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17 years happily married today seems an auspicious time to write about ‘What the Heart Knows’ – a Cheltenham Science Festival  2017 event on Thursday- that gave a fascinating insight into how our body regulates our mind.

Interoception- your sixth sense

‘Gut feeling’ is exactly that- the transmission of bodily activity into cognitive emotions. It’s how we sense our internal world- the interaction between body and brain- and it’s part of our ‘sixth sense’ called Interoception.

The sense of Interoception is the third branch of our sensory system: Exteroreception (visual, audio faculties etc..) and Proprioception (what we work on in all our One Grove classes- bring able to feel your body in space) being the other two branches.

Dr Sarah Garfinkel, a senior researcher in neuroscience at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, has given an empirical basis to this ‘folksy’ gut instinct notion through her research.  She has proven that our body and mind are intrinsically and dynamically coupled and that the activity in our brain is shaped by what our organs are doing. Her focus is on the heart and how it regulates the mind.

Meeting a bear- ‘the feeling of fear’

Building on a famous theory from 1884 which tried to describe what emotions are, Garfinkel say that it is not coming face-to-face with a bear cognitively that gives you an emotional response but the ‘feeling of fear’ in your organs (sweaty palms, skin bristling, rapid heart beat, churning stomach) that provides you with the emotion of fear. So the organs inform the mind.

Autism= interoceptive disconnect

Her compelling research shows, for example, that autistic patients are actually more empathetic from a bodily point of view than a ‘normal’ person. Let’s say they were watching a relative walk across coals. An autistic person would show all the typical physical symptoms of being concerned, a faster heart rate for example, and generally to a greater degree than normal, but they wouldn’t be able to translate this into the emotional feeling of concern in their brain. So autistic patients seem to embody responses but not read them. And Dr Garfinkel is beginning to train patients to listen to their bodies and therefore to develop their emotional state. An amazing avenue of possibility for autistic recovery.

What the heart does to play cupid

What about hubby and I after 17 years? Well it would appear that our heart rates can synchronise. And if we can ‘feel’ that harmonising interoceptively, then we can gain greater emotional empathy. Because the capacity to ‘feel’ our body guides our emotional experience. Plus if we synchronise our heart beats, we find our other halves more attractive, friendly and trustworthy!

And what can your Pilates teacher see?

Well, MIT and NASA have created open source coding for big dynamic experiments like whether we can detect micro movements in people’s bodies that then indicate their heart rate. The hypothesis is Yes- we can detect others heart beats readily.

And, knowing how us One Grove instructors already ‘see’ and correct everything that you do in your body in class, we may well be able to read what your heart is doing too. Fascinating stuff!


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