10/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Inviting Health: Using Our Minds to Set the Stage for Well-Being (Part Two)

In my last Inviting Health blog, I began addressing a question about meditation practices that enhance the healing process. In it, I introduced an exercise using guided meditation and visual imagery to enlist a single healthy cell in our bodies to help us entrain or coach other cells how to perform in a healthy way.

This post offers another means of doing the same, with the focus being on the heart as an organ of entrainment. Here is my version of the guided meditation. Following that is an explanation of where it came from and some of the science behind its effectiveness.

First, find a comfortable quiet place and take a moment to relax and take a few deep breaths.

Next, fill your heart with feelings of appreciation. Think about something for which you feel appreciation or a sense of gratitude. There may be several things or people or events which you appreciate, but try to find the one that feels strongest for you. Then send that feeling to your heart or feel it contained within your heart.

Now continue to fill your heart with those feelings of appreciation until it overflows and flows out to the rest of the body, including any problem areas. Feel the appreciation flowing out from your heart all the way down your legs to your toes, all the way down your arms to your fingers, and up from your heart to the top of your head. If there are any negative emotions, have them be carried out of the body on the flow of appreciation.

I once took a moment while swimming in the ocean and did this practice. I thought of it as I watched the sun dancing on the surface of the water late in the day -- a dazzling view that evoked immediate gratitude. I then imagined those sparkling diamonds of light in my heart, whose walls were transparent, and then flowing outward and back into the water and their source. I still use that image when I practice this meditation.

I learned this exercise from Walter H. Schmitt, Jr., D.C., who practices and teaches Applied Kinesiology in Chapel Hill, NC and at various seminars throughout the world. He in turn, credits John Schmitt, D.C. for the exercise and Jerry Kaiser, for his presentation on behalf of the HeartMath Institute in 1998.

According to Dr. Schmitt, research points to "the heart as the sergeant who is calling out the beat for all of the other natural body oscillators, that is, all the other organs in the body. When the heart is functioning optimally, all other organs function better. This means that the heart is responsive to the various stresses in life and adapts to them appropriately. When the heart is not properly responding and adapting to stress, other organs are likely to function improperly." Heart beat responsiveness to stress is measurable and is called the heart rate variability (HRV).

Schmitt further explains that the "greater the HRV, the greater the adaptability of the heart and the smaller the chance for disease development in the heart or anywhere." Positive emotions have a positive effect on increasing HRV. Stress, anger or other negative emotional states decrease HRV.

"HeartMath (Institute) research has shown that their techniques, performed for just minutes, have good effects on the HRV, respiration, adrenal hormone secretion, and even improves the immune system of the intestines. And this helps these things for at least six hours if performed just once!"

All this sounds very left brain and scientific or conversely, to some, a bit on the magical side. But here we have science supporting the ancient teachings of practicing gratitude, appreciation and loving-kindness. And even if it had no measurable impact on our physical well-being, what a joy and sense of peace we find when first we recognize and bring appreciation to ourselves, making a home for it in our hearts. I like to think that it is the resonance of those feelings, spread throughout our being, that can not only help us be well, but which can possibly change the world.