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Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback Training Used To Enhance Positive Memories and Mood

By: Lauren A. Salani, LCSW, BCB


A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback provides new evidence that a certain brain circuit responds to information from the heart and then serves to help regulate emotions. Researchers had participants train with Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback (HRV-B). They predicted that this heart-related training could assist participants to be more likely to remember positive images and be more likely to have a positive bias.


Heart Rate Variability is the difference in time that passes between each heartbeat. The less time between beats, the faster our heart rate. Our heart rate is always changing in response to what we doing. Heart rate variability refers to the difference between the heart’s maximum rate and minimum rate of beating. There is substantial research that shows evidence that the higher someone’s heart rate variability is, the more emotionally and physically resilient they are. They are much better off than someone with low heart rate variability, who tend to have impaired functioning. For example, one’s heart can better support walking or running with a flexible, complex oscillation in its beat pattern. In fact, greater heart rate variability is associated with better outcomes for people with heart disease, as well as for people with high blood pressure and chronic pain. The only time when it is okay for a person’s heart to beat at the same rate is when they have a pacemaker.


In their quest to study how heart function and emotion are related, Christine Cho and other researchers affiliated with University of Southern California, University of California, Irvine, and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School gathered healthy participants and randomly assigned them to either an HRV-Biofeedback Group, the (Osc+) or a Control Group, the (Osc-). Osc. is short for oscillations. This term is used because the rate in which we breathe causes the heart rate to become more flexible and oscillate in its beat pattern. Higher number of oscillations means higher heart rate variability (HRV) which is the healthier heart state.


The Osc+ group received true HRV training, in which an effective breathing rate was determined and feedback on heart rate oscillations was given. Then, they the breathed along with a breath pacer while heart rate feedback was given. The Control Group (Osc-) group were only given strategies to lower their HRV level, such as imagining an out-of-body experience in which, they would become too calm and heart rate would not oscillate enough to create a higher HRV level. After both groups completed 5 weeks of biofeedback training, they completed questionnaires assessing mood and anxiety, cognitive tests and had an MRI.


This study provides important evidence that the specific breath and heart rhythms in HRV do send signals to the brain to help strengthen and regulate emotion in a positive manner. The study did not determine if these positive emotional effects are short-lived, more research needs to be done in this area. However, once the HRV technique is learned, it can be used when necessary or practiced daily to enhance heart health, improve mood, and reduce anxiety and stress.


If you want to learn more about how the HRV Biofeedback technique, once learned could be beneficial to you, speak to your cardiologist or your therapist. You can also contact the BCIA, Biofeedback Certification International Institute (BCIA.Org) for a certified practitioner in your area. You may also call my office for HRV Biofeedback in a warm, inviting office environment.


Lauren A. Salani, LCSW, BCB, Stress Relief Services, Atlantic Executive Center, 107 Monmouth Road, Suite 104, West Long Branch, NJ 07764, 732.542.2638, Website: StressReliefServices.com, LaurenASalani@gmail.com.






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