A public statement by Rollin McCraty, PhD, MS, Institute of Heartmath
Regarding Dan Winter's public criticisms of Heartmath's research and claims thereof
Statement by Rollin McCraty, PhD
Boulder Creek, CA., August 2003
The statement below was written by Dr. Rollin McCraty, Executive Vice President and Director of Research for the Institute of Heart Math (aka IHM), Boulder Creek, California.
Dan Winter has suggested that the only measure of heart coherence requires something he calls the "cepstrum," which is basically a spectrum of the power spectrum of the ECG itself. He has also claimed that we at HeartMath have never measured coherence. We have published many papers on this subject which are available on our web site (www.Heartmath.org) and I suggest the monographs titled:
There will also be a chapter that is being re-published as a monograph titled: Physiological Coherence, available in the fall of 2003, that discusses this subject in depth.
- The Energetic Heart and
- The Appreciative Heart.
The following quote from the Physiological Coherence monograph captures the essence of our use of the term:
"It is the harmonious flow of information, cooperation, and order among the subsystems of a larger system that allows for the emergence of more complex functions. This higher-order cooperation among the physical subsystems such as the heart, brain, glands, and organs as well as between the cognitive, emotional, and physical systems is an important aspect of what we call coherence. It is the rhythm of the heart that sets the beat for the entire system. The heart's rhythmic beat influences brain processes that control the autonomic nervous system, cognitive function, and emotions, thus leading us to propose that it is the primary conductor in the system. By changing the rhythm of the heart, system-wide dynamics can be quickly and dramatically changed.
"We use the term "coherence" in a broad context to describe more ordered mental and emotional processes as well as more ordered and harmonious interactions among various physiological systems. In this context, "coherence" embraces many other terms that are used to describe specific functional modes, such as synchronization, entrainment, and resonance.
"Physiological coherence is thus a specific and measurable mode of physiological functioning that encompasses a number of distinct but related phenomena. Correlates of the physiological coherence mode, which will be considered in further detail in this monograph, include: increased synchronization between the two branches of the ANS, a shift in autonomic balance toward increased parasympathetic activity, increased heart-brain synchronization, increased vascular resonance, and entrainment between diverse physiological oscillatory systems. The coherent mode is reflected by a smooth, sine wave-like pattern in the heart rhythms (heart rhythm coherence) and a narrow-band, high-amplitude peak in the low frequency range of the HRV power spectrum, at a frequency of about 0.1 hertz."
Mr. Winter also appears to insist that heart coherence occurs only when the spectrum of the EGC (over 8 seconds) exhibits a standing wave pattern. He also claims that this spectrum is a measure of love. I cannot fully agree with this for two important reasons. First it is not grounded in an understanding of healthy function and how the ECG spectra relate to the dynamics of the underlying physiological systems. Secondly, repeated controlled studies indicate that love and other positive emotions are more frequently correlated with a very different physiological mode in the majority of people.
It is true that Dan did visit our research facility for two days at the time we were just completing its construction and before the lab was set up. He did indeed suggest to us that we look at spectral analysis of the ECG. I thought then and still do that this was a good idea; however, when we looked deeper into it we found that the appearance of the peaks in the power spectrum of the ECG that look like standing waves are completely dependent on the inter-beat-intervals in the ECG (the time between heartbeats). All one has to do in order to create the standing wave pattern in the ECG spectrum is to make the intervals between heartbeats the same (very low heart rate variability (HRV)). There is direct relationship between the heart's rhythm (HRV patterns) and the ECG spectrum. In other words, you can know what the ECG spectrum will be if you know the HRV pattern. In addition, the spacing between the peaks in the ECG spectrum is dependent on the interval length between heartbeats (heart rate). In order to generate an ECG spectrum with golden mean-related spacing between the peaks, one must have very low HRV and a heart rate of exactly 97.028 beats per minute. For this reason, and to avoid confusion, we call this the "low HRV mode".
The second issue is that the majority of people do not enter the low HRV mode when they are experiencing positive emotions. The majority of people instead exhibit a sine wave-like pattern in their heart rhythms. This is a very dynamic and efficient physiological mode that has been observed and recognized as a healthy functional mode in the scientific literature since the 1950s. This sine wave pattern in the heart rhythms is associated with improved health outcomes and increased systemic HRV.
It is also important to point out that there is no way to really measure a person's subjective state. A person can be in a very loving state and the HRV pattern will not always indicate this, and if the HRV pattern does not reflect it, neither will the spectrum of the ECG. However, with that said, the most reliable indicator we have found that can discriminate positive from negative emotional states is the heart rhythm pattern.
This low HRV mode is a valid transient state that is associated with very low autonomic nervous system outflow. The main point here is that this low HRV state (what Dan Winter calls heart coherence) is not something that should be cultivated by individuals with health problems. A low HRV state is not only associated with autonomic neuropathy and autonomic deinnervation (as found in heart transplant recipients) but is predictive of increased risk of sudden cardiac death and all-cause mortality, and also associated with depression, anxiety and a host of other disorders. To train people into this low HRV state goes against all that is known about healthy function and emotional stability. This does not mean that it is not a valid state for advanced practitioners to enter into sometimes, but to do so without the ability to first be able to maintain the physiologically coherent mode is potentially problematic, especially to individuals with heart disease, diabetes or low heart rate variability.
For the vast majority of people, it takes time and practice to become proficient at entering the heart rhythm coherence mode. Developing consistency and stability in this mode is important in order for this mode of physiological functioning to become established as a familiar state so that individuals can shift into it at will, especially during challenging or stressful situations. Therefore, we have chosen not put focus on the low HRV state at this time.
Mr. Winter also attempts to reduce all the HeartMath tools and techniques and the physiological coherence mode to simple breathing techniques and "relaxation," which is simply inaccurate. He also attempts to reduce the Freeze Framer to a breathing trainer. [Freeze Framer is now known as the emWave Desktop. The emWave is also available in a compact portable version called emWave PSR (Personal Stress Reliever) which doesn't have as many features as the emWave Desktop.] Although it can be used for that purpose, the system is designed as a tool to facilitate learning the HeartMath techniques and to help establish increased ratios of physiological coherence. In reality, breathing is equally important to both the physiological coherence and the low HRV mode. Conscious regulation of the breath, if performed properly, can drive the system into physiological coherence. HeartMath techniques incorporate a breathing element; however, their primary focus is promoting coherence through a positive emotion-driven physiological shift, in contrast to cognitively-directed paced breathing methods. Moreover, positive emotion-focused coherence-building techniques promote a far wider range of benefits, both physiological and psychological, than methods that simply forcing the system into coherence using regulated breathing alone.
Regarding Mr. Winter's statements that we have not given him proper credit: As I stated earlier, he was the first person to suggest to us that we perform spectrum analysis of the ECG, and we have always been very open about that. Mr. Winter was not, however, the first one to ever think of this. There is actually a long history of the use of this analysis method although he is the first that I know of to associate it with emotion, which in an indirect manner is correct. He was in fact given credit by us for his suggestion in one of our most popular books titled, The Hidden Power of the Heart, which contained several pages devoted to this. He was given copies of this book. However, these pages were removed in later editions, after he had started spreading falsehoods about his relationship with HeartMath and his growing legal problems regarding copyright law violations. He has again violated copyright laws by publishing our graphs in his email messages without our permission.
I have no problem giving credit when it due, however, Mr. Winter is simply demanding credit that is not due. He did not inspire HeartMath, he did not teach us everything we know, and he never worked for HeartMath, etc.
I sincerely feel that the mission of spreading heart coherence on the planet would be better served if Mr. Winter chose to devote his energies to increasing the methodological rigor of his own work rather than seeking to openly decry and propagate falsehoods regarding the work of others. To do this only harms the larger mission of bringing heart coherence to the world.
Director of Research
HeartMath Research Center
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