As a non-medical person, I’m always interested in learning more of practices for wellbeing. Last year, I became aware of the term Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
The term came to my attention first through a heart rhythm meditation (HRM) study I was invited to participate in. This year, it came around again in the form of a new Garmin, my smart watch. Apparently, I’m destined to explore further.
Web MD has a simple definition: Heart rate variability (HRV) measures the difference in time between each heartbeat. The Cleveland Clinic defines HRV as where the amount of time between your heartbeats fluctuates slightly.
The purpose of the Heart Rhythm Meditation Study was to determine: 1) if the practice of heart rhythm meditation (HRM) for 10 weeks would improve wellbeing and 2) to determine if the regular practice of HRM would improve HRV at rest (resting, not during meditation).
Prior to our first meditation session, we were given surveys with many questions, most relating to our general feeling of wellbeing, After the survey, we were each given an EKG. Following our 10-week sessions we answered a survey again and had an exit-EKG.
The expectation was that in the other six days of the week the participants would meditate on their own for a period of at least 20 minutes.
Once-a-week meditations were done as a group over Zoom, There were three leaders and approximately 50 participants.
Although I have been engaging in meditation off and on since young adulthood, this form of meditation was new to me in several respects.
Participants were encouraged to sit in a chair with back support, feet on the floor and upright posture. We would meditate under guidance of one of the leaders.
The heart is the center of this form of meditation; the physical heart and the emotional and spiritual heart. Focusing on the heart, it becomes a portal to going deeper into oneself.
We learned to breathe in rhythm with our heartbeats. We inhaled to a count of somewhere around five to six beats, depending on the heart rate of the participants. We would then, as fluidly as possible, exhale to the same count.
This conscious rhythm breathing required us to listen for and find the rhythm of our heartbeat. It was more successful on some days than others. If we couldn’t otherwise feel or hear that heartbeat, placing a hand on our heart was helpful in bringing heart and breathing into rhythm.
Meditations began with breathing in and out with mouth closed (earth breath), then as guided breathing with an open mouth (air breath), exhaling in through the nose and out through the mouth (water breath) then followed by inhaling with an open mouth and exhaling through the nose (fire breath). Finally, sessions would end with a brief time returning to earth breath.
As meditation began, we were encouraged to keep a journal, what one of the leaders described as a conversation with the soul. I went back to my journal in writing this article. I was surprised by the insight I recorded in those early days of HRM.
As a review of this form of meditation, I found I went deeper into myself, and the meditation brought up memories and emotions that I had long forgotten about on a conscious level.
One of the most beneficial practices for me was being taught to figuratively invite another person into our meditation, thinking of it as a guesthouse where someone you are concerned for or have had differences with can have a seat. What occurs when you do this is surprising.
Although the study has been completed for some time, a number of participants in the study continue to meditate together through Zoom. I believe that is a testament to the strength of the meditation form.
If you are interested in learning more about this form of meditation the website for the Institute of Applied Meditation is informative.
Do you monitor your heart rate and heart rate variability? What do you use the data for? Do you meditate for a healthier heart and wellbeing? What practice has worked for you? What do you think about meditating with others?
Tags Healthy Aging
Hi Mary Lou – thank you for writing about Heart Rhythm Meditation and for taking part in the study! I am a subscriber to Sixtyandme AND a meditation teacher of HRM for the Institute of Applied Meditation (iamheart.org). It was wonderful to see your article! As a spiritual director, I continue to be particularly smitten with the healing and restorative aspects of HRM for myself and others. In gratitude.
Thank you for your input Maureen. I expect to write a bit more on how heart rhythm variability keeps popping up in discussions. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to mediate in one of your sessions one day.
This sounds really interesting and I will give it a go. :-)