Red heart

The Heart’s Work

Guest blog by Bruce Cryer, President, The Graduate Institute for Holistic Studies, former CEO, HeartMath

You’ve no doubt sat through a meeting or two and watched a presentation crash and burn, thinking to yourself, ‘What an incoherent presentation that was!’ Or maybe you saw somebody mumbling and staggering out of a bar late at night and said to your friend, ‘That guy is totally incoherent.’ Or you listened to a politician inventing words or making no sense whatsoever, and angrily said, ‘What an incoherent fool!’

Notice how we refer to all these scenarios as incoherent. Even if you don’t know the definition of incoherent, you’ve figured out it’s used to mean sub-par, confused, or worse. If you studied physics in high school or college (and were able to stay awake through it!) you would have learned about the importance of coherence in waveforms, such as light or sound.

Lasers create what physicists call coherent light since the waves and particles emitted by the laser are completely ordered and in sync, flowing in a defined consistent, predictable pattern.

On the other hand, regular light sources such as incandescent, fluorescent, or LED lights are defined by physics as emitting incoherent light since the light waves and particles are not aligned and ordered. Instead, they bounce off each other. They do a great job of generally illuminating a room or space but there’s not much precision.

Lasers are capable of incredible precision and effectiveness due to their high degree of order, or coherence. They can scan bar codes; they can shine tiny beams of the red light way across a large room during presentations. Sophisticated lasers can surgically repair a retina or knee cartilage, and a host of other remarkable feats. Their exceedingly high degree of order, or coherence, at very low power, is their secret.

Try repairing a retina with a 60-watt bulb from Home Depot. Not gonna happen. (Do not try this at home!)

The HeartMath Institute

In the early 1990s, I was part of the founding leadership team of the HeartMath Institute, one of the greatest honors of my life. We were founded by a true visionary, Doc Childre, to understand the true function of the heart in many areas of life: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. In addition to using advanced tools of contemporary science to do our studies, we created a simple system of tools that anyone could use to create a fulfilling life, led by the heart. 

Most humans are just getting by in life, like a regular light bulb that does a fine job keeping the kitchen bright but eventually burns out. We can get by for a while on innate skills and capacities, but many people are not operating anywhere near their full potential. To put it in this context, most of us are not exactly lasers, producing exceptional precision and power at remarkably low power.

In our relationships and in our work, things break down when “our heart is no longer” into that relationship. This is true for athletes, performers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, teachers, anyone.

In those early HeartMath days, we asked ourselves, What if people could be taught to train their systems to be more like a laser – ordered, efficient, precise and coherent – and less like a lamp light, unfocused, overheated, and prone to burning out? And what if the superpower accessible to each human wasn’t just about brain power, but actually about heart power?

Why the heart matters

As we began studying the physiology of the heart, particularly as we began doing in-depth research utilizing Heart Rate Variability we began to realize that the rhythms of the human heart itself follow these same rules of physics as does light.

We discovered that when someone is experiencing a depleting stressful emotion, the heart’s rhythmic pattern is actually disordered, unpredictable and incoherent. More energy is required by the heart when we’re in a stress state since our system is incoherent and not efficient, so we tire out more easily.

But our research also uncovered that when people experience positive renewing emotions such as gratitude, love, humor, compassion, or peace, the rhythms of their heart become extremely ordered, smooth and efficient. You are saving energy while your system is being restored.

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Think about it from your own life experience. When you’re stressed out, it can be very draining! Your insides feel chaotic sometimes, certainly not ordered, smooth and efficient. But when you’re feeling positive emotions, it’s energizing. Your perspectives are more positive and your energy is much higher.

Positivity is not draining; negativity is. Positivity is energy-producing; negativity is not. Studying heart rate variability showed us a simple explanation of why.

When you’re in a stressful state, it’s because something is happening in your life – or you’re afraid something might happen – that’s not what you want. That internal conflict – worry, frustration or anger – causes the rhythms of your heart to become irregular and incoherent. Your body is spending a lot of energy to stay frustrated, which is why you’re also so exhausted after a particularly stressful experience. Not only is your heart experiencing the effects of stress, that moment by moment heartbeats beating chaotically get circulated all through the body, including your brain! Ever wondered why your IQ seems to drop 30-40 points when you’re angry, or why your coordination becomes sloppy when you’re rushing, or why you can’t communicate what you’re trying to say when you’re defensive?

The incoherence in your body causes every system to go slightly out of sync so you’re suddenly only a fraction of who you could be.

Now think about when you’re feeling grateful for something – a sunrise, a kitten, a baby, a friend’s compliment, your health. We discovered that such times allow the heart to start beating in a beautiful, ordered, energy-efficient and coherent rhythm.

In those early years at HeartMath, we also discovered you can easily learn to switch out of the stressful, draining incoherent state into a more efficient, fun and energizing coherent state.


Every day I do practices to help me get into a coherent state, help me stay there, or help me get back to it when my reaction to stress has pulled me out. A little more than ten years ago my ability to stay coherent was severely challenged when I received a diagnosis of cancer, which required surgery to remove the large tumor and immunotherapy treatments to assure it wouldn’t return.

The following 18 months were harrowing to be sure and included repeat staph infections which eventually resulted in a diagnosis of life-threatening MRSA, a particularly hard-to-treat version of staph which was floating around in my blood.

When some people hear this story they think, ‘Guess all that coherence stuff isn’t what it’s cracked up to be if you got cancer.’ And my response is always, ‘I never said being coherent will cure all ills or prevent anything bad from ever happening. But I will also say that being coherent mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually gives yourself the best shot at maximizing your self-healing power.’

Which is exactly what happened to me.

As I write this almost 11 years to the day since my cancer surgery, I can say with all humility that my health is the strongest it’s been in decades, thanks in large part to my ongoing commitment to practicing coherence. I have weathered deaths in my family, the loss of my marriage, the passing of my mother, several life reinventions, moving from the Bay Area back to New York City and changing careers mid-pandemic. 

Now I live life as fully, lovingly, gratefully and as coherently as possible.

Just last week, as I approach my 68th birthday in July, a sophisticated medical test revealed my biological age to be 36. 31 years younger than my chronological age. A direct result of learning to live from my heart’s truth, as coherently, as compassionately, and as lovingly as I possibly can. 

Bruce Cryer

Bruce is part of our Heartcore-Tribe to bring more awareness about matters of the Heart and to take inspiration from his broad experiences in life. Watch our FridayLab videocast about why the Heart matters in business and in life.