Biofeedback (HRV)

Biofeedback is a treatment technique where individuals are trained to improve their health by using signals from their own bodies.  It is used by physical therapists to aid stroke victims as they regain movement in paralyzed muscles.  Psychologists use it to help tense and anxious clients learn to relax.  Specialists in many different fields use biofeedback to help their patients cope with pain. 

There is a good chance you have used a form or biofeedback before.  If you’ve ever taken your temperature or stepped on a scale to weigh yourself.  The thermometer measures temperature of your body, letting you know if you are running a fever, the scale shows the amount of weight you carry.   Each of these devices give “feed back” about your body’s condition.   With this information, you will be able to improve a condition that is unfavorable or increase the positive condition further.  

While clinicians may use complicated biofeedback machines, in a way it is similar to your use of the thermometer or scale.  The biofeedback machine can detect an individual’s bodily functions with greater sensitivity and precision than you are able to yourself.  The information learned is then used to measure progress and direct the way treatment should be administered.    

Clients can think of the biofeedback machine as a kind of gauge to “see” or “hear” activity within their bodies.   A common type of machine used, for example, detects electrical signals in muscles.  The feedback is translated into a view-able response, some use flashing lights or beeps each time a muscle is tensed.  If the individual wants to relax the tensed muscles, they attempt to slow down the flashing light or beeping.  

Using biofeedback gives an instant response of the performance to the individual using the machine.  For example:  learning where to strike a string on a guitar while hold a fret down.  The feedback comes in the form of sound that is clear (not muted or distorted) .  When the sound is “off,” the individual changes must change their finger position or they way they are plucking the string to determine the best way to get their desired sound.   I act as a teacher of the student, helping to set goals and limits on what to expect and giving hints on how to improve technique.

What is HRV?

HRV measures the difference in the amount of time between each heartbeat. There are two ways to measure HRV:

  • Amplitude/Variability: measured in 10-second cycles (the more, the better)
    • Goals (by age)
      • <50 = 20 beats of variability
      • >50 = 10 beats of variability
    • Pattern: on a graph, you would want the line to show smooth sign wave patterns – the smoother and taller, the better 

What are the benefits of increased HRV?

High HRV correlates with a healthy heart, a longer and healthier life, as well as increased happiness and positive emotions. Very low HRV is the leading indicator of many causes of illness and death:

  • Blood pressure and thermoregulation begin to normalize 
  • Brain synchronizes with the heart
    • better performance on cognitive tasks and increased reaction time
  • Immune system boosts
  • Heart rate normalizes
  • Positive emotions increase

HRV can be improved in 2 ways:

  • Breath: a consistent breathing cycle of 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out will help you achieve increased HRV
  • Positive emotions: the second way to increase HRV is to access positive emotions such as appreciation, calm and joy

How Relaxing Rhythms (the biofeedback software that I use) helps: 

RR teaches your patients specific breathing and relaxation techniques proven to increase their HRV. The butterfly on the Grapher screen is an excellent guide to the 10-second breath cycle to improve your HRV (5 seconds in, 5 seconds out). 

The graph:

Optimal HRV appears on-screen in two ways:

  • Pattern: A smooth sign wave pattern indicates goods HRV
  • Amplitude: The deeper the wave, the better

The color spectrum:
When your HRV improves, you will move through the color patterns from yellow, to green, to blue. The more blue the better! (Blue = High HRV, Green = Medium HRV and Yellow = Low HRV)

Benefits of Using HRV Biofeedback

  1. Be more productive
  2. Increased happiness
  3. Enhanced creativity
  4. Better focus and mental clarity
  5. Spiritual development
  6. Better relationships with others
  7. Reduced stressful feelings
  8. Gain control over your level of energy
  9. Better able to control your thoughts
  10. Sense of well-being

Links:

Benefits of Meditation
The Science of Biofeedback and Wild Divine
Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback