I wrote a blog post last year about smiling from the heart, one of the best skills that we learn in Cosmos Qigong. While I briefly discussed what happens physiologically when we do this, a growing body of research is now explaining what happens on an even deeper level. Yes! Science!
The concept of heart rate variability (HRV) is becoming a more well-known marker of cardiac health and resilience in humans. We love our gadgets that track our health metrics and HRV is one feature which is starting to be included. Basically, HRV refers to the amount of time between each heartbeat. While we used to think that heart rhythm was fairly steady, with little variation outside of resting and active states, we now know that there are slight differences in time between each heartbeat. HRV in states of stress, anger, depression, anxiety, and their friends is very low. HRV in states of calm, happiness, and joy is higher. Interestingly enough, this also corresponds to the HRVs of athletes and very physically fit people. Simply put, the higher your HRV, the better your cardiac health.
So, how does this relate to smiling from the heart? We already know that this skill makes us feel good by causing the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, its feel-good chemicals, which is pretty cool on its own. By having these chemicals coursing through our brains, even in a small amount (think you’re not feeling good enough for it to make a difference? Trust me, it does.), it starts to improve our HRV. Because smiling from the heart is a skill, which is constantly being developed and is something that is done regularly when training Cosmos Qigong, you’re effectively honing a habit which builds neuroplasticity around positive habits. As the old adage goes, “neurons that fire together, wire together”, so the more you do this, the more you’re teaching your brain to respond positively rather than negatively. As you hone this skill, your improving your mood, you’re improving your ability to rebound from stressful situations, AND you’re improving your cardiac health. For such a simple practice, that really packs a punch!
While I could sit hear all day long and talk about how qigong benefits lives for the better, it’s so cool to have some hard science that explains how and why it helps. While I do think the Western science model of looking at the world is a bit too reductive for my tastes, we also live in a world where people rely on that hard data. In many cases, it’s that data which finally propels them take action to improve their lives. If they need their Fitbit data to do it, that’s just fine. Whatever gets them through the door. If you’re interested in how this simple practice can change your life for the better, drop us a line to learn about our classes. Your heart will smile back at you.