Scientists have been discovering new ways to treat pain for decades, like green LED lights. It sounds great, but if being in a room full of lights feels too impersonal, there’s something far better: touch.
Touch has the power to heal illness and injury. That’s why kids want to sit in your lap when they don’t feel well, and just holding hands with a spouse or partner makes you feel infinitely better.
Empathetic touch creates brainwave synchronization
Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder teamed up with another university to explore what they call “interpersonal synchronization,” which aims to study brainwave synchronization in the context of pain relief. Their study proved that touch causes brain and heart waves to sync, which significantly lessens pain.
“The more empathy a comforting partner feels for a partner in pain, the more their brainwaves fall into sync,” say researchers from the University of Colorado in Boulder. “And the more those brain waves sync, the more the pain goes away.”
Participants were measured for brainwave synchronization alone, together, with touch, and without. The study concluded that brainwave synchronization (and pain relief) is achieved to a higher degree through touch.
At first glance, this effect seems psychological – and perhaps it is in part. However, there is a biological component, and it has to do with heart coherence.
What heart coherence is
In short, heart coherence is when the heart’s frequencies and the brain’s frequencies are in phase with each other.
In the world of science, waves are considered to be coherent when they have a constant phase difference and share the same frequency. When waves become coherent, their power increases.
To further understand coherence, think of a laser. Laser light contains only one wavelength of directional light, which allows the light to stay focused for extreme distances. For instance, a 30-kilowatt laser can burn a hole in a car from a mile away. This is only possible through coherence.
On the other hand, a flashlight produces light that is diffuse; its reach is shorter and it’s not very powerful.
Heart coherence and heart rate variability
The beat of a healthy heart naturally varies minute-to-minute and sometimes beat-to-beat. This is referred to as “heart rate variability” (HRV). Doctors are just starting to understand the role a varied heart rate plays in maintaining optimal health in the body. So, what causes your heart rate to vary?
Your heart rate is intimately connected to the way you body expresses emotions: when you’re stressed, angry, sad, or anxious your heartbeat becomes chaotic. When experiencing emotions of love and gratitude, your heart rate becomes ordered and rhythmic. The rhythmic aspect of HRV is referred to as heart coherence. Just like the couples in the study mentioned earlier, this ordered and rhythmic heartbeat relieves pain.
Based on this emerging research, couples and spouses seem to have the advantage.
In a sense, science has just proven that marriage is good for our health; it’s about more than the vows and the ceremony. On the outside, you’ve got beautiful decorations, amazing food, and close friends. On the inside, it’s really about the connection shared by both partners.
The connection partners build through marriage will be the foundation for supporting each other in ways they can’t always see. Or can they?
Making heart coherence visible
Coherence is reflected in HRV, which is now easy for anyone to measure.
For detailed research on heart coherence, you’ll want to follow the work of Dan Winter. Winter has been studying heart coherence for decades, and taught HeartMath how to take their first EKG with a device he created.
Although HeartMath is essentially the “brand name” in heart coherence, there are limitations to what their devices can measure, as Winter explains here. If you’re not up for reading lengthy scientific research, he’s got plenty of videos available on YouTube.
In this video, Dan Winter discusses the science of heart coherence with Sacral Cranial expert Patrick Botte. With their app for iOS called iTHRVE, anyone can use standard sensors to measure the full spectrum of heart coherence. The app will also train you to breathe in a way that induces coherence. This is a brilliant way to see the effects for yourself.
You don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to benefit from this science. The touch of a friend or even a pet can do wonders for your health. If you live alone, learn to induce coherence through breathing to achieve the same benefits.