Heart Rate Variability

This month and next, the focus is on breathing. The breath is a gateway to our physiology, psychology, and even our behavior.

Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) is the natural occurrence of the variation of the heart rate during the breath cycle. As we breathe in, the heart rate speeds up a bit, as we breathe out, it slows down. This is a good thing, an arrhythmia that you actually want.

The measurement of this variation is called Heart Rate Variability (HRV), and it’s a measure of resilience. Low HRV is associated with the chronic stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. When we’re stressed, there’s minimal to no variation in heart rate. High HRV is associated with a strong parasympathetic foundation and is associated with increased cardiovascular fitness and increased stress resilience.

Ways to improve your heart rate variability

  • practice mindfulness/meditation/yoga
  • get quality sleep
  • get regular physical activity
  • practice slow breathing and/or lengthened exhalations
  • connect with your favorite people or animals
  • eat a variety of healthy foods
  • spend time in nature

A short practice that you can do anywhere, anytime

Take a few minutes now to focus on your breathing. Slow down your breath, and imagine a small increase in your heart rate as you breathe in. As you breathe out, visualize your heartbeat slowing down. Breathe in oxygen; breathe out tension.

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