My most recent hobby horse is the topic of heart rate variability. In addition to being an interesting glance at the effects of training and recovery, it’s also a wonderful metaphor for the yoga experience.
When the body is relaxed and recovered, the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant, and the space between heartbeats becomes variable. If your BPM is 60, say, and you’re relaxed and healthy, your heart isn’t beating exactly once every second. Instead, it follows an uneven rhythm. And, contrary to what you might think, that’s a good thing. During stress (including exercise) the variability between beats drops and the rhythm becomes more regular. The breath follows a similar pattern. Watch a spouse, a child, or a pet sleeping, and you’ll find a breath that follows its own organic pattern, sometimes pausing during inhalation or after exhalation, sometimes extending the exhalation so that it’s longer than the inhalation.
When you’re in a state of relaxation, heart rate and breath variable, your cardiovascular and respiratory systems are ready to respond beat by beat and breath by breath to the needs of your body. Your body is living in the moment, fully present—and that’s yoga.
Sidenote: Certain heart rate monitors (notably, the Polar S810i and the Suunto t6, and the soon-to-be-released Polar RS800 and the Suunto t3 and t4) can measure beat-to-beat variability, giving you a snapshot of your recovery level along with lots more data on how your system is handling your training. If you have experience with one of these watches, I’d love to hear from you—e-mail me HERE.
Would you like to read more by Sage Rountree? You can find her blog at sagetree!