How the Wim Hof Method breathing enhances heart rate variability.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, controlled by our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), operating beyond conscious control. The ANS comprises two gears: the 'fight and flight' (sympathetic) and the 'rest and digest' (parasympathetic), activated based on our situation (stressed or relaxed).
The heartbeat and HRV are directly linked to this operating system. In 'fight and flight' mode, HRV is higher (less flexible and more constant), while in 'rest and digest mode', HRV is lower (more flexible and less constant). Through the Wim Hof Method breathing, we can consciously enter this ANS using our breath. A single session of Wim Hof Method breathwork trains our ANS to become more flexible. A more flexible ANS translates to a more flexible HRV, achieved through the following process.
During Wim Hof Method breathing exercises, we transition from active breathing to breath holds multiple times in one session. This alternation between two breathing phases corresponds to the two parts of the ANS, directly influencing heart rate. By alternating between these phases, we bring the nervous system back to a balanced state, known as homeostasis. This point allows the nervous system to flexibly shift between the more active and restful parts of the ANS, termed:
Nervous System Variability (NSV).
More active breathing leads to a more active heart rate and lower HRV, while breath retentions result in a less active heart and higher HRV. As NSV is directly linked to the heart (a direct result of the nervous system), training NSV directly enhances HRV. A more balanced nervous system equates to higher HRV.
A more balanced nervous system = higher HRV