on His Love Affair With the Heart
by Kirby Baldwin
Bruce Cryer has been called a Renaissance man because of a varied, four-decade career as a singer, actor, dancer, publisher, author, marketing executive, teacher and coach. In New York City, he played The Boy for 800 performances in the world’s longest running musical, The Fantasticks. He co-authored the book, From Chaos to Coherence: The Power to Change Performance, was lead writer of the Harvard Business Review article titled “Pull the Plug on Stress” and taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Cryer was part of the original leadership team and former CEO of the HeartMath Institute, which has scientifically studied heart-brain communications and deepened our understanding of how the workings of the heart can influence human perceptions, emotions, intuition and health. For three decades, he has dedicated himself to developing and teaching stress reduction and resilience techniques that tap into the power and intelligence of the heart.
As one of the leaders of HeartMath, what did you hope to achieve?
Part of what motivated me to join the original HeartMath team was the notion that the heart is much more than a pump. The values we associate with the heart—courage, wisdom, love, compassion—were being viewed as completely separate from the physical heart. Before founding HeartMath, Doc Childre discovered that anything he did in life that succeeded—a job, a diet, an exercise program, a relationship—worked better if he “put his heart into it.”
Childre also realized that every major religion, culture and civilization revered the heart throughout history. However, the Western scientific method had reduced the human body to individual components and viewed the heart as a “fantastical machine”. This perspective was inadequate to explain the profound feelings of love, care and even grief we experience in the heart.
How has HeartMath evolved through the years?
The core message of HeartMath has always been this: Human beings have a remarkably well-integrated system with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions. The heart’s intelligence helps to coordinate all these aspects. The phrase “follow your heart” has actual scientific meaning.
HeartMath’s work has been validated through more than 400 peer-reviewed studies. When we started in the early 1990s, we were a research, education and training organization. Our discoveries using heart-rate variability proved to a mainstream, scientific audience that individuals can regulate their hearts, minds and emotions to produce profound changes in health, well-being, brain function and performance.
How can HeartMath positively impact people’s lives?
HeartMath is a beautiful and simple system that allows people to adapt to life’s relentless change and uncertainty and find balance. The brain directly benefits from the heart’s balancing capacity, which then facilitates expression, communication, listening, reaction times, coordination and emotional strength.
Having survived two life-threatening conditions and then rediscovering many sources of creative expression in myself, I’ve learned that our capacity to keep growing and learning is one of the greatest gifts of being human. Research is now confirming that the more we stay active, interested and curious in life, the more we continue to create a flexible, youthful brain. A childlike spirit of delight and wonder is something we can tap into our entire lives.
How do you practice HeartMath in your own life?
I use heart-focused breathing many times each day. The idea is to inhale for about five seconds and then exhale for about five seconds while keeping your focus in the area of the heart. This 10-second cycle is the optimal pace allowing our systems to find balance and coherence. Sometimes I sit and radiate love to someone I care about or a situation in trouble. Heart-
focused breathing has been an integral part of my life for 30 years. I do this not only to maximize my own health physically, mentally and emotionally, but also to connect with humanity as one family, one heart.
Why do you encourage people to develop heart-focused coherence?
The heart is a key center of intelligence for our human system. The practice of breathing and focusing our attention on the heart is the first step to bring the heart and brain into coherent alignment. As we breathe in qualities we value—kindness, compassion, love—and then exhale worries, tension, anxiety or fear, a surprising power is unleashed. More than 30 years ago, I dedicated my life to this path of the heart. It’s an incredible journey.
Kirby Baldwin writes and edits for KnoWEwell, the Regenerative Whole Health Hub and the parent company of Natural Awakenings Publishing Corp.