Heart-rate variability (Controlled Breathing)

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Heart rate variability: the relaxation response

Everyone knows the importance of relaxation as a prerequisite for healing, and how often it proves an elusive target to achieve. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) training is a form of biofeedback training designed to elicit the relaxation response so necessary for healing.

HRV has many direct practical applications, including for insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and heart disease.

This process is simple and quick to learn, and fascinating to see demonstrated.

By continuously monitoring heart rate, calculated after every heart beat interval has been precisely measured, minor variations in heart rate become evident.

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These variations can be displayed on screen and analysed by computer, and given a quality rating.

A stressed heart will have a chaotic variability in heart rate. A relaxed heart will have a smooth sinusoidal variation curve, indicative of a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

It is possible by simple breathing techniques to train a chaotic stressed system back into balance, thereby promoting a relaxed state of body and mind.

Because the autonomic nervous system also regulates the lungs, gut, bladder, and peripheral circulation, as well as the heart, this breathing process also brings these other systems into balance, promoting relaxed efficient functioning throughout the whole body.


Heart Rate Variability – controlled breathing – is arguably the single most important self-care knowledge you can acquire.
Dr Chris Millar


The theory supporting HRV training has an established basis in physiology and biochemistry. For a more scientific explanation see: A brief overview of the chemistry of respiration by Peter M Litchfield, PhD, in: California Biofeedback Vol 19, No 1 (Spring 2003). Training for good breathing chemistry involves learning how to:… www.pb.edu/Breathing_Chemistry.pdf