What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Training?

Let’s start with it’s definition. What is Heart Rate Variability? The straightforward answer is: a measure of the beat-to-beat variations in heart rate. Elaborating a bit more:

HRV is a form of biofeedback therapy training that involves feeding back beat by beat heart rate data during slow breathing so that the breathing matches heart rate patterns. A biofeedback device shows the patient when they have maximized this interaction on a computer monitor. This affects the activation and calming of our nervous system.

While the rhythmic beating of the heart at rest was once believed to be consistent and regular, we now know that the rhythm of a healthy heart under resting conditions is actually surprisingly irregular.  HRV is an important indicator of both physiological resiliency and behavioral flexibility, reflecting an individual’s capacity to adapt effectively to stress and environmental demands. Both a large degree of variability and too little variation can be related to chronic pain, anxiety and depression as well as numerous other symptoms.

Heart Rate Variability Rythm Graph
Emwave practice by child at home
EM Wave - Hearth Rate Variability device


HRV Training uses an ear sensor to detect the variations in heart rate, and presents a display on a computer monitor. By controlling your breathing pattern and intentionally shifting to a positive emotion, such as appreciation, care, or compassion, your heart rhythms and breathing become synchronized and create a healthier emotional state.

This shift in heart rhythms creates a favorable cascade of neuronal, hormonal, and biochemical events that benefit the entire body. Blood pressure drops. Stress hormones plummet. The immune system pumps up. Anti-aging hormones increase. You gain clarity, calmness, and control.

Why is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) important?

Through evolution, our nervous systems have been programmed to protect us. Dating back to the caveman, those who has a stronger “fight or flight” response were more likely to survive in the primitive world. Over the centuries, this resulted in the human brain being programmed to have a strong “fight or flight” reflex. In the modern world we do not need to fight for our lives, but our nervous system does not know that, so it can become easily activated when there is perceived stress (such as giving a presentation before others, meeting new people, worrying if you think your child is in danger, etc.) This constant activation of our nervous system can manifest as anxiety, anger, and even physical symptoms. HRV has been shown to interact with the vagus nerve, which directly connects to our “fight or flight” system.

What is HRV good for?

HRV was the primary measure used to determine the health of Russian Cosmonauts, as this could be measured while they were in space. There is now substantial support that HRV can help a variety of disorders, as well as be used to enhance sports.

In determining the benefits of a medical intervention, there are 5 levels, with :MOST EFFICACIOUS” indicating a methods is among the best. HRV has earned the second highest level of “EFFICACIOUS” for the following:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Attention Deficit Disorder
  3. Headache- Adult
  4. Hypertension
  5. Temporomandibular Disorders
  6. Urinary Incontinence in Males

For the other areas, the research that has been conducted is very promising.

Probably efficacious (Third level):

  1. Alcoholism/Substance Abuse
  2. Arthritis
  3. Chronic Pain
  4. Epilepsy
  5. Fecal Elimination Disorders
  6. Headache- Pediatric Migraines
  7. Insomnia
  8. Traumatic Brain Injury
  9. Vulvar Vestibulitiy

Possibly Efficacious (Second level):

  1. Asthma
  2. Cancer and HIV, Effect on Immune Function
  3. Cerebral Palsy
  4. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  5. Depressive Disorders
  6. Diabetes Mellitus
  7. Fibromyalgia
  8. Foot Ulcers
  9. Hand Dystonia
  10. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  11. Mechanical Ventilation
  12. Motion Sickness
  13. Myocardial Infarction
  14. Post Traumatic Stress disorder
  15. Raynaud’s Disease
  16. Repetitive Strain Injury
  17. Stroke
  18. Tinnitus
  19. Urinary Incontinence in Children
Emwave practice by child at home

Benefits of Heart Rate Variability Training

On Screen Feedback for Emwave Heart Rate Variability Software

In today’s world, it is not uncommon that young children through adults to experience stress. As we know, stress is linked to illnesses like cancer, lung disease, suicide among many other.

By applying Heart Rate Variability Training to your training routine you increase your changes to succeed by learning to regulate your own body during stress situations like a sports competition. The benefit will certainly go beyond the sport and to daily life events like solving exams at school, relationships and social interactions.

These are some of the benefits HRV can provide:

  • Better personal health
  • Development of Emotional Control
  • Better performance at work
  • Improved learning
  • Improved stress management
  • Decrease in sleep latency
  • Increased ability to control emotions
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Lower Blood Pressure

Our psychologists are Board Certified in Heart Rate Variability (BCIA.org) and have been doing HRV training since 2000. We have evaluated and trained thousands of people using this form of biofeedback.

When training for HRV it is recommended to select a clinician that is Board Certified in HRV training. BCIA.org will list the certified providers in your area. If you have a medical condition, it is essential that your biofeedback trainer works in conjunction with your physician. Once you have spent a few sessions with your HRV trainer, you can begin to practice at home. According to Paul Lehrer, Ph.D., improved HRV can occur within a fraction of a minute even in persons who have never previously been exposed to the technique. Using HRV on a daily basis is a simple, easy to implement way to improve your mental and physiological resilience.

Once you have been coached with a practitioner, there are several systems you can use to measure and practice HRV at home, including

EmWave by Heartmath – a PC/Mac program
Unyte – a PC/Mac program for HRV and meditation
Inner Balance – An app that interfaces with your PC
Breath2Relax – App

Do not hesitate to contact Sadar Psychological to learn more about the Heart Rate Variability Training benefits and improve your life.

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