The Coherent Heart: A Discussion with Dr. Rollin McCraty
The interviewer would like to thank Daniel Pinchbeck for his assistance in preparing this article.
The Institute of HeartMath and Global Coherence Project are working together to create healthier, smarter, and stronger human beings. HeartMath has been researching the information carried within our heartbeats for decades, allowing them to see deeper into our emotional response systems. In this interview, Dr. Rollin McCraty discusses the harmonic link between our hearts and their psycho-social environment. He also describes a Global Coherence Project that just might change everything:
What’s been your role within Heart Math?
I’ve been the Director of Research for about twenty years now, managing many different projects over the years. Currently, we’re doing a lot with the military population—the Navy, National Guard, Air Force, Army, and some Special Forces groups, as well.
A lot of our time and energy is focusing on the Global Coherence Initiative work.
Tell me about your military projects.
Well, the Navy once did a survey of all the deployed forces and found that those with highest risk of psychological health injuries—PTSD, depression, etc.—were grouped into what the military calls detainee operations. These are basically the soldiers that guard the prison camps in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seemed odd at first that they would be at higher risk than bomb squads or direct combat operations.
Over the years, we’ve begun to understand why that’s true. They’re subjected to psychological warfare on a day-in, day-out basis. The prisoners do everything they can to get under their skin, which can easily cause them to lose their cool and create an “international incident,” or worse.
The military started looking at other organizations and programs, in addition to what they already have, that would help these soldiers maintain what we call “coherence.” Before they deploy, we train them in the Heart Math self-regulation techniques, and then they all get what we call an “emWave” device, which gives them the skills to maintain their composure in the face of ongoing stress and trauma.
What do you mean by “coherence?’”
Much of our focus over the years has regarded the understanding the physiology of optimal function; namely, what in our brain and central nervous system underlies our ability to think clearly, maintain our emotional stability, and make good, quick accurate decisions?
We discovered that to understand optimal function at the physiological level, we must realize that the human heart is an enormous part of the equation.
Let me back up a bit—in a healthy individual, our heart rate changes with every single heartbeat, even when we’re asleep or sitting still. This is called heart rate variability. We discovered early on that the heart literally beats out different messages with every pulse, reflecting our emotional state. Therefore, if we’re irritated, frustrated, or angry, the heart will beat out a very chaotic-looking message. If we’re composed, or feeling good, the heart beats out a very different message.
We coined the term “coherence” to describe a sort of sign-wave pattern or rolling-hill pattern in the heart rhythm when we’re in this optimal state. The heart rhythm is reflecting the communication that’s going on between the heart and the brain, something very deep that’s going on in our physiology.
The heart actually sends more information to the brain, neurologically speaking, than the brain to the heart.
What would an unhealthy heart look like?
Well, when you say unhealthy, that’s a different kind of question than what we’re discussing right now. But let’s say that when we’re under stress—which is, by the way, a response to an event outside of us, it’s an internal thing. If we’re feeling out of control, or frustrated by something, or impatient, we tend to say, “they’re stressing me out,” but what we’re really saying is, “I’m pissed off.” It’s those feelings that create this chaotic rhythm I’m talking about.
Now, that is a very inefficient state. The desynchronized state literally inhibits or interferes with mental functions.
You could be in dialogue with someone, a wife or colleague, and they say something that makes you angry and causes you to do something in the heat of the moment. And thirty seconds later we regret it. What I’m describing is the real physiology of what’s going on. When we feel these stressful or unsettling feelings, we’re literally creating a desynchronization within the brain that we can measure and is reflected in the heart rhythm patterns and a causal role in inhibiting good mental functions.
In the military setting, it’s exactly what these antagonistic prisoners are trying to do—they’re trying to get them into this state to do extremely dumb things.
Once we understood the physiology, it allowed us to develop very practical tools and techniques for people to shift into a synchronized, coherent state, at will. Of course, you have to practice to be able to do that, but it’s a skill that you learn—where you can maintain coherent composure right in the heat of the moment.
Do people’s heart rates and rhythms have an influence on each other when they’re in proximity?
That’s a whole different topic, but yes, absolutely they do.
If somebody’s in a state of coherence, and someone who is “incoherent” approaches them, can one bring the other into a state of balance?
You can’t force them, but you can create an atmosphere where it’s a lot easier for the incoherent people to reestablish themselves in a state of balance. In fact, that was just proven last year. The researcher had people sitting around a table, monitoring their heart rhythms and so on, and some of them would shift into a coherent state. It did in fact have a measurable, beneficial impact on the others in the group.
The heart projects a real magnetic field that we can measure with equipment—I’m not talking about an aura or New Age thing. You can measure the cardiac field with today’s equipment about three feet away from the body. To give you a reference, you can measure a brainwave maybe about an inch away. It doesn’t mean the field doesn’t go farther—it does—this is just based on the sensitivity of the equipment we have today.
This is different from when you put electrodes on the body to measure the electrocardiogram or EEG. With electrodes, you’re measuring the flow of electrical current. But, whenever you have that flow of current, you produce a magnetic field. And, the magnetic field of the heart is enormous.
We know that this field is measurable and it’s radiating outside of our body. Furthermore, we were able to prove that our emotions are actually encoded with information, modulating these magnetic fields. This is very much like the way a radio station or TV transmitter works; one creates a standing wave, and then modulates that with music, or voice, or whatever information you want to communicate. It works the same way.
We sought out to prove that other people within those fields could detect that information. Our nervous systems are exquisitely tuned in to these biologically generated magnetic fields. Not only were we able to detect them, but also show that they have very real biological and physiological effects.
You’ve probably had the experience when you walk into a room where you’ve had the sense that something was amiss, and then you find out that your friend just had an argument or heard some bad news. How, before you can even catch body language cues, do you get the sense that something’s not right?
In other cases, it may feel really good to be around people. This all has to do with the subtler exchange of information I’m describing here that goes on between people all the time.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Global Coherence Initiative you mentioned earlier?
Global Coherence takes these same concepts past the living room to a global scale.
How do you do that?
There are three high-level hypotheses for the Global Coherence Initiative. First, that all living things are inter-connected and we have real communications systems between us with biological and electro-magnetic fields. And, in fact, the Earth’s own magnetic field acts as a carrier wave for some of this biological information.
There is a tremendous amount of data, when you dig into it, showing that we are affected in a very important way by the rhythms and information contained in the Earth’s energetic systems. And by that, I mean the geomagnetic fields and fields in the ionosphere, and so on. It’s actually a fact.
There’s a lot of concern about the solar return cycle and the effect that could have on the electromagnetic environment.
Oh, absolutely. That’s been well established. Solar storms disrupt our local geomagnetic fields and ionospheres and so on, which then couple down to us on a mass scale as humans. When I first saw the graphs for this, my jaw dropped. The data was far more fundamental than I’d thought.
But, we’re also suggesting that the collective fields we all radiate can impart information into these fields and affect each other. That leads to the third hypothesis: when large numbers of people intentionally create more heart-coherent states—love, care, compassion, and so on—it helps create what we call a more “coherent standing wave,” offsetting the stress waves that become standard in the human condition.
One might say you’re generating a collective heart movement.
What’s the protocol for doing experiments toward that effect?
There are a couple elements involved. The first phase—which is the one we’re most active in right now—is a way of measuring the current planetary scale. Metaphorically, it’s like measuring the brain waves and heart waves of the planet itself.
We’re currently installing monitoring sites around the globe to measure these specific kinds of fields we’re interested in. We have operational sites in Saudi Arabia, the UK, California, and we have two scheduled in Northern Canada and New Zealand.
Now this is some pretty complex stuff we’re talking about, so we need a good understanding of what these fields are and how we interact with them before we can prove that we’re affecting those fields.
There are really two halves of the Global Coherence Initiative: there’s the scientific half, where we try to stay conservative in what we state publically, then the other half is education for the participating members and organizations on how to create more “coherence” at the human level.
If you don’t have a large enough amount of people who are willing to practice and set intentions to shift the global field, we’re not going to be able to measure it. Both halves are very important. In some ways, the educational side of it may be more important than the science.
What would be your estimate for the size in population you’d need to cause a global spike in coherence?
It’s really a guestimate, but I’d say it’s in the 50K kind of range. More than numbers, though, it’s quality that’s important. What we’ve found is that if you have that really coherent individual who maintains that higher pitch, he or she can be much more useful than twenty people who are not really practiced or able to maintain their focus.
I assume you’ve done studies where you measured different types of people and their levels of coherence. Have you found that people who have a spiritual, devotional, or yoga practice have a higher level of coherence than others?
Yes. Even though they might not use the more scientific language that we’re using here, people who are really interested in spiritual development or self-development practices are really attempting to become more “coherent”—more stable, and more aligned within themselves—what a lot of people would call their higher capacities or Higher Self or Spirit. All cultures have different languages for talking about the same thing.
When we’re really sincerely appreciating someone or feeling compassionate or caring, this coherent state I’m describing is the body’s natural state that it goes in to. That’s how we got in touch with this work. Knowing that, by learning to be more self-regulated with our emotions, from a more intelligent inner-reference point—that’s kind of what the Global Coherence training is about. That creates a deeper alignment between our mind, emotions, body, and spirit.
There’s a similar line of research that’s called the electro-physiology of intuition. As we learn to maintain more of our coherence, that end’s up shifting what we call our baseline. We end up becoming more coherent naturally, without having to think about it or doing practices to become anything, which allows us to flow through the challenges of the day and the week from a more inner-intelligent reference point.
It also creates an amplification effect, so the coherent waves we’re radiating on a magnetic domain are gaining an amplitude and becoming more stable, creating a field environment that makes it easier for the next ring of people that might be more spiritually attuned, for example, to synch up with that field and find a greater level of their own spiritual growth and inner connection. That stabilizes the amplified field even more, making it easier for the next ring of people, and so on.
We originally got in touch with you because of Daniel Pinchbeck’s idea about creating a global event on December 21st, 2012, the culmination of the Long Count of the Mayan Calendar. We’re looking at doing a global party spectacle but also having a synchronized coherent moment. Does this correlate with your research, at all?
Sure it does. From a scientific perspective, the more events one looks at over time, the better able we are to do single processing techniques to pull the effects out of the data, and start building a model for proving causality and what those effects are.
We track a lot of world events, both positive and negative, that enables us to do more research as to what these effects are on a world environment level.
Related to that, we have what we call a Global Care Room, which is something we can either set up at one event or have it ongoing. We offer our services either with your own branding and your message or we can set one up around a single event.
You mentioned “intuition” earlier, and I’m curious if you had a scientific perspective on the topic.
We’ve actually published work on this in the research library of our website, www.heartmath.org. Borrowing some of Dean Radin’s precognition exercises, we discovered an ability to map and trace the flow of information through our mind-body brain systems, or what I call the “pre-stimulus effect” as a measure of intuition. Participants over the years affirmed that their intuitions increased noticeably and the synchronicities experienced were dramatically heightened.
To make a long story short, we found that the heart is the first organ to change relative to the future stimulus, occurring about a second and a half before any major changes occurring at the level of the brain. During this period of time, the heart is literally sending a message to the brain. Once that happens, it’s followed by a skin conductance response or a bodily response. That’s when it becomes conscious perception. This can be manifested as a feeling in your gut or hair standing up on the back of your neck, or whatever the case may be.
We tend to think we’re having “gut responses” when using our intuition. Actually, and physiologically, it’s heart, brain, and then body that make the conscious experience.
To me, this has been the best evidence really confirming what every spiritual tradition on the planet has said: the heart is the organ associated with spiritual wisdom, influx, intuition, and transcendence.
In peer-reviewed scientific journals, I simply emphasized that the heart and brain appear to have access to fields of information not bound by the limits of time and space. This was my encoded way of scientifically explaining what others would call Spirit or Higher Self.
Regarding Jose Arguelles’ theory behind the “noosphere,” is there any scientific interpretation behind the planet having this psychic layer of skin?
Actually, our monitoring sites encompass a lot of research toward his visions; we’re just using a more scientific kind of language. We utilize special magnetometers, designed to measure specific elements of the Earths magnetic field.
The geomagnetic field is absolutely critical for life on Earth—it’s the primary field that shields us from solar winds. As the magnetic flux lines interact with the solar winds, they vibrate and resonate like tightly stretched guitar strings. And the rates of frequency of these structural field line resonances directly overlap the human cardiovascular system and the human heart.
One of the flux line’s primary modes of resonance is exactly the same frequency as our established “coherent state.” 0.1 Hz—that’s the frequency of the human heart rhythm, and one of the primary nodes of the field line resonances. These are quite high in magnitude at the planetary level.
The Earth is singing away, if you will, as it overlaps certain frequencies of the human heart. Scientifically, there’s a natural resonance between the planet and us.
This is the first time in history we’ve had a global network of this type of measurement. GCI’s planetary magnetometers are also tuned to “human resonances,” of which there are eight primary frequencies.
One could compare our work to an earlier time when doctors were sticking electrodes on person’s head and thinking, “There are squiggly lines coming out of there,” and, “They change when the person is asleep.” Then, they put two electrodes on a person, and discovered there was different activity on either side of the brain.
Right now, we have about three electrodes on the “global brain,” and soon we’ll have two more, the network eventually containing twelve to thirteen sites across the globe to give us a more comprehensive picture of the Earth’s energetic systems.
If everything is connected in such a way, do you think our psyche could heal patches in the ozone layer?
Yes. And affect weather patterns, and all kinds of things. I haven’t proven that yet, but my personal worldview would agree with that. And, it’s science.
Our studies have also shown that the more one becomes "coherent," the more one has access to or is aligned with their higher selves, thereby bringing the mind and emotions into alignment into a more intelligent realm.
Physiologically speaking, radiating more coherent magnetic waves suggests an interface or interaction with the Earth’s energetic systems. After creating a more coherent standing wave in the planetary field environment, the next waves become easier to “wake up” until a tipping point is reached.
Not everyone is going to synch up, of course, but there will be a tipping point where worldviews begin to shift and we have a more coherent standing wave for our collective foundation.
Right now, we have about 35,000 members included in our GCI membership—all through word of mouth, without any advertising. These members have the emWave devices connected to a web-based system that monitor the true coherence level of the participants while they’re engaged in certain synchronistic shared intentions. Simultaneously, we’re measuring the global field environment and taking note of certain outcomes.
This allows us to ultimately look at causality and investigate the unexplored levels of psychic connection we have with the Earth and each other.