from within the heart itself and doesn't need a connection to the brain to keep beating. (1)

The origin of the traditional heart shape remains somewhat controversial, as the human heart only vaguely resembles the stylized images we see. If you clench your fists and put them side by side, that's roughly the size and shape of the adult human heart. So where did this universal heart shape symbol originate? Wikipedia reports that the seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive, might be the source of the heart symbol. The heart symbol could also be considered to represent features of the human female body, or when viewed upside down part of the man's.
The heart has long been used as a symbol to refer to the spiritual, emotional, moral and in the past, also the intellectual core of a human being. The heart symbol is consistently used to represent love, particularly romantic love, it's red color representing both blood and passion. Classical scientists and philosophers, including Aristotle, believed that the heart was the seat of thought, reason or emotion, often rejecting the brain's value and instead viewing the heart as the seat of the soul. The word "heart"originates from the Latin "cor" which means soul or feeling and in most cultures, references to the heart have continued to be used metaphorically for deep feelings and emotions.

Universally, the heart represents similar things. In the Chakra system, the fourth Chakra is located in the centre of the chest and is called the Heart Chakra. This Chakra is associated with the aroma of the rose, with doves and the planet Venus. It was, after all, Venus, the Goddess of Love, who deemed the rose sacred. Her son Cupid along with the rose, the dove and the heart have all become enduring symbols of the year's most "heart" celebrated day.....Valentine's Day.

In the Chakra system it's not red, but the color green, that represents the Heart Chakra. Green symbolizes harmony, creativity, health, abundance and nature. The Heart Chakra is associated with unconditional love and compassion, the centre where all feelings of love emanate. When we open our Heart Chakra, we become channels for universal love.

According to most Chinese medicine, the heart "houses the mind," the health of the heart energy having a lot to do with our mental activity - even our consciousness. The heart governs our ability to sleep soundly, think clearly and have a good memory. The healthy heart plays a big role in our emotional health and our ability to experience meaningful relationships. The heart represents the element of fire. Mother Teresa said it very well, "A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love."

The Institute of HeartMath, a non profit research organization, has made breakthrough discoveries in our understanding of the heart's intelligence, reporting that scientific evidence now indicates the heart is far more complex than we'd ever imagined, sending us emotional and intuitive signals to help govern our lives. The heart is much more than an organ that pumps blood, directing and aligning many systems in the body so they can function harmoniously with each other. Although the heart is in constant communication with the brain, it makes it's own decisions. The heart has it's own independent nervous system called "the brain in the heart." (2)

HeartMath also reports that positive emotions such as happiness, appreciation, compassion, care and love, improve the hormonal balance and immune system response. The heart has the ability to retain memories and there are documented cases of heart transplant patients reporting that the implanted heart often brings up behaviors or memories that are not theirs, but those of the donor. HeartMath research has shown that our intelligence and intuition are heightened when we learn to listen more deeply to our own hearts. (3)

I wonder how often we actually stop and consciously pay attention to our heart. Even at rest, your heart muscle works twice as hard as your leg muscles when sprinting. We've all heard that laughter is the best medicine, so give your heart a great workout, as laughing increases the blood flow for up to 45 minutes and this alone can improve your overall heart health.

Maybe stopping to smell the roses, listening to your heart and sharing laughs with loved ones, are all good things to focus on this summer. Although the heart has no feeling physically, when you are in love, you really do "feel" with your heart. Perhaps the heart, more than any other organ, feels and senses emotions and responds. It makes me realize that every day is a perfect day to experience and feel love.

I leave you with a beautiful quote from Helen Keller...."The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."

I invite you to open your heart and see what happens. I'd love to hear ways in which you listen to your heart everyday!


[1] Childre, Doc Lew, Howard Martin, and Donna Beech. The HeartMath Solution. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999. Print. p.9
[2] Childre, Doc Lew, Howard Martin, and Donna Beech. The HeartMath Solution. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999. Print. p.10
[3] Childre, Doc Lew, Howard Martin, and Donna Beech. The HeartMath Solution. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999. Print. p. 23

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