Liberating unmourned loss/hurt and unforgiven guilt/shame

Anchoring Heart Technique

The Anchoring Heart Technique is an age-old somatic practice that grounds people and helps them feel more secure. It is simple and straightforward; the hard part is remembering to do it when you feel uncomfortable feelings you prefer to disconnect from. 

WHEN YOU ARE CENTERED: Calm energy usually resides low and deep within yourself.  You might report feeling open and relaxed.

WHEN YOU ARE “Beside Yourself”: Anxious energy usually rises; it’s no longer deep in your belly, but climbs up in your chest. Your voice often rises in pitch. You might report feeling uptight and flighty.

WHEN YOU ACCESS INNATE BODY WISDOM: Have you ever received bad news that caught you off guard? Maybe you gasped and grabbed your chest with an open palm, UNCONSCIOUSLY anchoring yourself. The “Anchoring Heart Technique” simply applies the same gesture CONSCIOUSLY. It is:
       • an act of self compassion you can use whenever you feel anxious, stressed, or helpless
       • useful whenever you are in need of strength, courage, or patience
       • helpful to re-train  your brain and the synapses in your nervous system to allow emotional pain and hurt sit side by side with peace (instead of fear)

There are 3 steps to the Anchoring Heart Technique:
  • anchor the Heart firmly and tenderly & Breathe deeply
  • feel whatever uncomfortable feeling that you are experiencing (even if it's just for a few seconds)
  • be curious about the place inside that is NOT afraid of emotional pain (builds awareness and new synaptic nerve connections)
You can use one hand or two; you can keep your eyes open, lower them, or close them -- whatever is most comfortable for you or whatever the circumstance might dictate.

Marie Bainbridge, a Vietnam Veteran Bronze-star recipient, uses the Anchoring Heart Technique when her PTSD is triggered. However, she says she also uses it in many ordinary situations: "I can be impatient in traffic. If I'm in a store and someone is blocking the aisle so noone can get around them, I want to huff and puff and complain about their self-centeredness. Now, I use the Anchoring Heart Technique to cultivate patience, courtesy, and self-control. It really helps."

People can also use the Anchoring Heart Technique with others. People often need anchoring and security, especially during times filled with uncertainty. If a calm person places their open hand on an unsettled person’s sternum, it can often help him/her feel secure, more stable, and less anxious. Place your hand firmly on the other person’s heart and just breathe deeply to induce calmness. This often helps the other person feel more connected with themselves and more secure in their own skin.
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An alternative form of the Anchoring Heart Technique is to approach the heart from behind – in other words placing your hand firmly on their back between their shoulder blades. This conveys a feeling of “I’ve got your back.” It can be used with people you don’t know well when placing your hand on their heart would be too intimate or too invasive.

Teaching Others about
the Anchoring Heart Technique

Ralph Ozmun was the Volunteer Coordinator at Smoky Mountain Home Health & Hospice. After learning about the Anchoring Heart Technique at a Soul Injury conference, he went back to his agency and provided an inservice on the topic. Below is what he writes about what happened following the inservice:

"The next day one of our nurses and her assistant went out to change the wound dressing on a patient. As the patient became combative, the aide said to the nurse, 'Let’s try that anchoring heart thing Ralph told us about yesterday.'  The nurse placed her hand firmly, but tenderly, on the patient's heart, and speaking his name she softly said, 'breathe, breathe,' The patient immediately calmed down and allowed them to change his wound dressing without further incident.
 
A few days later, another nurse at Smoky Mountain, Debbie, happened to be in the waiting room of our local hospital emergency department and witnessed an elderly woman in hysterics as the ambulance personnel were wheeling her in the entrance. Debbie walked up to them and asked, 'Do you mind if I try something I just learned about?'  With permission, she knelt down, placed her hand firmly but tenderly on the woman’s heart and softly said, 'Breathe, breathe.' The woman’s frantic behavior calmed almost instantly.  Even her countenance had changed; the look of wide-eyed panic had been replaced with an accepting calmness.
 
As you can imagine, the ambulance personnel, as well as those in the waiting room, were amazed by what they had just witnessed, and asked Debbie 'What did you just do?'  Nurse Debbie taught the Anchoring Heart Technique to everyone in the waiting room, some of the emergency room staff, and the ambulance personnel.
 
A few days later, Debbie was asked by a doctor's office to come explain Hospice services to the staff. During the inservice, the office staff told Debbie what a bad day they were having. Some related how that, even before arriving at work, frustrating and stressful events had occurred. The more the staff talked, the more evident it became to Debbie that they needed a moment of self compassion. So, she led them through the 3 steps of the Anchoring Heart Technique. When they finished, the staff remarked with almost disbelief, how much lighter they felt, as if a weight or burden had been lifted.
 
At the next doctor's office she called on, Debbie related what had happened at the previous doctor’s office.That staff asked her to lead them through the Anchoring Heart Technique. When they had finished that staff also remarked how they felt, lighter and yet stronger.

Due to the response’s she received that day, Debbie asked the company’s marketing department to design a flyer describing the 3 steps to the Anchoring Heart Technique. The flyer was used as an educational tool during the month of February, which is American Heart Month."
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The above stories might make the Anchoring Heart Technique sound like a "magic bullet"; it's not. Nevertheless, you may be surprised at how powerful this simple technique can be. Whether you are a clinician or an administrator, you can teach people this simple tool, as Angie Snyder, Director of Clinical Excellence at Bayada Hospice did. This is how she describes it:

"In my current role in hospice, I provide support to the service offices, and do not get many chances to be involved in direct patient care.  A few weeks ago, I overheard a phone conversation about a Marine who was struggling with anxiety and agitation.  The patient was lying on his couch and needed to be moved into a hospital bed for his comfort.  He became increasingly agitated when his daughter approached him, and this resulted in the daughter calling frantically to the hospice office.  The discussion I overheard included a plan to have the daughter administer Lorazepam and/or Haldol to calm him down.  I immediately came out of my office and joined the conversation.  My biggest concern was that this Marine was declining, feeling helpless, and giving him Lorazepam or Haldol could have a paradoxical reaction.  These drugs can make a person feel MORE helpless. If they have a history of trauma, they might fight harder to keep control of the situation which looks like agitation.  I asked if there was anyone in the home other than the patient’s daughter.  The response I received was “just the home health aide, and she can’t help.”  I called the home and spoke to the aide.

I asked her a few questions and we discussed how this situation may be causing the patient to feel helpless.  I then instructed the aide to go over to the couch and get down at eye level with the patient.  She did that. I then asked her to firmly place her hand on the patients back and to say to him “you must feel so helpless being on this couch.”  I wanted her to simply validate his suffering.  She did that. I then told her to remind him to breathe.  He tolerated all of this well. Then I asked the aide to move her hand over the patient’s heart and apply the 'Anchoring Heart Technique' to ground him in his own body. I again instructed her to say (pause and change voice inflection) “You must feel so helpless lying on this couch, and unable to get up and care for yourself.” (pause)  Again she reminded him to breathe and continued to sit with her hand over his heart until the anxiety and agitation subsided.  This aide reported back to me that this technique worked within 10 minutes."