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Introducing HeartMath: Applying Heart Rate Variability to Stress Reduction w/ David Ferriss, MD, MPH

Introducing HeartMath: Applying Heart Rate Variability to Stress Reduction

Are you ready to take charge of your health? Schedule your free 20-minute discovery call with our New Patient Coordinator to see how you can become a patient at MaxWell Clinic and start your healing journey today.

Chronic stress seems to saturate our daily lives like the oxygen we breathe. Work demands, relationship struggles, financial pressures, and the stress of navigating life during a pandemic are taking a toll on our mental and physical health.

But you don’t have to let stress control your life. Reducing chronic stress can significantly improve your health and well-being, and even reduce your risk of chronic disease.

Watch the video on using HeartMath® technology to reduce chronic stress:

  • Learn all about HeartMath® – a collection of simple, easily learned mind-body techniques supported by innovative technology.
  • Join us as we discuss how HeartMath® uses the science of heart rate variability to actually reset your autonomic nervous system.
  • And discover how you can incorporate this easy technology into your daily life to reduce stress, gain resilience, and even improve your physical health.

Unlocking the Power of HeartMath®: Managing Stress for Better Health

In today’s fast-paced world, stress is a common companion for many of us. It can take a toll on our physical and mental well-being. If you’re looking for an effective way to manage stress and enhance your overall health, HeartMath® might be the answer you’ve been searching for.

What is HeartMath®?

HeartMath® is a unique approach that leverages the science of heart rate variability (HRV) to help individuals reduce stress and improve their emotional well-being. HeartMath® combines simple mind-body techniques with innovative technology to teach individuals how to manage their stress effectively. It focuses on promoting coherence in the autonomic nervous system, enhancing our ability to respond to stressors, and improving our overall quality of life.

The Science of Heart Rate Variability

To understand the power of HeartMath®, it’s essential to comprehend the science behind HRV. HRV refers to the variation in the time between consecutive heartbeats. In other words, it measures the fluctuation in your heart rate from beat to beat. Dr. Ferris’s earlier group visit delved into the concept of HRV and the Firstbeat tool, which enables us to assess autonomic nervous system patterns. HRV is a valuable window into the autonomic nervous system, revealing how our bodies respond to stress and relaxation.

The Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system regulates many bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion. It consists of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and recovery). Achieving balance between these branches is crucial for overall health.

The HeartMath® Approach

HeartMath® teaches a set of techniques to help individuals manage stress and promote coherence in the autonomic nervous system. One of the foundational techniques is Heart Focus Breathing, which involves inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply while focusing on the area of the heart. This technique activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of well-being and calm.

Another technique, Quick Coherence, encourages individuals to focus on feelings of gratitude or appreciation during Heart Focus Breathing. This practice helps to shift the autonomic nervous system into a state of coherence, resulting in a regular and consistent heart rate pattern.

Measuring Progress with Technology

To enhance the effectiveness of these techniques, HeartMath® offers innovative technology. The M-Wave Pro Laptop technology involves software that can be loaded onto your laptop, paired with a small earlobe clip sensor that measures HRV. This tool helps individuals visualize their progress by showing heart rate patterns in real-time, along with the percentage of time spent in high, moderate, or low coherence.

The Inner Balance Smartphone App is a popular choice among users, as it offers the convenience of practicing HeartMath® techniques on the go. This app, available for both iOS and Android, pairs with a sensor that clips onto the earlobe. It provides real-time feedback on heart rate patterns, allowing users to practice coherence techniques wherever and whenever they need them.

Real-World Results

The efficacy of HeartMath® is supported by an extensive body of research. Users report various positive changes in their well-being, including reduced stress, improved emotional regulation, enhanced sleep quality, and better focus. HeartMath™ is not only about managing stress; it positively affects several domains of health, making it a valuable tool for overall well-being.

In addition to anecdotal evidence, scientific research has also confirmed the benefits of HeartMath®. A wealth of published studies demonstrates its ability to improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and homocysteine levels, reducing blood pressure, and positively impacting resting heart rate.

Your Path to Wellness

Are you interested in exploring the benefits of HeartMath® for managing stress and improving your health? Whether you’re new to the concept or have already embarked on this journey, remember that progress is possible. If you’re just starting, it’s normal to struggle with the balance between inhaling and exhaling. While HeartMath® is not specifically about belly breathing, focusing on your breath and achieving a rhythmic pattern is key. As you practice, you’ll likely find it easier to maintain an even ratio over time.

A Powerful Stress Management Tool

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but how we manage it can make all the difference in our health and well-being. HeartMath® offers a practical, science-based approach to stress management. With techniques like Heart Focus Breathing and Quick Coherence, along with the support of technology, you can take control of your stress levels and promote better health.

By incorporating HeartMath® into your daily routine, you can experience positive changes that extend beyond managing stress. Improved emotional regulation, better sleep, and enhanced overall health are all within reach. Don’t let stress dictate your life; take the reins and embrace the power of HeartMath®.

Are you ready to take charge of your health? Schedule your free 20-minute discovery call with our New Patient Coordinator to see how you can become a patient at MaxWell Clinic and start your healing journey today.

well good afternoon i’m dr david ferris with maxwell clinic and i want to welcome you to today’s
group visit which is entitled introducing heart math applying heart rate variability
to stress reduction uh at my last group visit back in july
i introduced the concept of heart rate variability and we talked about a tool
called first speed which allows us to use heart rate variability
to access the autonomic nervous system and look at
patterns of stress and recovery in individuals today we’re going to take that a step
further and i want to explain how using heart rate variability in the science
underlying that can help us to use a tool called heart math
to reduce stress and improve the functioning of our autonomic
nervous systems so without further ado let’s jump in
let’s see so let’s start with a little terminology
for those of you who attended or have viewed the recording of my
group visit on first beat this will be a bit of a review for those
of you who have not seen that group visit then this will lay the foundation for
what we’re going to be talking about today regarding heart math
so a couple of important terms heart rate as most people understand is
simply the frequency of which one’s heart beats uh so if we measure uh take our pulse
and it’s 70 beats per minute we call that a heart rate
the heartbeat interval is actually the time between consecutive heartbeats and
we measure that in milliseconds and i’ll show you a diagram of that in a second
but what we’re most interested in uh today is the concept called heart rate
variability which is the amount of variation in the heart rate from beat to beat
so here we have a diagram of of an ekg an electrocardiogram
and we see each of these qrs complexes representing an individual heart rate
and you see a horizontal line drawn between each of those
r complexes the big spike there that you see
and a number that number represents the number of milliseconds between each successive
heartbeat so we see the first interval is 828
and then that increases to 845 decreases to 7454 and then further to
742 and this is a good illustration of the variation
in heart rate uh from beat to beat and as we talked about during my last
group visit on first beat analysis this gives us
valuable insight into the functioning of our autonomic nervous systems and i’ll
talk more about that in just a minute
so let’s talk or review for those of you who attended my last group visit
about heart rate variability and how it’s a window into the body specifically a window
into the autonomic nervous system the heart is reacting constantly to
changing systems to changing environmental factors
so that it can um it can change the rate of the heart
from moment to moment and it does this by means of the autonomic nervous system
and other physiological regulation systems so if we’ve just said heart rate
variability means the variation in time between consecutive heartbeats and it
actually contains a lot of information about the body’s physiological status
heart rate variability is closely regulated by the body at rest and during relaxation heart rate
variability increases whereas during different types of stress
heart rate variability decreases there are many factors that affect heart rate
variability some of those are age we know that heart rate variability
tends to decrease as we as we get older
it’s related to physical fitness the more fit we are the higher that our heart rate variability tends to be
and our overall health status we know that heart rate variability is higher
uh in individuals who are healthier who who have less morbidity
so in general high heart rate variability is considered a sign of a
healthy heart and overall health so again it’s a valuable window into our
autonomic nervous systems so the autonomic nervous system this is the
part of our nervous systems that is in a sense automatic it controls
those functions of the body such as breathing heart rate
digestion that we don’t have to think about we don’t have to
we don’t have to make a volitional decision to move our hand or to stomp
our feet it’s those automatic functions that the autonomic nervous
system controls and it has two branches the sympathetic nervous system and the
parasympathetic nervous system we can think of sympathetic nervous system as being identified with fight or
flight it’s with activation with stress we can
think of the parasympathetic branch of the of the autonomic nervous system
as relaxation as recovery helping the body to rest and recover and as we talked
during my last group visit on first beat um that’s most important during uh
during sleep that we have a high consistent level of parasympathetic
activation so that the body is able to recoup from the day it’s able to repair
uh damage within the body and get the rest and recovery that it needs
you’ll recall during my last group visit on firstbeat that we looked at
a first beat report and you see there on the right of the screen a page out of
that report i’m not going to review that again in detail but just to remind you
that red on that 24 hour graph represented
stress responses that is sympathetic nervous system activation whereas the green
represents rest and recovery it represents parasympathetic activation
and we saw uh when we looked at the first speed analysis that it gives us a lot of insight
into uh our levels of stress uh our recovery and whether we’re
exercising a right and whether that’s enhancing our health
so with that as either a quick review or a quick um
foundation building for this webinar let’s talk about heart math
heart math has been around for oh probably 30 or 40
years as an organization that is committed to helping individuals
reduce their levels of chronic stress and they’ve developed some innovative
approaches to help individuals do this it is a system to reduce stress and
improve emotional well-being and it does this by teaching six fundamental simple
mind-body techniques that anyone can learn and and practice and it couples
that with some really innovative technology that i’m going to show you some pictures
of in a few minutes that help educate
and confirm for the individual that the simple mind body techniques that they’re
learning to practice actually do change the physiological
state of our bodies while we do that and so that’s the real i think
uniqueness of uh of heart math
heart math impacts a number of domains of health it’s been demonstrated by
over oh some 300 uh published scientific papers
to do a number of things there’s an extensive body of research underlying
not only heart rate variability but also heart math and its effectiveness
we know that it helps reduce stress in fact it overused over time it actually can help us reset
the set points of our autonomic nervous system so that we are healthier that
there’s a nice balance and interplay between the autonomic nervous system i’m sorry
between the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system in the parasympathetic
branch in most people uh practicing uh the
heart math techniques um enhance sleep and improve sleep and
we know that that helps our recovery it helps us recharge our batteries
it helps with emotional regulation it helps us balance out our emotions so
that we’re not as likely to to be uh so adversely impacted by a stressful
event during the day we can be more regulated we can respond to that
activating event in a more measured in a more calm way
heart math has been demonstrated to help with the focus our focus our
ability to concentrate and also just helping us to tap into our emotions and
to understand better what we’re really feeling so it it has a number of impact
domains and i wanted to point those out before we went any further
so next i want to play a brief just a few minutes video
that is done by dr roland mccrady who is the director of research for the heart
math institute heart math institute is the um
scientific the research division of the heart math organization and dr mccrady
has led that a part of the organization for many years but this will give you uh
just kind of an overview and a sense of some of the sound scientific foundation
of the heart math system so let’s watch this video
heart math tools and techniques really help you access the intelligence of the heart so we can make better choices in the moment
and really navigate these stressful times what we hear from people across the world across all professions is that
stress anxiety and overwhelm are really out of hand and a lot of this is due to so much change that’s happening
and the way our brains work we don’t like change humans do not like change especially unexpected change or change
that we’re not in control of and as it turns out one of the most effective ways to really reduce stress
and anxiety and even feelings of overwhelm is to learn how to to access the intelligence of the heart and shift
the rhythms of the heart which sends a different neural message to the brain so one aspect of our research is really
focused on developing simple practical user-friendly tools and techniques that allow people
to really manage their stress so a lot of people probably even today if you think about it
have had a situation where you were being told to do something or you wanted something but there was a
deeper sense or a deeper feeling that that’s probably not the best choice so that’s what i mean by that lack of
alignment and that can really be a huge source of stress for people until they learn how to really get the alignment
between the heart and brain which is where coherence comes in that’s when the heart mind and emotions are aligned and
working together harmoniously our basic research done here at the heart math research center focused more on the
physiology of how the heart and brain communicate interestingly a lot of people are surprised to learn that the heart sends
more information to the nervous system to the brain than the other way around that sounds like some new discovery but
it’s not this has actually been known since the late 1800s it’s basic physiology but this is important because
the the quality of these signals sent from the heart to the brain have profound effects on brain function
our mental clarity even our emotional experience so the brain is largely interpreting the signals from the heart
to create how we feel so this is why we focus on the heart so much because if you can shift the rhythms of the heart
you can quickly improve brain function reduce feelings of anxiety stress overwhelm so on but it takes a different
doorway the heart so the heart math tools and techniques are really designed to shift the rhythms of the heart which
changes the ascending information from the heart to the brain which is absolutely necessary in order to
establish a new baseline and without establishing a new baseline we really can’t it’s impossible to have
sustained change or improvements in our health in our emotional experience so when we when we get our systems coherent
and have the alignment between heart and brain that’s really when we access that deeper intuition that we have within inner
guidance so we have a new sense of clarity and a lot of decisions that can seem complex otherwise
heart math tools and tips all right so hopefully that was helpful in laying
uh uh giving you a an idea of some of the scientific foundations of heart math
um dr mccrady uh in the video talked about
the concept of coherence and he talked about a pattern of
frustration and one of appreciation what we see here in these two graphs the
red one in the top and the blue one on the bottom are
patterns of heart rate variability uh during a high stress event
and on the top and you can see how jagged how ragged it is
uh and then on the bottom uh which the the blue graph
has a sine wave appearance it’s uniform it’s consistent
and um this is the um
this is the concept of coherence when our autonomic nervous system the
sympathetic and the parasympathetic branches are in sync rather than being
out of sync and it’s the simple mind-body techniques
that heart math teaches that allow us to shift into a state of
coherence from one of incoherence
so next i want to introduce two of these
heart math mind body techniques the first is called heart focus
breathing that’s where we start and it’s a very simple technique many of
you are familiar with deep breathing and the benefits of that how it can really
reduce our level of stress rapidly because what it’s doing is it’s stimulating our parasympathetic
nervous system it’s activating it so that we shift into a state of
parasympathetic nervous system dominance and it brings on that sense of
well-being of feeling more more calm so listen to this video
the um the individual here is going to explain heart focused breathing and then
shifting from that into a heart math technique called quick
coherence which adds focusing on having an attitude of
appreciation um for or gratitude for for someone or
something so watch this and uh feel free to kind of practice along with this as she
guides you through it but this will give you a sense for uh two of the of the
heart math techniques that that we use with the uh the heart math program
quick coherence is a simple yet powerful technique that you can use to connect more deeply with your own heart and to
connect more with hearts of others let’s try it together first step is to
focus your attention on the area of your heart to shift your focus to the area of your
chest or your heart pretend like your breath is flowing in through the area of the heart
or chest and out through the area of the heart breathe a little more slowly a little more deeply
than you normally do maybe to a count of five in and five out but find a smooth
easy rhythm let’s do it
now continue this heart-focused breathing and make a sincere attempt to
re-experience a positive or regenerative feeling like the care or appreciation you have
for someone or something in your life it could be a pet a time in nature a
special place an accomplishment but feel that genuine feeling of love you have
for someone or care or appreciation or just focus on a feeling of calm and
ease as you continue the heart focused breathing [Music]
now this technique quick coherence is putting your heart rhythms into a more coherent mode a coherent rhythm
and it has a carryover effect so as you move into your next activities or connect with someone you can feel more
heart connected more centered you can do this simple one minute
technique anytime anywhere
all right so hopefully that gives you an idea of just how simple
some of these heart math mind-body techniques are there are four more techniques
that build on these two foundational techniques but if you did nothing more than just
use the heart focused breathing along with quick coherence
by focusing on a feeling of gratitude
or appreciation for someone or some place or something
we know from an extensive body of research that this uh
shifts our autonomic nervous system into a state of um
of of of focus um and
has amazing uh amazing results that carry on uh carry over long long term
so here you see [Music] a a
screenshot of one of the the two technologies that
accompany heart math and really help us see and learn the power of these
techniques this first is from the m-wave pro laptop
technology this is software that can be purchased
and loaded onto one’s laptop you use a small sensing device which
clips to the earlobe and plugs into your computer that measures the heart rate
variability on which all of this is based and you can see then as you practice
going to quick coherence um what is you see in the first part of
this tracing uh is a much more irregular ragged pattern and then
as one moves into a state of coherence it becomes more regular
and it approaches a sine wave like pattern you also see displayed
the amount of time you might do a tracing for let’s say five minutes
and it shows you um how much what percentage of time is
spent in high coherence which is the the the green uh thermometer
how much in medium or moderate coherence which is the blue
and how much of the time is spent in low coherence and this is simply to help the
individual learning these techniques see their progress over time and
increasing the amount of time spent in high and medium
or moderate coherence and and trying to get the the green the
high coherence is as high as possible so this can be tracked you can do comparisons there are
also a number of other useful tools a number of games that are included with the laptop
technology that help you learn and practice these
techniques the second technology that is available to
accomplish the same thing is the one that is most popular and the least expensive and that’s called the inner
balance smartphone app this is an app that can be downloaded to
your your smartphone uh either ios or android based uh
smartphone systems uh that the the app is free
and then what you have to have to accompany that is a sensing device and
you see that here to the left this is a
clip that clips onto the earlobe so we can measure the moment by moment heart
rate variability this is the bluetooth version so it’s a wireless connection
that synchronizes with the app on the smartphone
and allows you to see in real time just as in the laptop but with the
convenience of using your smartphone when you when you actually shift from
incoherence to a coherent state and allows you to to practice that there
are a number of other features in the smartphone technology as well
again the the app is is free and can be downloaded um on your phone
uh the sensing device i think the bluetooth runs around 135 to 150 dollars
the there’s a wired vision a hardwired version which is
about 30 or 40 dollars cheaper but both of these
technology applications basically achieve the same thing there are a few more bells and whistles and
more capability on the laptop but most people find the
smartphone app to be the one of choice the one that’s easiest to use
and they can carry it with them um and and practice at different times
during the day or in the evening when they they get home
but these are useful tools to help promote
and better synchronization between our
autonomic nervous system and our parasympathetic nervous system and what the research has demonstrated is that
over time for individuals who practice the heart math techniques consistently
preferably daily but at least several times a week over a
period of weeks and months they begin to reset their autonomic nervous system so
that the times when they are not actually practicing that particular mind-body
technique the benefits carry over to the to the rest of the day so these are powerful
tools that help reduce stress and improve our overall quality of life
so that concludes what um i plan to talk about
as a brief introduction to heart math um again building on the science of
heart rate variability which we uh diagnosed or we assessed through the
first beat technology that we talked about in my previous group visit
and so you can think of this as the intervention piece of heart rate variability and
actually applying that science to help improve our
our emotional regulation our ability to handle stress much better
which means we’re going to be thinking more clearly and living fuller
more satisfying lies so i’m going to stop the screen share
and if you have any questions uh please enter those in
in the q a section and i’ll try to answer as many of those as
we have time to to do
so we have a couple of questions here the first is saying uh from someone
who’s actually been doing heart math for a month or so now which is terrific
um he says i tend to struggle on the inhale portion versus the exhale so it’s
hard to maintain an even ratio is this typical
when when you first start using it this may be the case actually the the laptop
version and um i think perhaps the handheld i’d have to
go back and check actually have some pacers and so that can be helpful but just simply
you know account usually to about five of inhaling slowly and date deeply
and then just trying to uh exhale at the same rate you don’t have to do
this perfectly to get results but you certainly want to try to balance the
um the the time that you spend inhaling and then exhaling
so that takes a little practice a little work but but but just try that and be patient
with your yourself um second question is i’d also be curious
what sort of changes you’ve seen from your patients using the product
as i indicated earlier there is an extensive body of published research
that the heart math institute has done which demonstrates um you know
beneficial changes from using heart math um dr hazy uh introduced heart math into
maxwell clinic um oh some years ago and and used it quite
a bit um we’ve not used it as much
recently but that was only because um other things just consumed our time and
we never really abandoned it we’ve also always felt that it’s extremely
valuable and it’s a simple way to improve overall health and uh well-being
by managing uh stress more effectively
but we’ve seen i know dr haasey has seen many examples of patients really
improving um you know their their their stress levels reducing stress and this
the results are not only demonstrated in the in
emotional regulation and reducing levels of stress we also see
real changes in in other body
markers biological markers the heart math institute has done quite
a bit of research on this in the past they have found improvements in
cholesterol levels in homocysteine levels
just in blood pressure for sure which you you would expect
resting heart rate um just a number of parameters that have
been um been improved i know that heartmath has
done research in call centers for companies
that have a call center whether they have a number of employees that are taking calls from customers all
day long it can be a highly stressful situation and where they have used heart math with
those call center employees they saw quite a number of positive results
in in the health of those individuals their ability to manage stressful situations
um and i believe the the improvement in satisfaction of their their clients
so um lots of positive changes
that we have seen in in our patients and that heart math has seen
through the various studies that it’s done through the the years um
and then the third question is belly breathing essential to success
um i i don’t i would say no
um what we’re not really doing belly breathing uh and in fact i’m not quite
sure what is is meant by that term we’re simply slowing the pace of our breathing we’re
breathing in inflating the lungs maximally to roughly about the count of
five but it may be a little longer or a little less uh for you
and then exhaling and then as we get into a rhythm of slowly
inhaling fully exhaling fully uh then we are able to um
um [Music] we’re able to
shift into that state of coherence
and the follow-up question from this viewer
is um he’s defining uh belly breathing as initiating belly before lungs and
vice versa on exhale um i
that that’s not a technique that that i’ve advocated or used i’m not saying that it may not be helpful to some
but i’m really talking about um breathing uh from from the lungs
so those are the the questions that we uh we have um i want to thank you for your time
today i hope this has been helpful um as a clinic we’re in the process of
working out details of how we can help make the heart math
training and technology more accessible and easily accessible
to maxwell care patients and so more details will be forthcoming
on that but i hope you’re intrigued by this application of heart rate
variability and you’ll be willing to try it we think it has
has great benefits so thank you for your time and
i’ll look forward to the next group visit when i get to address another topic
thanks so much for your attention

This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website or in any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This blog does not constitute the practice of any medical, nursing or other professional health care advice, diagnosis or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website or in any linked materials. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or call for emergency medical help on the nearest telephone immediately.

David M. Ferriss, Jr., MD, MPH

David Ferriss, MD is a board-certified preventive medicine physician with a special interest in the role of a healthy lifestyle in the prevention and reversal of chronic disease.