Find inner balance in your life through the art of self-regulation
The sound of the heart—your soul's music
Written by: Paul E. Wanvig, published in English: 4. April 2019
First published in Medium Magazine (Norway) 04.2018
One of the most exciting areas of personality development is the topic of self-regulation—the art of consciously regulating our own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions, and motivations, as well as our physiological and biological health.
Engaging wholeheartedly in the art of consciously regulating yourself everyday can ease the path toward creating a life filled with meaning, joy, and better health, while improving the results achieved in life. This is one of the most important areas in which we can engage in order to make the most out of life.
Our body's control center
The autonomic nervous system (ANS), also called the vegetative nervous system, is part of our peripheral nervous system that controls the functions of all internal organs and regulates body functions, such as body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, digestion, saliva secretion, blood pressure, urination, sexual excitement, and the expansion and contraction of pupils.
ANS consists of two parts:
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) controls the stimulation of the 'fight or flight' stress response. We rely on this for important tasks such as getting out of bed in the morning, running, fighting, or escaping danger.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) controls the stimulation of resting and digestive activities and is essential for the body's ability to regenerate and heal itself.
The ANS is the body's control center that is responsible for total control and regulation of organs and organ systems. All organs beyond our conscious control are ANS's responsibility. To put it simply: ANS is responsible for regulating all vital functions in the body. Without it, the organs cannot function optimally, which in turn leads to disease.
Diseases created by imbalance
ANS keeps the body's biological systems in balance. If the ANS should fail or underperform over a period of time, the following symptoms and illnesses may occur:
- Problems with heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, sweating, and bowel and bladder function
- Chronic fatigue, dizziness, weakness, and cognitive impairment
- Depression, sleep disturbances, headaches, migraines, back pain, bacterial and viral diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers, fertility problems, and menstrual diseases
- All forms of chronic and degenerative diseases
Early in my treatment at the Paracelsus Clinic, I was sent to their specialist who helps patients find peace of mind and achieve a better physical balance of the autonomic nervous system.
Michael Falkner is educated in psycho-oncology (psychological, behavioral, social, and ethical aspects of cancer) and has more than 17 years of experience in testing and treating more than 10,000 patients at the Paracelsus Clinic.
"Without the body being able to regulate itself in a healthy way and create an inner balance between all biological functions, cells, nervous system, and organs, it is very difficult for it to cure itself no matter how effective are the treatment methods being used. This is why all patients at the clinic are being sent to me as an important part of their treatment plan," explained Michael Falkner.
The meditation teacher who got surprised
Falkner connected me to a heart rate monitor that was connected to his PC that ran software developed by him and his team. The system measured the condition of my autonomic nervous system, how much stress I had, and to what extent I was able to achieve balance in my ANS.
"Are you used to meditation?" he asked.
"I have been a meditation teacher for more than 15 years," I replied.
"Okay, meditate for a few minutes, so we can see how this affects your autonomic nervous system," he added.
After a few minutes I looked at the screen, which showed a half-circle diagram that was mostly filled with red.
"The red shows the stressed part of the autonomic nervous system that does not settle," he explained (Figure 1).
I meditated and felt a peaceful, balanced inner state, with minimal mental distractions. Earlier, I had measured the effect of my meditation on my Mac for several years with other software and had great results in improving my heart rate variability. But despite my best efforts, my ANS refused to calm down.
"Why doesn't it seem to be working now?" I asked.
Falkner had seen this reaction many times—even from a Buddhist monk who was a specialist in meditation for decades—and explained that there isn’t necessarily a link between meditating to find peace of mind and the type of meditation that affects physiology and the ANS.
"You can fill your heart with gratitude, love, peace, and balance without having any direct impact on the part of the nervous system that needs to be in balance for the body's healing powers to function optimally," he explained.
When he instructed me to do a deep breathing exercise, the chart on the PC screen changed after a few seconds so the stress (red) almost disappeared, and most of the chart turned blue, which showed that I was in balance (Figure 2).
Proper breathing is the key to optimal self-regulation of the ANS. The Yogis in India have claimed this for thousands of years. Falkner explained that proper breathing leads to good health, and improper breathing leads to disease.
The main problem
Chronic inner stress is one of the main problems when ANS is not balanced. This means that the sympathetic (stressed) part of ANS is hyperactive even when we rest or sleep. Normally, the parasympathetic (calming down and regeneration) should be most active then. When the sympathetic (stressed) part of ANS is active around the clock, it means that the body's regenerating, self-healing mechanisms and functions suffer.
Finding the condition of the ANS can be done easily by measuring the heart rate variability (HRV) of the patient over 24 hours. Your heart variability is how the time between the heartbeats varies (RR variability). The higher the variation, the better your heart and nervous system are functioning.
The most well-known measurement method of HRV is ECG. When a physician takes an ECG and the variability between heartbeats is minimal, it could be a sign of serious heart problems. With healthy HRV, the distance in milliseconds between heartbeats varies widely.
There are a variety of different software with variable quality available to everyone that measures HRV. The most popular one is made by HeartMath. Michael Falkner and his team has developed their own software (Herzklang), because none of the solutions on the market could be used by the clinic to deliver the desired results with their ill patients.
Measurement of ANS
The Paracelsus Clinic uses different methods for HRV measurement. In one of the test i was lying down on a bench for 10-minutes during the measurement with a sensor attached to my finger. The red post represents the sympathetic (stressed) part of ANS, and the blue represents the parasympathetic. This showed that I had too much stress activity in ANS and too little regenerative activity (Figure 3).
I was also went trough a 24-hour HRV measurement for which two measuring sensors was attached near my heart. The top blue curve in figure 4 shows the pulse.
The middle field represents activity in the parasympathetic part of ANS, which should have been much stronger in the deepest parts of my sleep cycle. From the picture, you can see that the quality of deep sleep is not good.
The bottom part of the picture shows that the sympathetic part (in red/orange color) of ANS is also active during sleep, which is not optimal. The picture shows a chronic stressed (sympathetic) state of ANS that prevents the body's ability to self-heal and regenerate.
Thermography is another method the clinic used for measuring the state of the ANS indirectly, where the temperature of the body is measured at approximately 130 different places, twice.
The first measurement is taken after the patient undresses, and the second is done after the patient has spent ten minutes in a cool room.
In my test, the red areas show that I had the same temperature in both measurements, which means my body was not able to regulate itself in a normal way, indicating that the ANS was in chronic imbalance (Figure 5).
The Soul's music
Paracelsus Clinic started using the HeartMath software for measuring HRV over 17 years ago, but the system didn't cover the clinic's needs. They wanted a direct visual approach to the condition of ANS that was divided into sympathetic, parasympathetic, and balanced part. They needed a method that the patients themselves could use to train on balancing ANS even when they were at home.
Michael Falkner and his team spent many years developing the software 'Herzklang,' which is currently being used at the clinic. With it, patients can measure how well they are able to balance their ANS on a daily basis. In addition, Falkner and his team have developed a unique method of presenting HRV as music through spectral frequency and time analysis. The music that comes out is your own unique music. And since the heart is in close contact with your soul and essence, and Falkner calls this "the soul's music".
The music is created by recording HRV for ten minutes while you are meditating, so that most of the chart on the PC screen shows blue (balance). This is done by breathing at a unique individual rate that your body needs, so that ANS balances. The software shows when to breathe in and out, which is unique to every individual, to learn what type of breathing your body needs. The recording is analyzed and processed by Falkner and his team, who make your unique heartbeat music—your soul's music.
What can you do yourself?
There is much you can do yourself to help put your ANS back in balance. I have divided this into three areas: physical, psychological and spiritual self-regulation.
We all know what it's like to shower in water that is too cold or too hot. We regulate the temperature until it is appropriate. We experience the same thing when eating too much or too little, driving too fast or too slow, or exercising too hard. The better we are able to regulate our activities, the greater the balance and the better results we achieve.
Self-regulation is the art of consciously regulating yourself physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
The body is a unique biological machine with its ability to maintain its functions and processes in healthy balance (homeostasis), even in extreme conditions. Here are some factors that help the ANS stay in balance:
- Enough rest
- Proper breathing technique
- Enough quality sleep (at least 7–8 hours per night)
- Enough physical activity (at least 20 minutes of brisk walking a day)
- Avoid allergens that unnecessarily trigger the immune system, such as gluten, products made from cow milk, soy, FODMAP products, and other foods you have intolerance to
- Healthy diet - low carbohydrates, high levels of healthy fat, and a balanced amount of protein
Each factor that is ignored may over time lead to imbalance that prevents the body from regenerating and healing itself, which in turn leads to disease.
Each time you get stressed unnecessarily or get out of emotional balance by being aggressive, frustrated, angry, depressed, and the like, you trigger the sympathetic part of ANS.
One highly effective method for dealing with negative emotional and mental stress is called 'interruption management.' I have covered this in detail in my book "Beyond Positive Psychology – A Journey from Burnout to Enlightenment."
Hara and diaphragm breathing meditation is one of the easiest and most effective meditations you can do, and it only takes a few minutes to learn. This method stimulates the body's relaxation response by calming the sympathetic part of the ANS and activating the parasympathetic part.
Deep breathing is the only direct access we have to the ANS. Reduction of physical and mental stress stimulates the balance, which may have a positive effect on high blood pressure, pain, headache, various stomach problems, depression, and anxiety, and can improve concentration, oxygen supply, sleep quality, and lung capacity among other things. The problem is that we mostly take short breaths, which focuses the breathing in the upper part of the chest, which then activates the sympathetic part of ANS.
The hara is the largest and most important energy organ that organizes, balances, and stores life energy (Ki) for the entire body. This is extremely important for centering, balance, and grounding.
A practical exercise: Hara and diaphragm breathing meditation
Here is a short explanation of the meditation:
- You can sit, lie, stand, or walk. This meditation can be performed anywhere.
- Place one hand on the lower part of the stomach and the other on the upper part of the stomach.
- Focus your attention on the hara (about two finger widths below the navel), where the lower hand rests, and slowly breathe in for 5 seconds so that both hands move outward.
- When your stomach is filled with air, exhale slowly until your stomach is flat while keeping your attention focused on your hara. Both hands move inward. The deeper you are able to breathe in, the better your benefits will likely be from this mediation.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 for a minute or two until you feel centered and relaxed.
Part 2 is a conscious interaction with the thoughts that come up during the meditation and are done together with Part 1.
- When a thought occurs in your mind, you welcome it and then pass it on its way.
- Focus on the place where the lower hand touches the stomach.
3. Continue with proper breath.
- Repeat 1, 2, and 3 when a new thought comes.
In the beginning, you may experience many thoughts, but as you recognize your thoughts and pass them on, there will be less of them. During 2–3 weeks of 5–10 minutes effort per day, many will experience improvement and exciting results with this simple method, especially if you also use interruption management in your everyday life.
The last area of self-regulation has to do with the heart. This is in direct resonance with our essence - the soul. The more motivated you are by the heart's primary emotions like happiness, passion, love, courage, empathy, consideration, and compassion, the closer you will be to your essence.
The problem is that we are often motivated and driven by secondary feelings like fear, anger, hate, frustration, jealousy, greed, fear, fear of competition, and worries.
The art is to learn how to regulate ourselves so that we live out of primary emotions in our daily lives, and the motivation behind our thoughts, behaviors, and actions, is governed by the qualities of the heart. This is something everyone can learn, which will have a positive impact on the ANS and everyday life.
In The 7 Golden Keys For Creating a Conscious, Enlightened Mind covered in my book Beyond Positive Psychology - A Journey from Burnout to Enlightenment you'll find all the tools and insights you need to master the art of consciously regulating yourself physically, psychologically, and spiritually for creating a happy and fulfilled life.
Article series about Swiss Biological Medicine and Dr. Thomas Rau
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Paul E. Wanvig is a Neoteric Shaman, entrepreneur, journalist, author, speaker, bio-hacker, spiritual teacher & encouraging optimist dedicated to helping you and your family live a Fulfilled Life and ending the stress and burnout epidemic by Utilizing the Best of Modern and Ancient Scientific Practices, Medicine and Technology.
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