What is heart rate variability and why train it? You can monitor the heart rate/the raw pulse line, fairly easily. Although there are some rules of thumb that you can can follow, training this directly isn’t very good because it is crude, everyone is different and it is context specific. HRV is basically how the intervals between heart beats varies. Variability itself is not a bad thing, it means the heart is responsive. Think of a responsive engine.
However it is how your heart responds that is more to the point. If it responds with a ‘misfire’ or is jittery it is not a coherent response. If you have good variability as well has high coherence that means you body can respond to stress and shock better, rather than in a downward spiral. This directly affect how you feel, and how you feel affects you physiologically and so on.
Enough talk, here are some diagrams, sort of a before and after. First the before:
You see a jaggedly line showing my HRV over 5 minutes using HeartMath coherence coach. It is OK for a first attempt, and I didn’t score too badly because the the challenge level was low. I’m not getting nice big looping variations, there is one big spike but other that there isn’t much variability. The line is jittery and not particularly smooth which means my heart is not the coherent in response to change. You can see the percentage value I stayed in low, medium, and high coherence according to that challenge level.
Like I said while you are recording you are using a coach, which is includes a pacer which is basically a dot moving along a sine wave, and the feedback which is a traffic light system which tells you if you are in low, medium or high coherence at that point in time.
Fast forward some months I’ve run the gauntlet increasing the challenge level gradually until I reached high. Then I started at the bottom again and worked my way up, but this time I didn’t use a coach instead I’m sitting breathing with my eyes closed in a ‘mindful’ way. A major part of the success is developing my own variation of sinusoidal breathing (I will explain that later).
So what does it say? Well you have what the call in the business as ‘lovely loops’, with a slight wobble in variability near the end but recovered nicely. 75% is high coherence with the longest duration in high 3 minutes out of a total of 10 minutes. There is no low coherence, and just dipped in an out of medium.
Ok this is one of my better performances, admittedly. However nowadays I’m more often than not ‘in the zone’.
The interesting thing is the heart rate. It is bit higher than the first example at 85 rather than 63. You might think the higher heart rate is bad but not necessarily. My heart turning over nicely, with no ill effects.
One of the main aspects of this kind of practice is you are learning a kind of focus that is outside of your everyday thoughts, and instead learning to ‘be in the moment’. Things don’t phase you how there would normally. No matter how resilient you are I’ll bet you that things going on around you like background noises affect you physiologically. Intrigued? Read on…