Posted from archive: 07.04.2013 | by AMRA

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Krygier et al. [International Journal of Psychophysiology] studied the effects of a 10-day Goenka Vipassana retreat on heart rate variability (HRV) in 36 first-time retreat participants. HRV is a measure of parasympathetic activity that is also a biomarker for subjective well-being, cardiovascular health, and reduced all-cause mortality. Retreat participants completed pre- and post- self-report measures of psychological well-being as well as HRV during mindful attention to their breathing and during a resting baseline.

HRV measures included absolute, normalized, and log transformed measures of high frequency power, along with a measure of low frequency Traube-Hering-Meyer wave (THM) power. High frequency power reflects vagal tone, whereas low frequency THM power reflects baroreceptor activity.

Participants reported significant improvements in satisfaction with life, mindfulness (as measured by the MAAS), and positive affect, and significantly decreased depression, stress and negative affect from pretest to posttest. Effect sizes were all moderate to large. Participants with greater HRV high frequency power had less negative affect, and those with lower THM power had less negative affect, stress, and depression. Absolute high frequency power was greater during meditation than while at rest, but there was no effect of meditation on either normalized high frequency power or THM power.

The Vipassana retreat had a complicated interaction effect on the difference between HRV during meditation and while at rest. Log transformed High Frequency power was higher during meditation than at rest before the retreat, but not after. Conversely, THM power was lower (and normalized high frequency power higher) during meditation compared to at rest after the retreat, but not before. A profound loss in THM power during post-retreat meditation accounts for this, and probably reflects the increased attentional load that occurs during states of positive, full immersion (i.e., states of “flow”).

Reference:

Krygier, J. R., Heathers, J. A., Shahrestani, S., Abbott, M., Gross, J. J., & Kemp, A. H. (2013). Mindfulness meditation, well-being, and heart rate variability: A preliminary investigation into the impact of intensive vipassana meditation. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 89(3):305-13. [PMID: 23797150]

[Link to abstract]