HeartMath® Interventions Program
The HeartMath® Interventions Program is system of tools and technologies designed to help individuals learn to activate and sustain a state of coherence.  Engaging deeper, more rhythmic breathing patterns, quieting distracting thoughts and shifting into a positive emotional state are effective and powerful strategies for reducing and transforming stress and anxiety. When faced with stressful situations, shifting into coherence minimizes the body’s normal stress response and its negative repercussions on the brain and body. It facilitates higher cognitive faculties and emotion regulation abilities that are normally compromised during stress and negative emotional states.

Sara Gilman, MFT, Marriage and Family Therapist, A Therapist’s Guide: Using HeartMath® Tools with Clients with Post-Traumatic Stress, Addictions, Chronic Pain, Grief and Loss (2011), describes the research underlying the effects of stress and coherence on heart rhythms as follows:

HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart rhythm (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. (This helps explain why we may often act impulsively and unwisely when we’re under stress.) The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes—actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress. In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect—it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings, emotional stability and perceptual clarity. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence by sustaining positive emotions not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform.

The HeartMath® Interventions Program uses emWave® Pro Plus software to measure the subtle changes in the heart on a beat-to-beat basis by detecting the pulse with an electronic ear sensor.  It plots the speeding and slowing of the heart rate, analyses the heart rhythm pattern and displays a visual representation of these rhythmic patterns over time.  This is called Heart Rate Variability (HRV).  The emWave® software analyses the heart rhythm pattern for coherence (i.e. level of synchronicity between heart, brain and physiological functioning). The HeartMath® Interventions Programs utlilizes a variety of simple and effective techniques to bring body systems into synchronous operation.

Assessment Procedure
Pre/post assessments are conducted at the beginning and end of the Program. Two measurements serve as a baseline to quantify progress over time.

  1. 1) Resting HRV Measurement – This assessment measures Resting HRV Coherence Levels and Average HR during a 2 to 5-minute regular breathing assessment.
  1. 2) 1-Minute Deep Breathing (Six Breath Protocol) – The 1-minute Deep Breathing assessment measures the maximum parasympathetic-mediated HRV that one’s autonomic nervous system is capable of generating at that time. A report outlines a variety of statistics including the Mean Heart Rate Range and level of Normalized Coherence.  Client values are compared to same-age reference groups providing normative data.

Session Process
The number of sessions per client is dependent upon individual needs, issues, level of motivation (i.e., willingness to practice outside of sessions) and progress.  Typically, clients average 6 to 8 one-hour sessions. The first session is as an orientation to the HeartMath® Interventions Program, introduces the emWave Pro Plus software and gathers basic client data.

  • Conduct pre-assessment. Collect client data (i.e., reason for referral, diagnosis, medications, etc.).
  • Fun Science Videos:  Introduction to the Heart Brain Connection (i.e., interaction between the heart and brain); Heartbeat (i.e., source of heartbeat is in the heart itself); Heart Signals (i.e., heart plays a central role in setting emotions, responses, perceptions and internal system which creates different types of physiological response); Nerve Pathways (i.e., sensory systems are an important part of physiology, 2-way communication between the heart and the brain affect each other) and Heart Rate Variability (i.e., different patterns serve as a marker for emotional and biochemical states, jagged/rough pattern vs smoother sine wave form; positive emotions can alter patterns).
  • Introduction to emWave Pro Plus software. Identify key features and determine client preferences regarding sound options, tolerance levels, challenge levels, visualizer options.
  • Run the Quick Coherence Coach program.  Teaches clients the basic steps toward achieving a state of coherence.  Review graphic representation of results and percentages of Low, Medium and High Coherence levels.

Subsequent sessions involve teaching the HeartMath® tools and techniques to achieve Emotional Refocusing (i.e., Neutral Tool, Quick Coherence) and Emotional Restructuring (i.e., Heart Lock-In, Attitude Breathing and Freeze Frame). Techniques utilized are based individually-based. Training time typically ranges from 3 to 5 minutes. The number of techniques practiced during any given session depends on progress. Challenge levels may be increased during the course of the Program making it more difficult to achieve coherence and subsequently, further reinforcing increased cognitive functioning, positive affect, perceptual clarity and promoting a sense of personal control over emotional and physical turmoil.

Practice sessions provide ‘real-time’ visual data based on the client’s current state.  Every training practice is documented in the emWave database and periodically reviewed over the course of sessions to review progress.  Pre/post assessment results and session data is fully reviewed upon conclusion of the program.

For more information on HeartMath, click here.