Acupuncture and Sound Assisted Autonomic Modulation Technique: Patient Guide
Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D. Director, The Pacific Wellness Institute, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Visiting Research Fellow, School of Health Sciences, Tsukuba University of Technology, Japan
Heart Rate Variability The heart is never beating at a consistent pace (unless you wear a pacemaker). The normal fluctuation of heart rate is called heart rate variability (HRV). Many diseases are known to be associated with decreased HRV.[2-7] A person with high stress, emotional disorders and/or an unhealthy lifestyle also tends to show decreased HRV.[3, 8-10] Further, HRV declines as we age.[11-14] The figures below show an example of HRV differences between young and older individuals.
Example of large HRV during deep breathing for a younger and fit individual (29 year old female)
Example of decreased HRV during deep breathing for an older individual (64 year old female)
During most treatment sessions, a blood volume pulse sensor is attached to the patient’s ear lobe (or finger tip). This device displays the patient’s heart (pulse) rate on a screen. By monitoring the heart rate changes, we can obtain vital information such as his/her physical status in general, emotional state, how he/she is responding to the breathing exercise, and how diligently he/she is following breathing cues provided. How is this possible? Because our heart beating rhythm is greatly influenced by emotions and the way we breathe. Heart rate change influenced by breathing is called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). The graph below further illustrates how significantly heart rate changes by simply altering the way we breathe.
A healthy individual’s respiration and heart rate monitored over a 1 minute period
- In the first 30 seconds, the person was breathing at the rate of approximately 15 breaths per minute (typical breathing rate when resting). At that time, the heart was consistently beating at approx. 80 beats per minute.
- In the last 30 seconds, the person slows down breathing to approx. 6 breaths per minute (approximately 10 seconds for a full inhale and exhale)*. You can clearly see that heart rate is largely fluctuating, varying from 62 beats per minute (at the end of exhalation) to 86 beats per minute (at the end of inhalation). The rhythm of the heart and breathing pattern are also in phase with each other during this time period.
* In case some of you are wondering: what would happen if we slow down breathing even further, say to 3 breaths per minute? Based on HRV analysis, slower breathing is not necessarily better for mos t people. You may refer to this link to see an example: http://www.acupuncture-treatment.com/science-of-breath.html