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The Healing Power of the Heart

Hwee-Meng Tan

A lot of people have asked me how I started my career as a healer. There were many wake-up calls and many signs that called me to the path of healing. But the primary one was that I needed healing most myself. Just as I have studied many healing modalities, I have been the client of numerous therapists, healers, body workers and spiritual teachers. Over the years I experimented with many healing paths and disciplines.

One of the paths that have influenced me most deeply is the Path of the Heart. In a very famous quote, Don Juan, a master shaman advised his student in The Teachings of Don Juan,

Does the path have a good heart? 
If it does, the path is good.
If it doesn’t, it is of no use.
Both paths lead nowhere,
but one has a heart and the other doesn’t.
One makes for a joyful journey.
As long as you follow it you are one with it.
The other will make you curse your life.
One makes you strong and the other weakens you. 

Over the years, I have been convinced of the wisdom of this advice. I truly believe that having power, whether physical, sexual, intelligent, financial, psychic, or spiritual, without heart is dangerous.

In my opinion, many current problems in the world are caused by people choosing to walk down the path with no heart. What would our world look like if our words and our actions were guided by an open heart that has manifested fully its innate qualities of love, compassion, tolerance, kindness and forgiveness?

On a personal level, if we really loved ourselves, if we were really kind towards ourselves, we would treat ourselves like the most precious child on earth. Physically, we would never do anything to harm ourselves such as work long hours to the point of exhaustion. We would not let anyone hit us. Emotionally, we would not tolerate verbal abuse from anyone. Mentally, we would not attack ourselves with violent, critical, and abusive self-judgments. Not many of us have achieved that level of open-heartedness to ourselves.

On a global level, if we truly opened our hearts to one another, there would be no more wars, nor famines, nor environmental disasters.

The world is evolving more compassionately, but we still have a long way to go. As a result, many people work tirelessly for the healing of this planet in different capacities. One of the humanitarians that I admire is Marshall Rosenberg. He is the founder of Non-Violent Communication. He travels around the world, facilitating compassionate communication between fighting sectors such as husbands and wives, employers and employees and different racial groups. After working with so many warring factions, he posed 2 very interesting questions:

1. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?
2. What allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?

It is fascinating that a man like Rosenberg who has dedicated his life to being a peacemaker between conflicting parties, assumes that our basic human nature is compassionate. Notice that he asked, “What disconnects us from our compassion, NOT what makes us compassionate?” In other words, we are born compassionate but circumstances happen in which we disconnect from our compassion which is one of the core qualities of our hearts.

So, in this installment, I am going to write about how STRESS really separates us from our hearts. In the next installment, we will look at how our CHILDHOOD can play a huge role in closing our hearts down.


A lot of people have this misconception that love, compassion and all the qualities of the heart are soft and fluffy concepts. We think that love is a beautiful ideal with no muscle power. How many of us have been repeatedly indoctrinated with the slogans, ‘Be brave, be tough’?

Many of us wonder, “What have love and compassion got to do with bringing home a paycheck? Paying the mortgage? How do tolerance and kindness help us survive in a competitive business world? Get promoted?”

We feel that being heart-centered is a great spiritual ideal but it has nothing to do with the real business of living.

And yet, the latest studies in science have proven what all religions have preached for ages, that heart qualities such as compassion, love, forgiveness, and tolerance, have a positive and remarkable beneficial effect on our health and wellbeing. Qualities of the heart are not just mushy and sentimental values but in fact, are critical to our survival.

There are many books on the market now detailing these studies, encouraging people to take love and compassion seriously. I will share some of the more famous ones with you right now.


Dr. Dean Ornish is very famous for his work in reversing heart disease through a low-fat diet and exercise. What were ignored were his findings that the factor that brought the greatest stress relief and healing benefits for heart patients was not the diet and exercise but love. He was so frustrated this particular piece of information was ignored by the media and medical system that he wrote another book, Love and Survival which focused on how and why love is important to health and well-being.

On the healing power of love and intimacy, he wrote:
“I am not aware of any other factor in medicine – not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes.”


In the 1980s, David McClelland, a psychologist at Harvard, showed a group of students a video about Mother Teresa. As she moved among the poor and destitute, she was the embodiment of care and compassion.

To determine if the students were impacted by this video, he compared their immune system before and after the video. We have an antibody called secretory IgA in our saliva and throughout our bodies. IgA is an important measurement of immune system because it is the one of the first line of defense against invading pathogens.

Test results found an immediate rise in IgA levels after the video. What this study proved is that when you watch a video of care and compassion, your immune system is strengthened!


Another group of scientists at the HeartMath Institute was fascinated by the Mother Theresa study. If watching a video can increase your immune system, what would happen if you consciously induce the heart feelings in yourself? In fact, what would happen to the rest of your body and to your mind? The HeartMath Institute decided to research heart intelligence.

The HeartMath Institute uncovered 2 facts about the heart. Below is a simplified explanation.

a. Your heart has an electromagnetic field which is 5000 times stronger than the brain and can be measured up to 8 to 10 feet away with a sensitive detector. The heart, like cell phones and radio stations, transmit information via an electromagnetic field. The heart constantly influences the rest of the body, particularly the brain, via its electromagnetic field.

b. The heart is the strongest biological oscillator in the human system. The pendulum clock is also an oscillator and its pendulum swings back and forth, in a rhythmic tick–tock. So, if you put many pendulum clocks together in a room, the biggest oscillator is going to synchronize the other tick-tocks in the room to its tick-tock. All physical organs in the human body are oscillators and the heart is the strongest oscillator. Guess what the heart is doing all the time? The heart is constantly pulling the rest of the body’s systems into entrainment with its rhythms.
These scientists realized that if you influence the heart, the whole body is automatically influenced, which translates as better brain function, more clarity, heightened intuition, and better immunity.

So, the next logical question was what influences the heart positively and what influences the heart negatively?

Positive emotions such as appreciation, compassion, care and love, and all the qualities of the heart actually affect the heart’s rhythmic patterns in a positive way.

When you are in your heart, that is when you are compassionate and loving, you synchronize and increase the coherence of the heart’s rhythmic patterns. When the rhythms become more coherent, a cascade of neural and biochemical events begin affecting virtually every organ in the body in a healthy manner, such as improving hormonal balance and immune system response and lowering high blood pressure.

Love, compassion, forgiveness….. It is proven irrevocably that heart qualities have life giving qualities.

So, what influences the heart rhythm negatively? Stress!

Heart rhythms of people who were in stressful jobs such as policemen, people in stressful situations such as stressful marriages and people who have frenzied, chaotic and frantic lifestyles created disordered heart rhythms. This creates a negative chain reaction in our bodies: our blood vessels constrict, our blood pressure rises which lead to hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Resentment, anger, frustration, worry, disappointment; all the negative emotional states, justified or not, take a toll on your heart, your brain, and the rest of your body.

From their studies, they realized that you can’t just wait till you feel like being loving or compassionate. It is important to cultivate core heart feelings on demand instead of at random, because the benefits were so remarkable for personal growth and health.

The easiest heart feeling to cultivate is appreciation!

Appreciation is a powerful tool of the heart. Just look at the benefits!

1. It has a highly healing effect on your body.

2. It brings significant relief from everyday stresses. It helps balance the nervous system.

3. It amplifies the power of your heart and your love. Relationship improves.

4. It shifts your attitudes and perceptions quickly. It helps you feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically. Your outlook on the world is more positive.

5. It makes you feel better: You become more appreciative, more forgiving, and less judgmental.

6. It smoothes even the most difficult situations. Problems are easier to deal with and you see the bigger picture.

The great news is that appreciation is a much easier feeling to generate than any other heart qualities such as love or forgiveness. Try these practices for at least a year. I have seen remarkable transformation in people.

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, write down at least 3 things you can appreciate about your life. What if you don’t feel appreciative? Practice noticing the simple things that you may have taken for granted. For example, drinking clean water, being healthy, living in a safe country and having friends you can talk to.

2. Find appreciation in even the most trying circumstances.
a. Write down your difficult or challenging situation.
b. Write down 3 things about this situation that you appreciate.

3. Express your appreciation to people around you. Learn to say thank you, write a note or send a token of appreciation. Be a light in people’s lives!