Your Health

Local authors connect heart and brain in user-friendly book

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Los Altos author and life coach Catherine Athans, Ph.D., has three books and a CD under her belt with one goal in mind: liberating people enslaved by negative thinking.

“I wanted to get the message out that people can be free,” she said.

Athans, a licensed psychotherapist, has worked for the Center for Research in Disease Prevention and the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University and serves as a guest lecturer around the world.

Negative thinking can manifest physically as disease, low-self esteem, depression and an unwillingness to try something new, Athans said. Such self-sabotaging behaviors are preventable if we give the heart its due credit and attention.


The heart-brain connection

Connecting heart and brain is the theme of Athan’s latest book, “The Heart Brain” (Angels Island Press, 2011), a user-friendly guide to the heart-brain system that she co-authored with another Los Altos resident, speech therapist Marie-France Louvel.

In the book, Athans and Louvel explain that miscommunication between the heart and the brain can cause stress, unhappiness and poor health.

The titular “Heart Brain” might come as somewhat of a surprise to those who are not aware of the heart’s functions beyond as a blood pump.

According to Athans and Louvel, the heart has its own network of neurons, a factory of hormones and even the ability to create its own memories. It synchronizes the functions of other organs, and like an insider, it is best informed about the goings-on of the body. The heart passes this information on to the “old,” or emotional, brain, which then filters it and relays some of it to the “new,” or rational, brain.

The book states that the heart is the first to know when you are sick, feel butterflies in your stomach or have symptoms of a disease you choose to ignore. Athans and Louvel drive their message home with persistence: Ignore your heart at your own peril.

“The Heart Brain” emphasizes that proper communication between the heart and the brain enhances one’s overall health. Miscommunication between the organs – usually a result of stress – can lead to poor health, because the heart cannot fully inform the old and new brains of possible invading viruses, bacteria or fungi. Therefore, restoring that communication is the key to returning to good health, Athans and Louvel contend.

Athans said Louvel introduced her to the French book “The Instinct to Heal” by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., which served as inspiration for “The Heart Brain.”

“This is what I believe in,” said Athans of “The Instinct to Heal.” “This is what I teach my clients.”

According to Louvel’s introduction, the authors set out to distill Servan-Schreiber’s book into a nonacademic format accessible to all.

“The Heart Brain” turns complex physiological interactions into an easy-to-understand, breezy read that never loses sight of applicability in the reader’s day-to-day life. Part of that is due to pacing and information portion-control. For example, the pathways connecting the heart and the brain are presented as bite-sized topics designed to read, reread and ponder in peace after dinner.

Getting in touch with the heart

In short, “The Heart Brain” argues that stress is actually not the family squabble, the lost parking spot or the disastrous meeting with the boss, but our reaction to it.

Athans said that as a life coach, her daily work involves helping people confront their fears and realize that their anxieties are not based in reality. Of course, the book points out, we cannot engineer our feelings to our tastes. The trick to reining in our emotions is to get back in touch with their source – the heart. To that end, Athans and Louvel include a chapter on heart exercises.

“It’s really an important activity to be in touch with the heart,” Athans said. “If we do that, we can resolve a lot of important issues.”

For more information or to purchase “The Heart Brain,” visit

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