The Variability Of The Heart

Ah no this is not another Blog about how reiki healing with help you to overcome a broken heart (even though that is true and a topic that I’m passionate about!)…or what to do if you’re just not feeling the same way about your partner any more…

The Variability I am talking about today, is Heart RATE Variability and why you should care about it!

Some fascinating facts about the Heart

The heart is an amazing pump but it is so much more than this great feat of biological engineering!

  • The heart is actually formed and begins beating in a foetus before the brain is developed.
  • It has its own nervous system, consisting of around 40 thousand neurons, which can all sense, feel, learn and remember. You could even think of it as the ‘heart-brain’.
  • In fact, the heart sends more messages to the brain (in your head!) than the brain sends to the heart.
  • The heart creates a magnetic field that can be measured several feet from the body, and is about 100 times stronger than the magnetic field of the brain.

As you can see, this organ really is the heart of you!

What is Heart Rate Variablity (HRV)?

The concept of Heart Rate Variablity, or HRV, just kept being brought into my consciousness in the first few months of this year – via colleagues, other practitioners talking about it and podcasts where it was mentioned. Once I get a few nudges about the same thing I always know that I need to investigate further: ‘message received, thanks Universe’!

We are all pretty familiar with measuring Heart Rate – which is a measurement of the average number of times your heart beats, or pumps, per minute. This has been used as a snapshot of overall health for hundreds of years. Your heart rate represents how efficient your heart is in its function of pumping blood (and therefore oxygen and nutrients) around your body. Basically the lower your heart rate is at rest (within the normal range of 60 bpm and 100 bpm), the more efficient your heart is, and the ‘healthier’ you are. Unless you are an elite athlete your resting heart rate should not be much lower than 60 bpm.

HRV, on the other hand, is a measure of the time interval between heart beats. This ‘variablity’ reflects how well you can adapt to stress. It is an indicator of the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the section of your autonomic nervous system responsible for ‘rest and digest’ ie. relaxation, contentedness and calm. The greater your HRV, the more easily your parasympathetic system is activated and therefore the better adapted you are to managing stress effectively.

Varying your normal emotional state

HRV acts like a morse code messaging system instructing the brain to organize perceptions, feeling and behaviours. These messages sent from the heart to the brain are how your brain knows your emotional state. When you are stressed, anxious or afraid your HRV will go down. The amygdala (a part of the ancient brain) scans the ‘morse code’ of the HRV for familiar patterns. When it matches the message to something experienced before it assumes the same emotional reaction is appropriate and highjacks the message before it travels to higher (more modern) brain centres. So an example could be if you are feeling stressed and your HRV pattern matches another stressful experience where you were angry, your automatic emotional response again becomes anger, and you say and do things you later regret – your logical brain does not get a chance to input!

The brain likes the familiar and likes to be able to match experiences with those that it already has stored away. If you are often stressed your brain will fairly quickly begin to feel comfortable with this and expect more of the same. Stressed becomes ‘normal’. This is why it is so difficult to change behavioural and emotional patterns – your brain doesn’t want you to!

Increasing your Heart Rate Variability and decreasing Stress

The good news is though that it is actually relatively easy to improve your HRV. The two key items that you need in order to achieve this are: (i) the breath and (ii) gratitude.



Your breath is an absolutely amazing tool (that you have constant access to!) and will assist you in increasing your HRV and therefore modulating your reactions to stressful situations. Simply by slowing and deepening your breath you will increase your HRV. Try it now!

HRV Exercise

When you have done this for a minute or two – really feeling your breath travel deep into your belly with your inhalation and then completely letting everything go with your exhalation – you can then focus your attention on your heart.

With your attention on your heart now really feel your breath here. Feel the power of your heart sending the energy of your slow, deep breath into every cell of your body, focus on the magnetism of your heart. Where you send your focus, you send your energy.

Next use your awesome creative mind to develop a visualization or bring up a memory of something that evokes gratitude or unconditional love in you – your favourite pet, your ‘happy place’, a time when you felt radiant and powerful. Feel the beautiful swelling and expanding of that positive experience in your heart, let a smile rise on your lips.

If you practice this for a few minutes each day or even just take one minute when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed to take your attention to your breath and bring positivity into your heart, you will begin to improve your HRV. With a higher HRV your ability to flow and flex with all the everyday stressors of life, without remaining in a constant low grade state of stress you will improve your overall health and wellbeing.  Science is now clearly showing the relationship between chronic stress and chronic disease.

I am now using a HRV monitor in client visits to provide tangible piece of evidence that we can all heal themselves.

For further information about HRV feel free to contact me or take a look at the incredible work of the NFP organization, the Heart Math Institute.

Be Well!



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Arwen Bardsley

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Arwen Bardsley is a holistic health professional who delves into the broader and deeper levels of health and wellbeing. She…

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