Learn about HRV, Mindfulness and Biofeedback
The Mindfio Smartband uses optical and force sensors to measure your heart rate variability (HRV), activity level and breathing rate. It identifies the extent to which you are stressed during active and resting periods. Advanced algorithms in the Mindfio App enable it to provide personalised guided mindfulness training programs using biofeedback technologies. The Mindfio app also provides you with a progress report on your stress and mindfulness levels before, during and after the training programs. Mindfulness training programs including breathing exercises and meditation techniques are clinically proven to reduce stress as well as to improve resilience, focus and work performance, among other benefits.
HRV and Well-Being
HRV (Heart Rate Variability) is the time gap between your heart beats that varies as you breathe in and out. In medical terms, HRV is a measurement of the continuous interplay between sympathetic and parasympathetic influences on heart rate that yields information about autonomic flexibility and thereby represents the capacity for regulating emotional responses. The connection between the heart and the brain was asserted by Claude Bernard over 150 years ago (Thayer et al 2012), and for around three decades now researchers have explored this link through HRV with improved cardiovascular functioning, mental and physical health, coping with stress and other factors.
A number of studies indicate that HRV is linked with well-being and stress levels, including:
- A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: Implications for heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health
- Vagally-Mediated Heart Rate Variability and Indices of Well-Being: Results of a Nationally Representative Study
- Higher resting heart rate variability predicts skill in expressing some emotions
- The Analysis of Mental Stress using Time-Frequency Distribution of Heart Rate Variability Signal
- Ultra Short Term Analysis of Heart Rate Variability for Monitoring Mental Stress in Mobile Settings
- Effects of Stress on Heart Rate Complexity—A Comparison Between Short Term and Chronic Stress
- The moderating influence of heart rate variability on stressor-elicited change in pupillary and attentional indices of emotional processing: An eye-tracking study
- The effect of a single HF-rTMS session over the left DLPFC on the physiological stress response as measured by heart rate variability
Generally speaking, a low and irregular HRV indicates a stressed state and a high and regular HRV indicates a relaxed state such as mindfulness.
The figure below illustrates the HRV pattern during stress and relaxation.
Mindfulness and Stress
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. According to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, mindfulness can be considered a universal human capacity that can foster clear thinking and open-heartedness, and the goal of mindfulness is to maintain awareness moment by moment, disengaging oneself from strong attachment to beliefs, thoughts, or emotions, thereby developing a greater sense of emotional balance and well-being. Regular mindfulness practice results in a lower resting respiration rate and reduced stress, improved resilience, focus and work performance, and many more benefits.
What are the benefits of mindfulness? A wealth of new research has explored this age-old practice, resulting in an array of empirically supported benefits:
- Reduced rumination
- Stress reduction
- Boosts to working memory
- Enhanced focus
- Greater emotional regulation
- More cognitive flexibility
- Relationship satisfaction
A review and meta-analysis "Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being” in JAMA Internal Medicine also concluded that meditation programs can result in reduction of multiple negative aspects of psychological stress.
Biofeedback and Mindfulness
Biofeedback is a way to help people develop greater awareness and ability to monitor their physiological functioning by using signals from their own bodies (we use HRV and breathing rate signals) in order to improve their well-being, health and performance.
According to Lehrer and Gevirtz (2014) "Heart rate variability biofeedback: how and why does it work?” Heart rate variability biofeedback: how and why does it work?”, in recent years there has been substantial support for heart rate variability biofeedback (HRVB) as a treatment for a variety of disorders and for performance enhancement. During HRVB biofeedback, the amplitude of heart rate oscillations rises to many times the amplitude at rest, while the pattern becomes simple and sinusoidal. This pattern occurs in almost everyone at a respiratory frequency of approximately 0.1 Hz (six breaths per minute), and is often achievable within a fraction of a minute even for those not previously exposed to the technique. Among other effects, stimulation of parasympathetic reflexes by HRV biofeedback may produce autonomic activity characteristic of relaxation, and thus directly counter stress effects.
The above figure is a typical HRV biofeedback screen showing the transition from normal breathing to around 6 breaths per minute.
Other related research papers:
- A Pilot Study using Mindfulness-Guided-Relaxation & Biofeedback to Alleviate Stress in a Group
- The effect of a single episode of short duration heart rate variability biofeedback on measures of anxiety and relaxation states
- Physical Activity, Mindfulness Meditation, or Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback for Stress Reduction: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Integrating heart rate variability biofeedback into mindfulness-based therapies
How Mindfulness Links with Positive Brain Changes?
Neuroscience has studied and measured the tangible effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain using scanning and imaging technology. Researchers have discovered the brain structure changes of regular meditators.
Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital published a study in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging showing that engaging in a mindfulness meditation program for eight weeks is linked with changes in the memory, empathy, stress and sense of self regions of the brain.
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is essential in focusing, analysis, short-term memory and decision-making. Regular meditators have been found to retain the gray matter in this important brain region even as they age.
The left hippocampus are responsible for cognition, learning, memory and the regulation of emotions. Meditators are stronger and more developed in this important area.
The amygdala is located near the center of the brain and correlates with the human “fight or flight” mechanism. It is directly responsible for generating feelings of fear, anxiety and stress. Experienced meditators tends to have less active amygdala, which correlated to a reduced stress levels.
"Meditation had been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life." Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, She was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. The average amount of meditation time required for these brain benefits is around 30 minutes per day; however, some studies suggest that as little as 10 minutes a day can make a positive difference.
Mindfulness in the Media
- Forbes: How to bring Mindfulness into your Employee Wellness Program
- Business Insider: How to keep from losing your cool when your job is driving you crazy
- Huffington Post: Want to Practice Mindfulness? Start at Work
- Huffington Post: How to Beat Workplace Stress with Mindfulness Meditation
- Harvard Business Review: How to practice Mindfulness throughout your work day
- Mindful: Mindfulness at Work is not mind control
- Mindful: 5 Reasons Why Everyone Should Meditate
- Harvard Business Review: Mindfulness can literally change your brain
- Scientific American: What does Mindfulness Meditation do to your brain?
- Scientific American: Mindfulness can improve your attention and health
- Forbes: A Guide to Mindfulness at Work
- Harvard Gazette: Eight Weeks to a Better Brain