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Improving heart rate variability (HRV)

Several studies have shown that heart rate variability decreases when someone experiences stress, anxiety, phobias, panic, depression, and, more generally, when someone experiences psychological difficulties. The lower HRV levels that can observed in all these states can be interpreted as a loss of the parasympathetic system’s flexibility.

This lack of flexibility and a rigid system can lead to higher chances of experiencing somatic pathologies and could explain, in part, the negative consequences of stress on the brain and cardio-vascular systems.

Several researchers have underlined the predictive value of HRV in terms of our general health status and, more particularly, of our ability to regulate emotions.


Why relaxation is useful

Relaxation techniques and stress management techniques are efficient tools to improve heart rate variability. They lead to a better physiological balance, by reducing the harmful effects of stress on our system.

It has long been known that overall physiological balance can be obtained by reducing the activation of some of the body’s responses.

For example, a general physical and physiological state of relaxation can be obtained through muscular relaxation, by reducing tension in our muscles. Breathing techniques, which yoga has used for centuries, can serve a starting point to build a state of relaxation. Further, techniques that use modification of consciousness, such as hypnosis or sophrology, or techniques that resort to meditation, do lead to physiological changes which characterize a state of balance in our body.

Cardiac coherence

Biofeedback is the best technique for improving cardiac coherence

To be sure, relaxation techniques do impact heart rate variability and can be used to achieve better cardiac coherence, but the most efficient techniques are approaches that combines breathing control exercises and biofeedback-assisted heart rate variability control.

Breathing is a reflex activity—however, it can be acted upon, contrary to the other reflexes stemming from sympathetic activity. When one inhales, one’s heart rate increases, and it decreases when one exhales, which leads to a physiological variation of the time interval between two heart beats. When this variability is symmetric, it is perfectly harmonious. But when it isn’t symmetric, it is a sign that the physiological system, and particularly the autonomic nervous system, has been activated to respond to stress;

The state of perfect symmetry, which, in medical parlance, is called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), can be described as a state of cardiac coherence. Biofeedback-assisted heart rate variability control can allow to reach a state that is very close to perfect cardiac coherence.