Holidays and HeartMath
Expanding Heart Connections
HeartMath is committed to helping activate the heart of humanity. They suggest that by creating an alignment and connection between our mind and heart, and with each other’s hearts, we awaken the higher mental, emotional and spiritual capacities that are dormant within us. Compassion, Resonance and Transformation are the core values that underlie their business.
Heather Hayward is a Licensed HeartMath Trainer who leads workshops and works in private practice helping people learn the techniques and technology from the Institute of HeartMath. For over thirty years, Hayward has dedicated her career to the field of personal well-being. As a Results Coach, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Meditation Teacher, author and speaker, she successfully works with a diverse client population in one-on-one and group settings connecting them to their heart, producing sustainable change through Comfort, Humor and Inspiration (C.H.I.).
Specializing in creating custom written guided meditations for actors to business owners, writers to lawyers, youth to mature clients, and everything in between, these recordings support them to quickly self-correct, reduce negative self-talk and stay committed to their positive changes.
Since ’tis the season for heightened stress and potential holiday tension among families, and since Gratitude Lab is shining a spotlight on nurturing gratitude within families, we sat down with Hayward to ask for some tips to get through to the New Year.
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GR: For people who aren’t familiar with HeartMath, can you describe what it is and what it is used for?
Hayward: Sure. The nice thing about HeartMath is anyone can do it. It does not take a certain type of person. It’s a completely non-spiritual practice. It is not related to anything but science, which I like. HeartMath researches the science of the electro-magnetic field of the heart, in pursuit of increased internal awareness. You don’t have to use their technology to use their techniques, but their technology provides specific feedback that is very helpful to read how your body is really doing.
HeartMath helps reset the physiology of how you are experiencing your day, in less than a few minutes. You can focus on your heart and slow your breathing down. You can do this with eyes open. It’s a technique that you can do anytime, anywhere, and it’s a very effective form of taking care of oneself (and others around you).
A person can think he is relaxed, when actually he may be under a tremendous amount of stress. His head says to ignore it, and so his body is left to handle the stress another way. We see this all the time with stress-related health issues. When we can train our minds to acknowledge and recognize our real state of being, we can decrease our level of stress. At HeartMath, we do this by focusing on the heartbeat, or rather the space between the beat.
This altering of the heart rhythm is what we call the heart rate variability.
GR: How did you see this technique being able to benefit the work you’re already doing with your clients?
Hayward: What appealed to me initially was that Heartmath is the way for my clients to sustain the benefits of meditation without having to take the posture of meditating.
I was asked to give a talk a number of years ago to a bunch of moms. I realized that, if I were to give them a guided meditation, it would literally end there. It would be an experience, it would be very nice, but they would not continue it. The whole point of this talk was to help them with self-care. I knew that I had to find a more practical way to introduce self-care into the stressful lives of my clients. I had to find tools to teach to people who don’t have any time for themselves.
As I looked at the research, everyone kept referring to HeartMath Institute. I looked them up and they happened to have a training. I got the training, and then I liked the training so much I became a trainer for the institution.
One of the reasons I love this is, it doesn’t replace my meditation practice, which I do every day. But it helps to sustain my practice and monitors my daily well-being. It’s a quick check-in. It regulates and adjusts, which creates this wonderful buffer that is able to strengthen over time.
Moms can do this in the car in the carpool lane, if they’re waiting for their kids. Kids love this. College students, couples and families love this work. You don’t have to have special music, you don’t have to require everything be quiet, or have incense burning. You can really self-regulate within three steps. Heart-focused breath, slow breath, and breathe in a renewing feeling. It is that simple.
GR: It sounds very practical. Have you found that your clients are more receptive to HeartMath than meditation?
Hayward: It has been the part of my work to which there has been no resistance. Isn’t that interesting? Overcoming resistance is the first step to change. With HeartMath, there’s really no resistance to 3 minutes of conscious breath. You can even just stay right there, you don’t even have to take it to the next level.
We’re trying to create this heart-focused life where we can connect with that intuitive aspect of the heart’s intelligence. The heart holds such wisdom and intelligence.
GR: Can you talk a little bit more about how you use HeartMath with families? As you know, the Gratitude Lab for Families is currently in full force!
Hayward: I once had a couple come in for a session and the session wasn’t going very well. The husband had his arms folded, rolled his eyes a few times. I went over to him and just said, “What’s going on?” I asked him if he would be willing to put on the HeartMath sensor, a little gentle clip for his ear, and do some heart-focused breath.
HeartMath has a fun program that uses colors to register if someone is in a coherent state or not. Red means you’re really tense, blue is better, green means you’re coherent. When this gentleman did the exercise with me, he was in red. The more we did the techniques, and the slow breaths, he was still in red. He looked at me and it got his attention, because though someone can be very relaxed, it doesn’t mean that they’re not emotionally tense or distraught. It’s not about relaxation, it’s about awareness of the underlying feelings. One thing that this allows for, these techniques and these practices, is a real awareness of not just the words that we’re saying, but the feeling behind the words. When you can listen, when your own system is cleared and you’re calm, and you can actually listen for the essence of what the person is saying and not get tripped up on the words, communication happens in a whole different stratosphere.
When I can get couples to get into this coherent state, then we can navigate through the really difficult topics. When we can stay open, and breathing, and not rushing to make our point, we actually listen beyond the words to the essence of what our partner is saying.
GR: It sounds like you initially deal with the reality of what’s happening physiologically between a couple.
Hayward: When I work with people, it’s physiology first, psychology second (why we do what we do), and then philosophy (what do you value?). The first step is to identify what’s happening to me in my body. My body will never lie to me. I need to learn to listen.
GR: You are a creator of C.H.I., which stands for comfort, humor, and inspiration. Can you tell me, where does gratitude fit into your practice?
Hayward: For me, comfort, humor and inspiration is just the ingredients of how I love to live my life. I don’t really like to live outside of those three qualities. That basically defines my daily chi, my daily expression of my spirit, my soul, my personality.
I get to connect people to their chi, their energy. My chi, my energy is comfort, humor, and inspiration. Other people’s energy might be compassion and happiness, and motivation. Who knows. But it’s to be able to connect people to the energy that they love to play with, and dance with, and share. I get to do that with every person I’ve worked with, with my friends, with my family and for that I am profoundly grateful.
GR: How do you deal with family around the holidays?
Hayward: I like to encourage my clients to have just two questions permeating the whole experience with family around the holidays. The first one is to ask yourself, “What memory do I want to create?” As I’m about to do something, say something, not do something, not respond … What memory do I want to create? Do I want to be the person who is activated all the time, always overly sensitive, always needing attention, always needing to bring up difficult subjects? You know, the pain-in-the-ass family member? Or do I want to be a family member who is encouraging and uplifting, and be more like a warm sunshine? What memory do I want to create?
Too many times, it’s just our own unfiltered narrative that can get us tripped up. What if I created a conscious memory of, say, “I am easy going”?
GR: That could be a game-changer.
Hayward: No kidding. Then the other question is, “Is what I’m about to do or say going to help us connect or disconnect?” So often, our family events come with an invisible script. We’ve been cast. We have roles we are expected to play, year in and year out. By changing the script (or throwing it away), you can actually have some say over how the next family event will go rather than following the routine. By pausing, breathing, and asking yourself these two questions, I’d be curious to hear if the holiday wasn’t different in some way.
GR: That would be a revelation. You mean, I actually could do something different? [laughter]
Hayward: A lot of my clients come from families with big traditions. Problems arise when family members join with other families, who also have traditions. How do we create our own traditions? The exciting revelation comes when we realize we can actually make up our own holidays! We can take turns each year, or we can blend traditions. We can truly listen for the meaning behind our traditions and be willing to compromise with our partners, and with our children (who grow up to join with other families and even more new traditions).
Holidays are usually an attempt at celebrating, appreciating, showing love and generosity. Making it a priority to become present, connected and aware of one’s own heart breath means we are able to be present, connected and aware of those we love.