Heart Rate Variability Makes the News: Finally, after 3,500 years

Source: CNN News: Date: Oct 19th

STRESS!!! We all have it. We are up to the eyebrows with stress and are assaulted on all sides, every day with anxiety, job stress, chemical stress, fighting politicians, anxious news reports, TV with murder and mayhem. Where do we find a quite moment and learn to unwind? And does stress have an impact on our health?

Heart rate variability is the cutting edge of current cardiology research. We are finding that the “tone” of your autonomic system is defined by your output of sympathetic nervous system impulses. When you are putting out heaps of adrenaline from stress, you make your heart more touchy and irritable. The result is sudden death because your heart then has the misfortune to go into a lethal rhythm which doesn’t pump blood. There you are, sitting in your living room and you just drop away. That’s a tragedy that steals hundreds of thousands of lives a year in America. Can it be averted?

You want the ability of your body to have a wide range of variability in your heart rate as you go through your daily life. A short and narrow range, reduced variability, has been associated with much high risk after a heart attack, and in many other medical conditions. A healthy autonomic nervous system has a balanced effect on your heart rate variability, giving you a wider range of variability. The narrowed range we see with disease states is also recorded in PTSD, in chronic fatigue syndrome and many other stress and fatigue related diseases. Wikipedia and Biocon websites explain much more detail if you are interested.

Now, this isn’t anything new. It turns out that meditative traditions, most notably from India from about 2,500-3,500 years ago have already mastered this. They have had a long emphasis on learning breathing techniques as a way of bringing calm back to their lives. A few minutes of patterned breathing, focusing on deeper, longer and slower breaths have an immediate and marked impact on the level of your autonomic tone. In effect, what you are doing is taming your lizard brain, the primitive part of your brain that runs the rate at which you breath, your temperature, your heart rate, your sex drive, your appetite and all the other functions your body naturally does over which you are not sure you have much more control than a “lizard”.

Now, CNN is reporting on the spreading use of this technique to help folks with asthma, chronic pain, fatigue, irritable bowel, heart disease and many other stressful illnesses. What we have done in America, in our typically mechanical way, is make a machine that measures our heart rate variability, and by giving us immediate feedback, allowing us to discover how to influence our heart rate by breathing. Meditative traditions focus on the mental exercise that does the same effect more directly because your brain isn’t being distracted by the process of observing the data, like the auditory tone you get in response to your heart rate changing. It may be a moot point because both get to the same training effect and lower your stress, control your autonomic system and increase your healthy variability.

WWW. What will work for me. Take five minutes and practice taking long deep breaths and slowly counting to five as you breathe in and then five as you breathe out. Do 10 breaths and see if you don’t feel different. I learned Transcendental Meditation 35 years ago and cured my muscle contraction headaches in about 3 months. I haven’t had a headache in 35 years. It’s worked for me.

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Written by John Whitcomb

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