HRV and Yoga: Heart Rate Variability Training

Sympathetic Nervous System
Sympathetic Nervous System – Illustration from OpenStax College – Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site

Science and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) helps to quantify the effects of yoga and meditation. Yogis have had this heart intelligence for thousands of years. Yoga works. Now we can prove the effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Like a checks and balances system, the autonomic nervous system helps the body regulate itself. The “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system and the “digest and rest” parasympathetic nervous system work in tandem. If they become unbalanced for long periods of time it can lead to dis-ease. We can keep tabs on the ANS system using HRV readings to track the positive, balancing effects of a regular yoga practice over time.

Heart Rate Variability is a calculation of the miniscule changes in the heart rate from beat to beat. It turns out that what happens between the individual beats is a more accurate gauge of heart heath than measuring your average heart rate at the doctor’s office a few times a year. We now have several ways for self-tracking to measure both heart rate and HRV activity. Inexpensive tools that are available to individual yoga practitioners, yoga teachers and yoga therapists. Before now equipment used by medical professionals in a hospital or doctor’s office were cost prohibitive for personal use. Low cost, professional-level accuracy and ease of use bring personal health monitoring to your smartphone, tablet or computer.

This is good news for the yoga community. We can determine baseline heart rates and heart rate variability for an individual yoga practitioner. The effects of a HRV-focused yoga practice can be compared to the baseline and measured over time. Yoga works. Let’s prove it! It is true that yoga takes a holistic approach to health. And it is true that HRV is established by the body holistically by circadian rhythms, metabolism and core body temperature. It does not take a huge leap to see how heart rate variability training coupled with a yoga practice will improve overall health. Yoga and meditation are by nature and tradition a heart healthy practice. The anecdotal evidence suggests that yoga, meditation, and pranayama improves sleep, aids digestion, reduces stress, regulates the heart and can bring the heart and mind into coherence. Heart Rate Variability is our way to quantify the age-old claims of yoga’s ability to improve overall health.