Gateway Gazette

HeartMath = Well-being

 

Airdrie program teaches techniques to cut stress

By Kerri Robins

AIRDRIE — Taylor Ferguson finds himself at peace these days thanks to a ‘heart-brain connection’ he made through the HeartMath program, with help from Alberta Health Services (AHS) Rural Addiction and Mental Health Services.

Taylor Ferguson studies his heart rate variability on a graph created online using a foundation-funded sensor to monitor his heart patterns. By viewing his heart rate in real time, he is able to use breathing techniques to control it, reduce stress and improve well-being. (Photo by Paul Rotzinger and courtesy Taylor Ferguson)
Taylor Ferguson studies his heart rate variability on a graph created online using a foundation-funded sensor to monitor his heart patterns. By viewing his heart rate in real time, he is able to use breathing techniques to control it, reduce stress and improve well-being. (Photo by Paul Rotzinger and courtesy Taylor Ferguson)

“The program is what I consider to be ‘eyes wide open’ meditation and positive affirmation,” says the 40-year-old Langdon man. “I started the program last spring and it helps me stay grounded and relieves stress and anxiety.”

HeartMath’s philosophy is that there is a direct link between emotions, brain function and heart rhythms which can be measured and displayed by electronic devices.

Stress or anxiety can cause negative emotions that cause the heart rate to change and increase. By learning to control the heart rate through breathing techniques and viewing the change on a sensor, HeartMath clients learn to manage the stress in their lives.

Thanks to Airdrie Health Foundation, the program received $2,075 last April to purchase five sensors and five tablet computers — tools used as part of the HeartMath program.

The sensors monitor heart rate variability patterns – the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. Similar in look and size to a binder document clip, the sensor is attached to the earlobe on one end and connects on the other end to a tablet or smart phone that reads the heart rate variability through a free app that displays a graph onscreen.

The goal in wearing the sensor is to see a regular or ordered graph pattern where the heart rate speeds up when breathing in and slows while breathing out. To achieve an ordered pattern, clients use breathing techniques that are part of the training in HeartMath.

They can practise these breathing exercises while wearing the sensor and watching their graph patterns onscreen.

Yvonne Harris, AHS Mental Health Outreach Worker, Addictions and Mental Health Services – Chestermere and a certified instructor of the program, says she’s passionate about HeartMath.

“We teach breathing techniques because they’re helpful as one way of facing stressful situations,” she says.

“I started the program last spring and it helps me stay grounded and relieves stress and anxiety” — Taylor Ferguson on his participation in the HeartMath program. (Photos by Paul Rotzinger and courtesy Taylor Ferguson)
“I started the program last spring and it helps me stay grounded and relieves stress and anxiety” — Taylor Ferguson on his participation in the HeartMath program. (Photos by Paul Rotzinger and courtesy Taylor Ferguson)

Harris met Ferguson just over a year ago when he was experiencing difficulties with his divorce and knew HeartMath could help him.

She began training Ferguson in the program which involved four, one-on-one, 45-minute sessions, and a two-day workshop on how to use the sensors to view heart-rate variability.

Harris says once clients are properly trained and understand the effects of stress and how it relates to their body, they can opt to self-monitor their heart rate variability at home by purchasing one of the sensors.

“I truly believe in HeartMath and have seen it change people’s lives, and the sensor technology is nice for people because sometimes seeing is believing,” she says.

HeartMath was first introduced to AHS in 2008. To date, 26 AHS staff have been trained as certified instructors.

“More than 4,000 people, including AHS staff, have participated in the program since it began,” says Harris. “It was one of the programs offered to communities and families affected by southern Alberta flooding in 2013.”

The HeartMath program is free, but participants may opt to purchase their own sensors for use after finishing the workshops. The program is used in both one-on-one training as well as in group settings of 10-20 people.

Michelle Bates, Chair of the Airdrie Health Foundation, says she’s happy to support this heart-healthy program.

“We’re a relatively new foundation and this is one of the first initiatives we’ve worked on,” Bates says. “The (tablets) and sensors will support Airdrie and surrounding area residents and we’re excited to help Airdrie residents improve their well-being with funding to Airdrie Community Health Centre.”

As for Ferguson, he is doing well and happy to have discovered the HeartMath program.

“The program has helped me create my positive heart ‘library’,” he says. “I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who has helped me.”

For more information, please visit www.airdriehealthfoundation.ca

For information on the HeartMath program, please visit www.heartmath.com

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