Spirituality and HRV    

by Cassie Steele

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

How Spirituality can Boost HRV

Research is constantly being carried out into ways to increase our HRV, in an aim to aid those experiencing stress related conditions such as anxiety and depression. There is an important link between stress and having a low HRV. When one’s ‘fight or flight response’ is constantly evoked, balance is skewed between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and our physical and mental health are affected. Interestingly, spirituality is showing great promise in terms of promoting greater balance and a higher HRV. In this post, we look at how spirituality can raise our HRV naturally, bringing many additional benefits to our lives.

How Can We Raise our HRV Naturally?

Study after study has shown us the importance of maintaining a high HRV through natural means such as yoga, Tai Chi, and mindfulness meditation (to name just a few practices). These ancient Eastern therapies have various features in common – above all, a strong mindfulness component.

Studies have shown that the essence of mindfulness – keeping the mind ‘in the here and now’ – can reduce stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression, as well as increase our HRV. Heart rate biofeedback, and self-help physical activity have also been found to be effective.

Technology can also help, through biofeedback and/or dedicated apps which allow us to measure andtrack our HRV and stress levels from home.

Time in Nature and HRV

The pursuit of spirituality does not have to be active; even more passive pursuits such as spending time in nature can enhance spirituality. Verdant forests and parks or water features such as lakes and oceans lower our cortisol (stress hormone) levels. For best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle, “Whenever you bring your attention to anything natural, anything that has come into existence without human intervention, you step out of the prison of conceptualized thinking and, to some extent, participate in the state of connectedness with Being in which everything natural still exists.”

What Role can Spirituality Play in Boosting HRV?

It is interesting to note that many Eastern practices stress the importance of the connection between mind, body, and spirit. Recent studies have shown that people who make room for spirituality in their lives are happier and enjoy a greater sense of support, than those who don’t. Researchers postulate that the sense of community provided by religion helps people feel less isolated, though spirituality is wider in scope than religion and can include simply believing in a powerful force that unites all living things.

A 2006 study by researchers at UCLA looked into the effect that spirituality can have on HRV. Participants to the study were women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer seven years previously. The researchers looked into the effect of different coping mechanisms (including distraction, denial, acceptance, meditation, or humor), finding that faith and spirituality were key factors in psychological wellbeing and a healthy HRV.

As noted by one researcher, “The women with a strong sense of faith had significantly more variable heart rates than those who reported less spiritual well-being.” Meditation and prayer in particular helped women face the stress brought on by their diagnosis.

Stress, anxiety, and depression are far from being mere sources of discomfort, fear, or sadness. They have powerful effects on our physical health and are linked to everything from obesity to Type II diabetes. Spirituality can play an important role in fostering better mental health and greater heart rate variability. Whether prayer, meditation or time spent in nature help bring you to a more spiritual place, it is important to make room for these important health-boosting activities.