Your Resting Heart
“Beginningless beginning and endless ending”
-- Buddhist saying
Three weeks after you were conceived, your body measured a mere 3 mm and, within its core, a tiny tube-like organ began to pulsate--the genesis of your heartbeat. By the fourth week this tube transformed into an amazing four-chambered organ that is your heart. As you developed, your embryonic heart grew in sync with you. All the while, each and every heartbeat ceaselessly nudged blood throughout your growing body, forging intimate connections with all aspects of your being.
The sound of your heartbeat can be heard six weeks after your conception, and it changes each time. Every beat sends information about the nature of your activities, thoughts and emotions. From the very beginning, to the present moment, streams of energy ride the subtle waves of your heartbeat sending messages in many different forms including: mechanical, biochemical, sound and electrical. Each type of energy carries its own rich cascade of data; which imprints the cells and tissues of your body with information, on many levels, long before you were born. This lifelong dance between you and your heart begins well before you have any significant brain activity and is so subtle, that these messages slide below your normal levels of awareness.
For all of these reasons and many more, your heartbeat is an important window into the ecology of your health and wellbeing. Beginning with the first activity, you will become familiar with your resting heartbeat and later on, how it changes under different circumstances. Try to approach these activities as if this was the very first time you have listened to your heart. Be a beginner as you listen to the dance of The Heart in You.
1.2 Getting Acquainted with Your Heart
“Zen mind, beginners mind, always be a beginner.”
How well do you know your fantastic heart? In what ways do you affect your heart and vice versa? It’s been my experience that we seldom ask ourselves these questions. More often than not, busy schedules make checking in with your heart a low priority. Yet, what could be more important than getting to know and understand this intimate organ?
This section begins with a few basics about your physical heart and then, thru Activity #1, provides an opportunity to explore the zen of your resting heartbeat. Each activity is linked to the concepts presented in its section and includes reflective questions for your consideration. (It may help to color the diagrams included in the book if you wish.)
To begin with, your physical heart is composed of a unique type of muscle called cardiac muscle. It has a different structure and nature than the skeletal muscles used to consciously move your body. For example, cardiac muscle cells have specialized discs inserted (intercalated) at the end of each fiber to increase the efficiency and speed with which electrical signals are transmitted. Astonishingly, cardiac muscle cells are capable of beating on its own when isolated in a petri dish and, if fibers from different hearts are placed in the same dish, they will spontaneously begin beating with the same rhythm.
I first observed this phenomenon over forty years ago, and still find it incredible that such tiny pieces of tissue have the ability to not only recognize one another, but synchronize their contractions without any outside direction. Such behavior speaks volumes about the subtle manner in which cells communicate even though much has yet to be understood. An example of this innate sense of timing occurs on a larger scale during public events such as concerts when a few people begin clapping and then one rhythm becomes dominant and everyone starts clapping together in the same rhythm.
Left on its own, cardiac muscle beats 100 times per minute. In your body, however, the beat is regulated by a several systems that exchange signals with your heart. Blood circulating in your extremities i.e. arms, legs and skin, is one of these systems. Known as your peripheral circulatory system (PCS), it plays an important role in the control of your resting heart rate. Other regulatory systems and factors such as fitness, age, weight and general health impact your heart rate as well and will be discussed later on. For the moment, let’s begin by exploring your resting heart as outlined in Activity #1. You may be surprised at what you learn!