Send Them Peace

Send Them Peace

STP Bench Number : 3 - Update - Ripples in the pond

When critical ideas appear that change Science forever after, everyone seems to eventually hear about them, and recognize them in some popularized form or another.


For instance :  E = mc² 

Almost everyone can say: "Einstein, Atomic Bomb, Relativity."


And the fact that two out of three of those responses are mostly wrong, and that few can relate it to the interconversion of mass and energy, doesn't mean that it isn't recognized and applied to all sorts of purposes.


In fact, central theorems or discoveries in Science, are judged by the ripples they create in the pond of knowledge after they are thrown in.

Some create small waves, some huge, some immediately, and some only after years of sinking into the depths, to finally create their tsunami in the Scientific community only much later.


The "ripples" propagate very widely sometimes. And when one is close upon a given effect or "ripple" of the central idea, one can in fact be at such a distance from that center, that it may be inapparent, lost to view and thought, forgotten. But true understanding should permit us to find our way back to the heart of the matter: the great discovery or insight. 


Depending on the discovery, and increasingly in our times and contexts, this phenomenon may look like this :


From Central Idea to the Universe.jpg


So if the "Central SCIENTIFIC Observation" links eventually beyond the Scientific challenge of hypotheses, to Honors, Movies and The Universe, is it possible to find one's way back to the Center?  Just out of interest, perhaps. To see how the whole mess began...


With valid observations, the return journey to Center should always be possible. Science permits that central truth to emerge again through duplication of the original method, observation, or calculation.


Let's pick an example out of thin air, and see if the "Central SCIENTIFIC Observation" can be identified, considered, and perhaps even challenged anew. This review will be viewed as skepticism by some, but good Science has always been couched in a healthy dose of doubt.


What shall we look at? How about the core observation that eventually lead to "decades of scientific research," and its subsequent marketing at HeartMath Intitute, to create the types of widespread links as represented graphically above.


Science. A Love: Hate Relationship


What a strange relationship we find today between so many people and Science!


They criticize Science for being cold, heartless, scheming, money driven, yet not advanced enough to realize that we are all energetically one in this cosmic universe. On the other hand, every time something is suggested as a useful path to follow, from meditation to compassionate action, the same critics want to see the Scientific proof that "this method works or not."

What are they waiting for to be themselves, the living proof ? Increasingly riddled by fears and their manifestations of multitudinous and increasing anxieties of various types, they wait impatiently to be cured.


Is there an alternative?

Practice compassionate action, see how it feels for you and others, and leave your magnetometer at home, preferably in the attic, corner of the basement or out in the garage.
Here's a question: Have "civilized, "educated," "rich" folks gotten so far away from their heart, that they need a monitor to see if its still beating?  To tell them if they're feeling relaxed or not yet? 


They collect an increasing number of diagnoses, from chronic pain to fibromyalgia, to obesity and ischemic heart disease to name a few. Unhappy with what "healthcare" can offer them, they increasingly go outside of "traditional" therapies, those supposedly based in Big Science, to try other treatments. Yet those creating such treatments all too often don't call them treatments, the "problems" aren't "diagnoses," while nevertheless assuring that they are deeply steeped in scientific research. Then before making the sale, they add disclaimers such as :


"Note: Use of the emWave® and the HeartMath® exercises contained in the software are tools for individual balance, optimal performance and growth. Although this instrument and exercises are believed to be very safe and have potentially great benefit, no medical benefits or cures are expressed or implied. These programs and exercises are not to be used as, or used in lieu of, any course of medical or psychological treatment. Please note that emWave is designed to be a training and entertainment product. None of the feedback, summary data, or logging data provided in the software is to be interpreted as medically diagnostic."


So we're treating stress, but let's not call that a diagnosis, or we might not be able to make the sale in good faith, or without an eventual call from a Barrister. Then again ...

This is filled with paradox. But not always with compassionate action "from the heart."


Let's have a look for that "Central SCIENTIFIC Observation" on which this "instrument and exercises" are based. For out of that, "decades of scientific research " have blossomed. Time to peel back the petals.


Here it is. I found it !


"Heart Rhythm Coherence" - How does one measure that? "Well, I grab my emWave2, pinch my ear with its ear sensor, turn it on, follow their techniques for breathing through my heart, transfer the data to the software, and there it is, my "Average Coherence" for my heart and my "Achievement" level," informs this devoted user.


OK. But what and how is the emWave2 measuring ?  How does it generate a number ?


"Well, it's actually measuring my pulse, and from there, beat-to-beat variations in time, from that estimating my Heart Rate Variability, and converting that through a bunch of complicated formulas and steps that I don't have to mess with, into my "Average Coherence" value. It even tracks that from session to session to reinforce my progress, and stimulate continued practice through eMailed Awards."




Q: Where is the "Central SCIENTIFIC Observation" that gets this all rolling?

Ans.: p.23 of Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. et al., "The Coherent Heart:  Heart–Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order" which you can download and read at your leisure. As you can see from the page below, it has just enough complexity that your first reaction may be: "I'm not bustin' my brain reading that stuff! Are you kiddin' me?!"


So let me help, by hitting on some high points ...


Heart Rhythm Coherence defined in McCraty's paper.jpg

Step 1. As it says ... 

"Heart rhythm coherence is reflected in the HRV power spectrum as a large increase in power in the low fequency (LF) band,... and a decrease in very low frequency (VLF) and high frequency (HF) bands. ... high-amplitude peak in LF ... and no major peaks in the VLF or HF regions. Coherence thus approximates the LF/ (VLF + HF) ratio." ( see Ref. above).


I know I may be killing your attention with this stuff, but stick with it just a bit. Using selected ranges for these frequencies, with values from a power spectrum (not to worry about that now either), is offered that "the coherence ratio" is formulated as :


Coherence Ratio = Peak Power / (Total Power - Peak Power)

"This method provides an accurate measure of coherence ..."


And yes, "Appendix A" does give more info, but first, is this original research? No. What is his reference for the source here? Who is cited as providing the source for this equation? Well it's "(Childre & Martin, 1999)." And under "References" (p.63) the only work cited for these authors is :


Childre, D., & Martin, H. (1999). The HeartMath solution. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.


Step 2.

Woah!  Doc Lew Childre and Howard Martin (more on these authors at the link provided), are given as the source of this extremely key relationship of "coherence" and the LF (low frequency) domain of Heart Rate Variability measurements. Impressive, since neither one, as far as I know, is a cardiac electrophysiologist. But they do introduce and interpret what "spectral analysis" of heart signals look like during "frustration" and "appreciation" on p. 59-60 of this book, but that's it! They refer to research done at HeartMath Institute as the basis of their statements, and the person doing that research at HeartMath refers to them as the basis of his research. Woah! Certainly efficient.



Step 3.

Let's quote very specifically here ... and as seen at the bottom of the above graphic which is again reproduced below. (I don't want you to hurt your neck from uncontrolled violent head nodding, so get up and walk around a second if that's the case, for we're closing in on the "Central SCIENTIFIC Observation") :



Graphic close-up of Power Calculation.jpg


At #1 above, "Find the highest peak within the range of 0.04 - 0.26 Hz"  Here they are looking for that LF or low frequency band, and in a range where they feel "coherence and entrainment can occur." 


Now I admit being a bit confused by this range that they select. For in that range, one finds not only LF (low frequency domain) but also HF (high frequency domain).


Here is a very nice article that reviews the strengths and limitations of Heart Rate Variability in assessing conditions with cardiac inflammation. But it is also of use to us here by its presentation of the limits for these LF, HF domains used currently in Science, and as reproduced below :


Getting the Frequency Domain Metrics right in HRV measurements.jpgAnd here from the User's Manual for Clinical Laboratory HRV measurement equipment (Same ranges given. Almost a trend) :


From User's Manual of Lab HRV measurement system.jpg


Not to belabour the point, but let's look at one more graphic on this. Let's put the frequency domains one next to the other :


Frequency Domain Limits.jpg

Now let's add the frequency range used by Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., Chief Scientist at HeartMath Institute, of 0.04 to 0.26 Hz, as the emWave2 goes fishing for your "Coherence." Simple math: 0.04-0.15 = a 0.11 Hz range for LF, everywhere else. 0.04-0.26 = 0.22 Hz range for LF at HMI. 0.26 - 0.15 = 0.11Hz into the HF domain that they include as LF !  That looks like this :


LF Range at HMI.jpg


And yes, I accept irrefutably that I am belabouring the point.


At #2 above, (4 images above) they find the highest peak occurring in their enlarged range, and integrate a 0.030Hz window around this to get the Power (amplitude) of this frequency. At #3 above, is a little number "2." Either they are suggesting that the equation should finally be squared to = the "Coherence Ratio," (the units for spectral analysis of these frequencies and "power" are indeed ms² ), or, it's actually a reference to one or the other of these two publications :


McCraty & Tomasino (2006).jpg


Go figure. Not very clear. This enlarged window for LF at HeartMath was pushed even further in "Heart Coherence, a novel index" (McCraty et al., 2009) to include "fishing" in an ever wider pond, 0.04-0.4Hz. Yikes! All of the HF (high frequency) values are now incorporated into searching for LF.


Heart Coherence defined.jpg

 Here's an update of our little graphic, with their standard as expressed in this 2009 work :


LF Range at HMI v2.jpg



"LF, HF... Who cares ?! Pass me my emWave2, I'm getting anxious!"



Step 4.

Much of the HeartMath pitch is that one should address one's autonomic nervous system (ANS), and get it to chill out. The saber-tooths have died out, so we don't need it to stay in that "sympathetic" - "fright or flight" mode anymore, and chillin' with the "parasympathetic" side of things is just dreamy. To get to this "heart coherence," one takes 4 or 5 hits from one's emWave2 throughout the day, while breathing as they say "5 seconds in/ 5 seconds out" and thinking of positive experiences from the past and really appreciating them. Now before beginning to wonder about how well this would work with just the breathing and appreciation, having set one's emWave2 aside, let's finish the look at the "Central SCIENTIFIC Observations" on which this device is based.


Does emWave2 accurately measure Heart Rate Variability, but more importantly for their "pitch," does it accurately measure LF and HF, and even more pertinent, does doing so give you a good handle on the state of your ANS? What do the LF (low frequency) and HF (high frequency) domains on the Heart Rate Variability spectrum actually reflect in this balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic influences throughout the body?


How far back can we go on this? Well it all began in 1965 when Hon and Lee noted that "fetal distress (monitored in the Labor and Delivery Suites) was preceded by alterations in interbeat intervals before any appreciable change occurred in heart rate itself." So poof! Heart Rate Variabiliy appeared on the scene. But it was first looked at as mysterious, and of unknown clinical significance.


So next we fast forward to way back in 1996, when "Standards of Measurement, Physiological Interpretation, and Clinical Use Task Force of the European Society of Cardiology and the North American Society of Pacing Electrophysiology," was published in Circulation. 1996; 93: 1043-1065 doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.93.5.1043

Therein the Chairman of that Task Force,  Marek Malik, PhD, MD, Department of Cardiological Sciences, St George's Hospital Medical School, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, UK concluded (among many conclusions): 


LF component and LH to HF ratio are INCREASED by Stress not decreased.jpg

"Translation please!"

Sure. First, if you actually read that but got stumped by "LF component (in nu)" - nu = nominal units, not the name of the study subject. The Task Force concluded that maneuvers that increase "sympathetic predominance" like "mental stress," INCREASE the LF component or augment the "LF-to-HF ratio," and the "opposite was never observed." So, ... higher LF = more stress, but also at HeartMath = higher "heart rhythm coherence." Wait a minute!


Fortunately, time and Science marches on, so subsequent interpretations of these frequency domains moved towards this ...



Frequency Domain Methods.jpg


"Translation please!"



  • HF (high frequency) variations "are largely due to respiratory variations (how one breathes), influencing "vagal tone" (the parasymptathetic-let's-calm-down side of things)
  • LF (low frequency), again here confirming the accepted range of 0.04-0.15Hz, are produced by baroreflex feedback loops (= blood pressure control sensors in your large blood vessels like your carotid artery on each side of your neck, for example), affected by both sympathetic and parasympathetic modulation of the heart." Gee. Is that good or bad news? LF reflects both stressing and calming influences on the heart.
  • And hearkening back to the Task Force and 1996, "the LF/ HF Ratio has been suggested as an indirect index of sympathovagal balance." But if both symp. and parasymp. are reflected in LF, then LF/HF is no longer as simple as, "more LF and I'm chilled out, and less LF (or more HF) and I'm nervous as a whore in Church."

 Is that it?  No. There's more ... LF, the "contentious aspect" of Heart Rate Variability

Low Frequency Oscillations - two theories but both sympathetic and parasympathetic.jpg"Help!"  Sure. This says that :

  • After removing the origin of heart beats (sino-atrial and sino-aortic nodes) and vagus nerves surgically, LF persisted, and its origin was thought to be the central nervous system, not the heart.
  • Theory 1: LF (low frequencies) reflect sympathetic tone and are generated by "brain stem circuits."
  • Theory 2: LF reflects interaction of both fast vagal and slower sympathetic inputs and oscillations.

This also presents the problem with LF ... (this is the last one on this topic, promise! ) :


~ click this one to enlarge it, or get a magnifying glass ~


Components of HRV.jpg


"I'm getting confused."

Yes, that's right.


"Can you bring this together to create a simple and unified explanation for this stuff?"  No, probably not at this time. I'd be making up a large part of it.


"Now how does this all fit in clinically?"

Well first, (after following babies' late decelerations for a while as mentionned above), clinicians became very interested in Heart Rate Variability (HRV) when it was discovered that after a Heart Attack, the lower your HRV, the lower your chance of survival over time, and even 40 years after the Heart Attack. That study and others, really egged on the cardiac electrophysiologists to better understand. Look at the pretty picture below (Survival on the "Y"-axis and different curves of HRV classes, and follow-up in years on the "X"- axis below) :


Lower Survival after Acute MI in those with lower HRV.jpg


And from there, some researchers (like Dr. Stephen W. Porges) moved with HRV into psychophysiology. He coined the Polyvagal Theory, that suggested that "physiological state dictates the range of behavior and psychological experience." And again, results don't fit into a neat package like some might want them to :



~ again, click this one to enlarge it, or get a magnifying glass ~


Mental and social aspects.jpg

  • If we go back to a hypothesis that more LF reflects calm or "coherence" or parasympathetic or vagal effects, and HF the opposite ("stressed out like a lobster above the pot"), here above the findings of HF decreasing "under conditions of acute time pressure, emotional strain, ... elevated anxiety,... daily worry." In patients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, HF is reduced, and the LF component is elevated. Make sense? No? OK, you're keeping up.
  • The mentioned Polyvagal Theory places "an emphasis on respiratory sinus arrhythmia and its transmission by a neural pathway that is distinct from other components of HRV." Translation: your variations in Heart Rate Variability, and its presumeably derived "Heart Coherence" don't come from your heart, or your brain, they begin with your breathing. Change your breathing and you change your HRV.

And even beyond Heart Attacks and Psychic Stress ...

HRV measurements can be used to tell us when the pollution is too bad to go outdoors! Breathe in increased pollution, watch you HRV go down (yet another link between HRV and breathing) :


Effect of air polution on HRV and autonomic dysfunction.jpg


"Done yet ?"



Your emWave2 may be a nifty little unit, but is it up to the challenge of measuring what it's supposed to measure: Balance in the Autonomic Nervous System?

  • For measuring your pulse and reporting an average heart rate, it's probably fine.
  • For measuring you Heart Rate Variability at a very gross level, it is probably comparable to other comparably priced (or much less) applications and devices (look in the App Store at Elite HRV (no, I don't sell it! )).
  • "How insulting! What do you mean, "at a very gross level?" Well, the emphasis placed by HeartMath is of their own chosing on the autonomic nervous system (ANS). But to use very subtle techniques and equipment, while maintaining confidence that ANS (sympathetic-speed-me-up; parasympathetic-slow-me-down) is actually being measured moves one into a very different level of measurement accuracy and reproducibility.
      1. ECG's (electrocardiogram) leads are usually used and not PPG (photoplethysmography, = your ear sensor or finger sensor) for very senstitive ANS studies. Not everyone agrees, but most think like this article from Cardiovascular Engineering : 

PPGV subject to motion artefact.jpg

To present this in a balanced way, here is the support for using the PPG (ear sensor). They nevertheless site the electrocardiogram (ECG) as "the primary method":


Comparison of ECG and PPGV signals for HRV determination.jpg


More important than the sensor, is you, Binky ...

You may have already thought about this, but what happens to HRV in transplanted hearts?


When you rip out a heart and sew it into its new recipient, ALL the connections to that fancy autonomic (sympathetic-parasympathetic) nervous system have been disrupted. Eventually, some nerve ingrowth does occur, but not always and not for a while. So what about HRV in a trasplanted heart? Well, it's essentially normal. Makes sense. Any beating heart will generate an ECG tracing, which shows an RR' interval (a beat-to-next-beat length), and variations in that RR' interval = HRV. So invoking all kinds of fancy heart-brain crosstalk in both directions, may be an unnecessary step when it comes to understanding HRV.


Transplanted Hearts.jpg



There are so many variables involved here, that from one person to the next the idea of comparing "Average Coherence " values based in HRV, or "Achievement," or awarding trophies and badges, may be based in something, but probably not in the Science of HRV, at least not the complete ANS part of it.


Inter-person variability in HRV.jpg


Most HRV studies today are very careful about controlling motion, breathing and position of subjects. The classic device for studying the heart's autonomic response has been, for a long while, the tilt-table. A few degrees of tilt, and HRV changes, sometimes markedly in "normal controls" and even more in certain pathologies. That will be for another day.


Can't wrap it up any better than this, another concluding paragraph from the Science of Cardiac Electrophysiology ...


Conclusion - lack of sensitivity and specificity of HRV measurments.jpg


So there you have it: the "Central SCIENTIFIC Observation," the seed, out of which blossomed the "decades of scientific research" at HeartMath.


Coming full circle ...

From Central Idea to the Universe.jpg

It is sometimes possible to err through wrong perception.

Perhaps more easily in our "modern" world than when living among aborigines. Such wrong perception arises in a phenomenon we have all witnessed. When someone is having pain, they will quickly seek a pill or equivalent to make the pain stop. Anything unpleasant in our lives, instantly needs a pill. Pain, any pain, is quickly transitioned into suffering: our observation that reality is not as we wish it to be. The suffering frequently lasts well beyond the pain, because the world still hasn't changed.


In this "modern" world, selling "pills" of all sorts has to be tied to some kind of science. Why? Because simply put, without it, the "pills" we are selling won't sell. Won't sell at all, or not as well. Plus for pills, the FDA says so. So to get to all the external rewards on this diagram of components, to all the "ripples" in the pond, one must first get to, find, develop, or invent that "Central SCIENTIFIC Observation," then let it blossom like a lotus. "Is it safe?" "Is it effective?" "How would you know?" we don't test ourselves. We ask Science to do that for us. 


HeartMath began with and expanded from, writings about psychologic topics. Techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety and depression, as well as similar behavioral issues for children were added over time. Doc Lew Childre, the founder, and Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., now head of Quantum InTech, Inc., the parent company of HeartMath, are some of the authors concerned. If there are experts in "the heart" at HeartMath, and their advice, suggestions, techniques for living compassionately actually work when applied to individuals or groups or a class of children at school, ... well, Bravo HeartMath!


If "Freeze Frame" helps someone "freeze" a stress-provoking situation and transform it by recalling positive emotions and breathing in and out "from the heart," into a calmer general situation, ... well, Bravo HeartMath!


I recall my grandmother who, after kids had left the house and she had picked up all the stuff and spilled juice cups, would quietly sit in her big sofa armchair and say: "Whew! Gotta sit and breathe for a bit!" And that seemed to work for her. Took about 15 minutes. And all by herself, based on something she must have felt inside, she knew when it had done the trick, after which she calmly got on with her work. Wow! How could she just sense that?! She didn't seem to suffer from a lack of not knowing her level of Heart Rate Variability, nor "Coherence." She died peacefully, quietly and quickly at age 94, and she is fondly remembered by many for her calm demeanor, universal kindness, and seemingly endless energy.


Further, if an individual finds that picking up and reading one of their publications in the Self-Help section of or elsewhere, helps them or a child they're raising to feel better, ... well, Bravo HeartMath! No need to get involved in debates about placebo effects or other challenging explanations about who's tradition in psychology they are following after. No need to start counting "success stories" to use for further marketing, though marketters will disagree.


The Bible (in whatever form one might have been raised with) was written by individuals without a degree, yet they did a pretty good job, as judged by Best Sellers Lists. Maybe in both cases, inspiration counts more in one's writing than anything else: having a perfect match of challenge (stress) and skills to meet the challenge, leads to creativity. The acclaim that has surrounded the works of Carl Jung, for example, his thinking and writings, has defined this author as a permanent fixture in psychology and psychiatry. Perhaps one day insights obtained through writings at HeartMath will help define them as inspired and insightful as well. That, only time will tell.


The transition points that HeartMath is currently awaiting, would take participants from "Individual Coherence," thru "Social Coherence," to "Global Coherence." And if they get to that last step on the podium, ... well, Bravo HeartMath! from all of us here at Our own judgement is that if it happens, it will find its origins and flowerings in the initial written thoughts about how a human should live comfortably in her world, and less on, as Chief Scientist, Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. says: "If you're going to do research around this stuff, you've got to measure things."  That perception, as applied and gathered here at Bench #3 in the STP Virtual Lab, may not only become increasingly expensive, as it already has, it may simply be a wrong perception.


If one approaches people in our world today, with Peace and Compassion, one may discover many who are in fact willing to drop scientific jargon, and simply dialogue from the heart. Will HeartMath be among them? Only time will tell, and at STP, we'll be watching with interest and empathy.



Other related articles at Bench #3:


An Introduction to HeartMath


Bench #3 Update : emWave2 data from Drew


Bench #3 Update : what does HeartMath emWave2 "Achievement" mean?


and, ...


To the Top of This Page


The STP Lab. What’s That?



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