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The Autonomic Nervous System

The Autonomic Nervous System regulates the ‘fight or flight’ responses to stress. Heart rate and heart rate variability are indications of how the Autonomic Nervous System is controlling the mind and body. Heart Rate Variability indicates the extent of parasympathetic tone. Consider this a source of mental and physical control, The Brakes. Heart Rate indicates the extent of sympathetic arousal. Consider this a source of mental and physical energy, The Accelerator. Learn more about the Autonomic Nervous System here.

Heart rate correlates with activity of the Sympathetic Nervous System. We can think of SNS as an accelerator, like the gas pedal in a car.  The higher Sympathetic tone, the more energy you have for moving your body and moving your thoughts and feelings.

What is Heart Rate Variability?

But if your Heart Rate is, say, 60/minute, the intervals between beats are not all 1.0 second. Rather, the intervals between beats changes from 1.2/sec, to 1.0/0, to 0.8 sec, and so on. At the end of the minute the heart has beat 60 times. But the intervals between the beats has changed, more or less, over the minute. These changes are Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

HRV seems to correlate with Parasympathetic tone. According to theory, the Parasympathetic Nervous System functions to control or brake energy. The degree of braking can change rapidly, literally within a heartbeat. It is like tapping down on the brakes of a car when you need to slow down to take a curve; then, releasing the brake to accelerate out of the turn.

Can Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability Be Out of Alignment?

Acceleration and braking systems can be more or less in alignment at any one moment. For example, when running HR goes up.   HRV should also increase in high arousal situations to manage the direction of running and to avoid falling down. Similarly, when one is energized mentally by strong thoughts and feelings, high control (HRV) is necessary. With low control, strong emotions can cause anxiety, confusion, and rapid mood shifts. These can, in turn, disrupt decision making and social behavior.

The Body-Mind Analyzer measures both energy (Heart Rate) and control (Heart Rate Variability) moment to moment. So, the alignment of energy and control processes can be assessed.   Alignment is usually a function of unconscious processes.   But with biofeedback, one can learn to influence alignment.  Mental changes and bodily changes affect each other.

Try It Yourself

You should experiment to see how changing thoughts and feelings work to change HR & HRV. We can change thoughts and feelings by altering the direction of attention of your ‘mind’s eye’. One can pay attention to happy ideas, intentions, and memories or to past mistakes, losses, and anxiety, and sadness. HR and HRV will change depending on what you pay attention to. They will also change when physical posture and activity are altered which in turn, can lead to mental changes. Over time you can learn how ways of thinking and moving put you into aligned states as indicated by the app feedback. In some sense, we can think of the Body-Mind analyser as a high-tech “Mood Ring”!

The device is not for diagnosing nor treating mental or physical disorders.  For that you need to consult a healthcare professional. To learn more of the science behind these body-mind processes, consult the following publications:

Bernstein, W.M. (2015). A basic and applied model of the body-mind system. In, G.H.E. Gendolla et al. (Eds). Handbook of Biobehavioral Approaches to Self-Regulation: 397-418. New York: Springer.

Bernstein, W.M. (2014). The Realisation of Concepts: Infinity, Cognition, and Health. London: Routledge.

Porges, S.W. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation. New York: Norton.

Body and Mind Work Together

The Body-Mind Reader measures the relationship between heart rate and HRV.

We don’t know what’s “normal,” that research hasn’t been done yet. So we start each session by getting a baseline. A measure of what your current state of body and mind. The baseline should be taken when you are in the position you will be in during the subsequent measurement period. If you will be sitting, measure your baseline when sitting. If you will be standing or walking, measure the baseline while standing or walking. Changes occur when the alignment of your body and mind is better (green) or worse (red) than your baseline (blue). Green may be associated with a better mood, red with a worse mood, and blue with no change in mood. Do you notice these changes?

How do you feel when the Reader is showing red? In other words, when your heart rate variability is below your average. If you’re like me, you probably sense a feeling of unease, if not outright anxiety. The higher the energy, the worse it gets. How do you feel when you are in the red? How might this affect your ability to make decisions? How do you feel when the Reader is showing green? Here, your heart rate variability is higher than baseline. My theory is, this is the state of being ‘better than well’. A state where you have both energy and control. How do you feel this might affect your ability to make decisions?