Simple Exercises Affect Heart Rate Variability

By Rollin McCraty, MD, and By Lee Lipsenthal, MD.

Many different techniques and exercises have emerged for reducing stress and shifting heart rate variability from incoherent, jagged, low amplitude patterns to coherent, smooth, high-amplitude forms. The latter are consistent with both a sense of well being and a reduction in cardiovascular risk.

Following are two specific techniques from the Heart-Math® program. The first, called Quick Coherence®, is ideal for on-the-spot situations when longer meditations are not practical. The latter is a longer meditation, which gives the greatest benefits if practiced regularly. Both techniques are enjoyable, easy to learn, and easy to teach to patients.

Quick Coherence

Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Start by taking deep breaths through the heart area. This brings your focus to your heart. Next, think of a positive feeling or attitude. For this you can use an image of a place, person or activity that gives you a positive emotion. Attempt to feel this emotion in your body as you continue to breathe deeply. This technique can be used quickly and effectively to diminish stress in the moment.

Loving-Kindness or Appreciation Meditation

This is a similar technique leading to quick coherence, but done for a much longer period of time, usually 20 minutes or more. In this practice you will use the image of someone you love.

Most people find focusing on those they love to be the most pleasing form of meditation. It intentionally brings the focus to the feeling of love, or being in love. It uses emotion as a focal point. All too often, we focus on something that causes anger. This is a way to inoculate against that habit.

Find a comfortable position, close your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths, until you feel relaxed and calm. Now visualize a person you love and appreciate. See yourself with that person. What do you see there? Are you sitting or standing? Can you feel the ground beneath your feet or the place that you are sitting? Try feeling the air. What does it feel like? Are there any smells you can identify?

Now focus on the person you’re with. Focus on your appreciation and love. In your mind, tell this person how you love and appreciate them. Hear what they say back to you, if anything. Be with them and admire them as you would a great piece of art. Thank them for being in your life. If your mind wanders, bring your focus back to this person or someone else you love.

You may want to walk together in a favorite place. If so, feel the ground beneath your feet. Smell and feel the air around you. Listen for any sounds you might hear. Enjoy the place and whom ever you are with.

When you are ready, say thank you and goodbye to your partner and bring your mind back to the room. By giving yourself this experience, you have altered your physiology as if you had really been there.

Coherence Research References




Rollin McCraty

Authors Rollin McCraty, and Lee Lipsenthal are board certified doctors. For more information visit HeartMath.org.




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