More and more research is coming out seemingly every day that increases our understanding of the mind-body connection. It seems fairly self-evident that the totality of our selves is linked in one way or another, but we seem to be living in a golden age of research that seemingly validates the claims of new age crystal mongers and will likely be grossly misinterpreted and turned into a bestselling hardcover in time for someone to not shut up about it at a New Year’s Eve party. Well, that’s unfair. Many philosophies and disciplines through the ages have claimed that our brains learn better while we’re in a calm state, whether it’s attributed to meditation, brain waves, or a vague sense of openness. New research is suggesting that the rhythm of the heart is synchronized to the electrical oscillations of the brain and linked to humans’ ability to learn and process outside information.
The research comes out of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, and was published in the Journal of Neurophysiology. The researchers detailed their experiments with humans and rabbits using a conditioning task. Scientists played a tone and then followed it up with a small burst of air to the subject’s eye, causing an involuntary blink. Eventually the blink happened before the burst of air, suggesting that the brain had learned that a puff of air tends to follow that tone. In both humans and rabbits, the rate of the heart was shown to be linked to the brains response to the tone played. In rabbits, it was found that when they were conditioned to the tone while their hearts were in a calmer state, they learned faster.
Our brains storm with electricity all the time. All the different parts of the brain oscillate with different frequencies, but are rhythmically linked with each other to enable communication between different areas. Research has shown that the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for learning, is rhythmically coupled with our breathing patterns and the research out of Finland might suggest an even deeper connection. So yeah, that guy who won’t stop telling you to meditate is probably right. According to author of the study Tomi Waselius:
Our results showed that the processing of the external information varies during the phases of the cardiac cycle. It is possible that the activity of the cardiorespiratory neurons in the brain stem affects the overall neural state of the hippocampus and thus the neural processing of the external information.”
Waselius is quick to point out that this is far from proven, however, saying:
“This is only speculation and we have commenced complementary studies to support these ideas.”
If those complementary studies confirm these findings then it could mean a fantastic breakthrough in our understanding of the mind-body connection. Waselius says that an interesting extension of this research could be in studying the connection between physical rhythms and learning in Alzheimers patients.
It should be stated that these experiments deal with how fast and how well conditioning can occur. This is the type of science that seems all flowers and folk songs on the surface, but could soon be put to use by nefarious forces. You’ll be listening to some sort of binaural beats or “healing frequencies” track on YouTube, then an ad for Hot Pockets will pop up and burn right into your subconscious. Next thing you know, you’re at the corner store with your coat stuffed full of dough, and cheese, and pepperoni. It’s all because you started meditating. There’s an old saying that seems appropriate here: never trust a man on a yoga mat.