Frequently Asked Questions

Responses by Puran and Susanna Bair

What type of physical health benefits can one experience as a result of daily meditations, as outlined in Energize Your Heart In Four Dimensions? Heart Rhythm Meditation synchronizes the heartbeat and breath to reduce the effects of stress, which results in a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, decreased stress hormones, improved digestion, and better sleep. HRM also increases the body's ability to handle stress, by increasing Heart Rate Variability, improving the immune response, increasing heart efficiency and the lung's "Vital Capacity," and the circulation and oxygenation of all tissues.

What are some of the mental benefits as well? It's the heart's light that gives brilliance to the mind. Practitioners report a feeling of calm well-being, an increase in energy, and better concentration. Concentrating on the heart produces alpha and theta brain waves, associated with relaxation and creativity. The very valuable power of concentration is easily developed by choosing the most interesting and personal object to concentrate on: the heart, the center of all passion and feeling. Feelings of victimization, helplessness and depression are replaced by confidence, courage and generosity.

How would one come to understand how he or she can live a heart-centered life? To live from your heart you should feel your heartbeat. If you don't, you can't really say you're aware of your heart. What is your heart's wish? You'll have to ask it; use HRM so the mind doesn't interfere. You can't do it in cold-blood; you have to energize your heart -- then your heart will attract what it needs, automatically and magnetically, with consideration of the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of yourself and others.

What is a "Culture of the Heart," and how would you create it? Heart disease is the # 1 cause of death. This alone shows we have a culture that is ignorant of the heart. The heart has a different way of working than the mind, modeled by the physical heart: the heart listens to every organ and then sends one coordinating message received by every cell. The heart serves the body by freely circulating the most valuable nutrients, then it pumps out the trash. It is reliable, open, inclusive, yet central and essential. In the culture of the heart people behave in a similar way: they listen attentively, then speak from their heart with the same message to everyone, without secrets or pandering. They are dedicated to the service of the whole, neither seeking fame nor avoiding the humble. They follow their heart's guidance and pursue their unique purpose. "Living from your heart" becomes possible by "energizing your heart."

How has the work of the Institute for Applied Meditation helped thousands of people internationally through conferences, seminars, webcourses and classes in the last 20 years? For some, the greatest impact has been in their relationships. The effect of Heart Rhythm Meditation is to strengthen the emotion of love, making it more resilient to the great stress that relationships have to endure today, and at the same time, allowing people to be more tender and emotionally available to each other. We've seen many people reduce and even eliminate the medicinal drugs they take, while reducing their blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, migraines, asthma, panic attacks, chronic pain and overall stress, and improving their digestion, energy level, sleep, focus and general well-being. The experience that people have again and again is that they can control their health by the simple act of conscious breathing in the rhythm of their heart.

At the core of your approach to unified health -- physical, emotional, and spiritual - is a meditation process that allows us to be in tune with the sound, speed, and force of our very own heartbeat. But doesn't that sound scary? People sometimes associate feeling the heartbeat with stressful moments because when you're angry, stressed, or upset, or if you've just exerted yourself, you often feel your heart hammering away, whereas when you're calm, you don't notice it. By tuning into the heartbeat in an atmosphere of peace, with the intention of listening to your heart, you'll find that your relationship with your heartbeat changes and, instead of being scary, it becomes very comforting, like a friend who is always with you.

Some people are turned off by meditation because it often has an origin in Buddhism or Hinduism, but Heart Rhythm Meditation is instead a modern, non-religious practice. Why is there such confusion when it comes to religion and meditation? Most meditation as it is taught and practiced in the USA does have an explicit or implicit connection with an Eastern religion, chiefly Buddhism or Hinduism, but there are meditations in every religion. Ours is a universal method, free of dogma, that works in every tradition. There is evidence that the apostles of Christ practiced a form of Heart Rhythm Meditation, and the Buddhist Tonglen meditation is similar to Heart Rhythm Meditation. Since our method is based on physical sensation, it is universal to every culture and tradition.

If you are someone who has meditated or practiced yoga or some of the other New Age disciplines, how would you find the experience of the Heart Rhythm Practice? You'll find HRM to be both familiar and new. Most contemplative traditions (including Yoga) teach control over the breath, which HRM also teaches, so that will be familiar. You'll find that HRM gives more precise control over the breath by coordinating it with the heartbeat. Other aspects of HRM will be new, like the concentration on the physical heart and the sensations of the physical body that come with it. This will give an unfamiliar and powerful experience of centeredness, heat throughout the body, radiance of energy and light, and the experience of strong emotions.

So are people who practice Heart Rhythm Meditation more focused on their evolving spirituality, or just on their overall well-being and state of health? We have students who come solely to improve their physical health and well-being, and that's fine. After their well-being is strengthened and optimism and confidence is restored, through further practice they discover a compelling vision of life's purpose, and this leads them onward to the spiritual development that prepares them for service to humanity. For those who seek improved health, HRM is very effective; for those who seek a spiritual path, HRM is a powerful and authentic method.

How are you redefining the nature of meditation? The heart gives pure consciousness a direction. Common meditation is about being present, being in the now, and being mindful. Its goal is the clarity and expansion of consciousness. Heart Rhythm Meditation goes the next step, to energize your heart as an instrument to accomplish your purpose on Earth. Conventional meditation takes us back to the source of consciousness. HRM takes us forward to the goal of creation. Beyond the consciousness in every molecule and cell, the universe also has a direction, which gives purpose. While the mind can become aware of universal consciousness, it is the heart which feels the purpose of life. We can contribute to the evolution of the universe by developing in ourselves the qualities the universe needs now, the qualities of the four dimensions of the heart.

What do you mean when you assert that one's successes or problems come from the state of their heart? Your heart is like a magnet that attracts into your life all that you love and hate, want and fear, as resources to be used for your purpose and as stimuli for your growth and preparation. Your successes also come from your heart; whatever you've achieved has been due to heart qualities like the ability to ask for help, cooperate with others, persevere, face challenges courageously, take initiative, have patience, feel others' pain, and so on.

Please explain how the heart can grow in four different dimensions. Growth in the width of the heart improves the ability to tolerate, sympathize, cooperate, and influence others in a harmonious way -- seen in the kind of person who everyone turns to, who is trusted by all. The height of the heart raises your standards to idealism and perfection, and gives the optimism needed to strive for it. The depth of the heart brings the sensitivity and connection with others, the ability to feel emotions with great richness and completeness. The forward dimension of the heart gives you the energy that drives you forward in passion, initiative and courage. The inner dimension of the heart gives you potential, inner peace, connection with all things, and self-reliance. A heart is not really whole unless all these dimensions are developed.

Your method has three parts: recognition, meditation, and application. Tell us about the first part. You have to be able to see the heart qualities in another person before you can recognize those qualities in yourself. For example, an insecure young man takes a job selling cell phones. He is surrounded by assertive, self-confident, successful salesmen, and over time he recognizes these qualities are in his own heart as well, and he is able to display them. Recognition is seeing something outside that was already present within. The people we admire have qualities that we wish to manifest outwardly, which are latent within us. By seeing these qualities we remember them. When you see from the heart, you can see admirable qualities in everyone, in various degrees of development.

Why are you critical of the meditations based on Eastern philosophies which highlight detachment and letting go? Detachment, indifference, letting go, passivity toward goals -- these ideas go against the heart. The heart is full of love, which creates attachment, responsibility, deep concern, and a sense of purpose that one must accomplish. It is painful for your heart to let go of your most deeply-held desires. We place great emphasis on knowing our heart's desire, taking it seriously and really achieving it. When a person is anxious and stressed by their job, their friends will tell them to let it go and not to take it personally. That advice is like giving up. We say, if it's the wish of your heart, you must never give it up. Rather, discover in your heart the power to make it happen.

What is Heart Rate Variability? Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the beat-to-beat variance in heart rate from the average heart rate. A person's heart rate is not constant over time, unless they have a pacemaker. The healthy heart responds to the needs of the body, including the demands of muscles for energy, the requirements of the internal organs, and the supply of breath in the lungs. The heart responds instantaneously to emotions, especially surprise, fear and stress. A heart that does not respond by changing its heart rate is not functioning well. It is now known that the single most reliable predictor of heart disease is not cholesterol, blood pressure or obesity; it's low Heart Rate Variability. HRM is the best process known for increasing HRV, which it does reliably and efficiently, without drugs.

Some find meditation to be dry, mechanical, and difficult. How is your meditation better or different? People call our meditation "wet." It is engaging, surprising and sometimes overwhelming. It is "engaging" in the sense that it's emotional. Instead of aiming for no thought, we're aiming for all emotion -- to feel everything the heart is capable of feeling, all at the same time. When the heart is touched, the experience is surprising, not what one expected. Supremely creative, the heart produces physical sensations and mental visions that are rich in meaning and highly relevant.

Why doesn't any other school of meditation or self-development teach people to feel their heartbeat, as you do? Feeling your heartbeat can be a challenging practice for people out-of-touch with their body. Some schools simply don't know how to teach it. Some schools are all about consciousness and don't feel they need a heart focus. To experience the heartbeat you need (1) a full breath, (2) a philosophy that values the physical body, and (3) a method for dealing with the emotions that arise from a conscious heart. Without those three teachings, the heart can be presented as a lovely ideal but it cannot become a real container of energy that gives direction to your life. We want to be centered, not detached, so we can take responsibility for improving the world; for that we need to be in-touch with the heart, and the proof of that awareness is the sensation of the heartbeat.

How does one measure the size of their heart? The magnetic field of the heart can be measured outside the body by scientific instruments. It extends farther in some directions than others, and this gives a shape to the energetic heart similar to the size of the emotional heart. The emotional heart has a "size" that can be observed in one's behavior. When one responds to hate with love, it shows a large heart that we say is "wide;" optimism in the face of disappointment shows the height of the heart. Empathy shows the depth of the heart, and the power to accomplish what the heart desires shows the forward size of the heart. There is also an inner resource within the heart which gives one the self-confidence to change as the need arises. These dimensions of the emotional heart can be measured by a self-assessment instrument.

What are the Six Basic Powers that make Heart Rhythm Meditation reliable? These are six things that you can do yourself anytime, anywhere, to make meditation reliable. 1. Start with an intention which clarifies the goal of your meditation. 2. Place your attention on your heart, which centers you inward and in your body. 3. Take a majestic posture position, which strengthens your will, if you commit to stillness. 4. Use inspiration and expiration to access the source of all energy, the breath. 5. Feel the inner sensation of expansion of your magnetic being. 6. Make an invocation of a divine quality or another being.

How does your method heal the heart's wounds? We find the wounds in our heart by a form of Heart Rhythm Meditation called "Diving into the Heart." We shine a searchlight of attention into the depths of the heart to illuminate the stored impressions there. When we find an emotion of grief, loss, rejection, for example, we direct the energized heart into that experience and the circumstances surrounding it. We contemplate the other people in the situation and feel how they felt. We honor our sensitivity to certain kinds of emotional triggers as an indication of our heart's size and dimension, which can be developed further. While the heart is easily hurt, it can heal quickly, if it has energy and attention.

Why don't doctors prescribe meditation for better health? Why doesn't our health industry focus on prevention of disease rather than fixing broken hearts? Unfortunately, the multi-billion-dollar drug industry and medical community are either ill-informed and under-trained in the area of prevention, or they choose to operate under the more profitable system they have now. Are they focused on wealth for a few instead of health for all? It would seem so. Integrative Medicine, as championed by Dr. Andrew Weil and others, does prescribe meditation, and it's important that the meditation be of the type that deliberately changes the breath pattern, to change the body's habitual energy flows that have resulted in illness. Most of our illness comes from the body's over-reaction to the all-pervasive stress of our culture.