As a teacher, one of my favorite civilizations to explore with my students in Social Studies is the Ancient Egyptians. Middle schoolers are immediately enthralled with their fascinating death rituals which support their beliefs in the afterlife. The Ancient Egyptians believed that their heart ruled their emotional life and was the most essential organ. Therefore, after the death of an Ancient Egyptian the body would undergo a complex embalming and mummification process, leaving only the heart to remain in the body. Other essential organs would be removed and preserved in canopic jars, and the brain would be removed through the nose with a tool resembling a knitting needle. The brain would be discarded as the Ancient Egyptians felt it was unimportant. It was the heart that needed to remain. The purpose of this 40 day long ritual was to preserve the body so it could reconnect with its soul in the afterlife.

As wise scientists, my students and I would laugh at the foolishness of the Ancient Egyptians. Throw away the brain? Ha! Didn’t they know that the brain was the most critical organ for human functioning? Those ancient people had so much to learn.

That was 20 years ago. Modern science now tells a different story about the significance of the heart and suggests that the Ancient Egyptians might have been on to something.

The first heart transplant was performed in 1967, and since then, many heart transplant recipients have shared stories in which they take on characteristics of the donor. In one instance, a woman received the heart of an 18 year old boy who died in a motorcycle accident. She woke up from her surgery thirsty for a beer (which she had never preferred before), and also had an unmistakable new craving for Kentucky Fried Chicken. When she was finally able to connect with the donor’s family, they confirmed many of the new preferences, habits and feelings she had taken on post-surgery as those of their son. Stories like these abound. To read more, click here.

Thanks to the invention of the magnetocardiogram (MCG), we now know that the magnetic field of the heart can reach up to 3 feet outside our bodies. In fact, the heart is the most powerful source of electromagnetic energy in the human body, producing the largest rhythmic electromagnetic field of any of the body’s organs; 100 times stronger than than the field generated by the brain.  (Source)

Lately, I’ve been working on spending more time in my heart space. As a longtime teacher of science and social studies, I tend to be “heady”, always looking for ways to intellectualize and explain things. Exploring research on this heart topic helps my “heady” self become open to what the research suggests and makes the evidence more believable to me. Understanding the physical science of the heart helps me to make connections to the subtle energy of the heart. For example, maybe this is why our hearts beat and flutter when we are close to someone we love. I plan to check in and listen to my heart more often than I have in the past.

In fact, our human expressions validate these findings and confirm what we inherently and intuitively already know. We hear songs (Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart, Heart of Glass, My Heart Will Go On) and use idioms (a heart of gold, a big heart, brokenhearted) that refer to the heart everyday. When was the last time you heard a popular song about your kidneys? Exactly.

So as Valentine’s Day approaches, a holiday devoted to all things heart related, give your own heart some love and appreciation. It’s a timeless tradition that’s been celebrated by ancient cultures for more than 5000 years. The Ancient Egyptians were very wise indeed about matters of the heart.