When hearts breathe

December 31, 2020

Perhaps you have already heard about or practiced cardiac coherence? Did you know that at Le Monastère, we are trying to discover how the Augustinian Sisters heritage may have given their unique touch to this practice? Cardiac coherence is a technique based on the fact that people’s breathing and their heartbeats can match; that the heart and lungs can communicate with and serve each other. Cardiac coherence can provide several health benefits, improve your vitality and influence your mood!

A typical cardiac coherence session is brief. You inhale and exhale six times per minute for five minutes, ideally three times a day. Inhaling and exhaling are the same duration (5 seconds) and you need to alternate without any pause between the two. It’s is a quick, easy and effective method to increase the variability of your heartbeats and bring them into coherence. The technique was developed in the 1990s, but it took a while before it gained in popularity through the work of French doctor David Servan-Schreiber. He popularized the various stages developed and tested by the HeartMath Institute of California. He also explored the method’s clinical use for both psychiatry and cardiology.


Just a few minutes working within the heart for hours of benefits

Cardiac coherence studies point to long-term effects that may counteract the physical, emotional and social effects of stress. The immune system also benefits from the consistent practice of cardiac coherence. In our busy societies, as mental fatigue becomes a normal phenomenon, it is encouraging to learn that a brief, repeated and regular pattern of breathing has long-term effects on our ability to manage our emotions as well as take a step back from our frustrations and toxic thoughts. The heart then makes the brain function better, leading it to better handle stress.

Dr. Servan-Schreiber reports in his book Guérir that “effective management of one’s inner state can transform [mental] performance under stressful conditions.” And interestingly, work groups that have learned to master their inner responses act in a more harmonious way.

Double coherence at Le Monastère des Augustines

“Consistency induces inner calm, but it is not a method of relaxation: it is a method of action.” – David Servan-Schreiber

At Le Monastère, we inherited a substantial material heritage to preserve and enhance. We are also the custodians of a specific wisdom that we are constantly seeking to better understand for the benefit of our visitors and employees who want to take care of their health by focusing on their abilities to oversee their own vitality.

Cardiac coherence encourages us, as an organization, to explore different ways of applying it. We note that this technique is in line with our approach of fostering health autonomy. In addition, the practice benefits individuals as well as groups. These two reasons motivate us to explore different avenues to integrate cardiac coherence into our visitor services as well as into our organizational culture, with the members of our teams.

At Le Monastère des Augustines, we seize different opportunities to introduce employees to cardiac coherence, such as during team or large group meetings. We consider that it is five minutes well spent, which, as studies show, can facilitate harmony when the heart and the brain are in sync.

In addition to being introduced to cardiac coherence, Le Monastère employees have the opportunity to participate to the movment activities.


An Augustinian brand of cardiac coherence

Dr. Servan-Schreiber reports that beyond the benefits of regularly practicing the basic technique, cardiac coherence can be maximized by consciously bringing our focus to the heart region within in our chest, quite simply by imagining ourselves breathing through the heart (a heart focus). When a person has “too much on the heart,” cardiac coherence, combined with focus, can gradually prevent the heart from accelerating during a stressful or troubling situation.

“An effective way to encourage it,” writes Servan-Schreiber, “is to directly evoke a sense of thankfulness or gratitude and let it invade our chest. The heart is particularly sensitive to gratitude, any feeling of love for a being, a thing, or even the idea of a benevolent universe. “

Making the breath and the heart “talk,” having an intention, making a place in your own heart or to care for another person who needs comfort (heart feeling) resonates with the Augustinians’ values and gestures of kindness.

The Augustinian Sisters have a discipline of life marked by regular spiritual and collective practices. Practicing cardiac coherence in a group bears resemblance to the Augustinians’ well-regulated communal life. Breathing together as a large group bring us closer to the Augustinians’ focus on community.

The burning heart is an important symbol used to designate Saint Augustine, who is central in the Augustinian Sisters’ philosophy. The symbol is also found on the coat of arms representing the community.

“Researchers at the HeartMath Institute, says Servan-Schreiber, have shown that the mere fact of evoking a positive emotion, through memory or visualization, very quickly induces a transition from cardiac variability to a phase of coherence. This coherence of rhythm is reflected on the emotional brain, which, in turn, reinforces the heart’s coherence within a virtuous circle.”

In this broader perspective, cardiac coherence then becomes a practice based on breathing, its rhythm and its depth. It is an act of self-love, love for others and being thankful, which brings us closer to spirituality.

All of these potential connections have resulted in us making cardiac coherence a distinctive, enriched practice at Le Monastère. It our objective to better understand the Augustinians’ heritage and share it with our visitors.

Claudine Papin
Social Heritage Advisor


David Servan-Schreiber, Guérir, Éditions Robert Laffont, 2003, 302 pages