HRV 101 Pt. 3: 6 Ways You Can Increase Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

HRV 101 Pt. 3: 6 Ways You Can Increase Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

At this point, we know what HRV is, and we understand what HRV training is. In Part 3 of the HRV series, we’re discussing how to increase HRV by integrating HRV training into your daily life.

As soon as we start taking these steps, we will activate a subconscious level of awareness and naturally begin improving low heart rate variability. It reminds us that we’re safe enough to move out of survival mode into recovery mode, lowering our stress level. If you’re able to take the time to pay attention to your breath, listen to your heartbeats and feel the little hairs inside your nostrils move, you couldn’t possibly be running from a lion at this moment. We’re safe. Say it out loud. Rinse and repeat and our neurons make more meaningful connections each time.

Remember, we call HRV training “training” because it’s an exercise that takes place over our entire lifetime. When the heart and lungs are working together in harmony, we’re in balance (homeostasis). We’re seeking homeostasis, which is the balance that allows us to enter our peak recovery state and begin improving our mental health, stress levels, and blood pressure. We’re restoring our reserves so we can tackle our stressors whenever they might show up to combat chronic stress, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure.

Heart rate variability (HRV) training, or flow state training, trains the mind and body to be more present and adaptable to change, enhancing our stress management, heart health, and parasympathetic activity. Let’s get started.

HRV management through breathing

Mindful breathing is a powerful tool for increasing HRV and can be done at any point of the day and in any setting. Breathwork and breathing exercises is are free and has have life-changing benefits. There is an enormous amount of literature to support the importance of breathwork for overall health — a favorite at Apollo is by Lehrer & Gevirtz to explain the relationship between breathwork and high HRV through biofeedback.

The following exercise is Dr. Dave’s favorite, and it works well for both people who have never practiced deep breathing and for those who have. It allows one to easily control the rate and timing of airflow. It’s a similar motion to smoking or whistling. 

  • Purse your lips as if you are drinking through a straw.
  • Take a slow, controlled breath through your pursed lips until your lungs are full. Pause for a moment (1-2 seconds) before you begin to exhale. 
  • Exhale slowly, taking a couple seconds longer to exhale than you did to inhale.
  • When your lungs are empty, pause for a moment (1-2 seconds) before repeating.  

Concentrate on your consecutive heartbeats and try timing your breath with Apollo vibrations to set a rhythm for yourself and guide you through the experience. Apollo vibrations are designed to center us into our bodies and induce a similar state of safety to breathing.

Focus on sleep quality to raise your HRV score

We get it; this is not a small task. When we’re stressed, sleep is the first thing to take a hit. When we’re sleeping, we’re maximally vulnerable. Evolutionarily, it means our body has let down its guard. That’s nearly impossible when we believe that there is something that could possibly be threatening around us. Luckily, we can use breathwork to reduce our sympathetic activity, decrease our stress level and transition to a feeling of safety by reminding ourselves that there is nothing threatening our actual survival when we’re lying in bed. Breathing long, slow, deep breaths as if we’re asleep naturally boosts safety signals and reminds us that we’re safe enough to fall asleep. 

Here are some micro and macro changes to make to get quality sleep back on your side:

  • Set a consistent bedtime. Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day (even on the weekends) helps balance your circadian rhythm and supports recovery.
  • Watch the sunset and go outside as early as you can in the morning. Even brief exposure to the setting sun and early morning light can help balance your sleep and wake cycles.
  • Don’t drink liquids for at least an hour before bed to avoid your bladder waking you up, interrupting quality sleep. 
  • Sleep in a dark room. If you live in a city, using blackout shades or an eye mask can help.
  • Avoid noise disturbances to maintain deep sleep. If you live in the city or a louder environment, a white noise machine may help.
  • Avoid blue light from screens for at least an hour before bed. Blue light is stimulating, and so is the content we’re consuming. 
  • Avoid caffeine and stimulants, mainly after noon.
  • Avoid alcohol and sedatives before bed. While many believe it helps make us sleep, it is well known to disrupt sleep quality and leave us groggy the next day.
  • Sleep in a cool environment. A cold room helps facilitate deep sleep, and you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night if you’re too hot.

Music impacts HRV

Apollo was initially developed by neuroscientist musicians who saw and felt the power of music. Put headphones on and tune-in to improve HRV and access to safe mindful recovery states. You don’t have to listen to opera or smooth jazz; people feel relaxed from many different music types. It’s worth taking a few minutes to think about what music helps you feel most calm and relaxed so you may obtain higher HRV.

HRV training through touch

You know the feeling of a welcomed hug from a loved one on a bad day? A soothing touch from a loved one is one of the most powerful signals that we are safe and ready to recover. Skin hunger is real, so establish someone in your life (platonic or romantic), who you can give a big fat bear hug.

Or, if no one else is around, try a solo soothing touch by hugging yourself, or applying pressure to your chest or the vagus nerve’s afferent terminal (a pressure point on the inside of the outside of the ear.)

Gentle movement

Gentle movement is great to unwind from stress. Try basic stretching and regular exercise. Dr. Dave recommends timing your breathing to your stretches. Yin Yoga is a straightforward and approachable aerobic exercise (don’t worry if you’ve never done yoga before) that prioritizes deep breathing and has incredible benefits for overall health. The most essential part of yin yoga for reducing stress level is breathing. Try pairing your breathing and consecutive heartbeats to Apollo vibrations while you stretch.

HRV training with Apollo Neuro

A tool like the Apollo wearable is a catalyst for state change to remind us we’re safe and in control of our experience. 

Here is how to do HRV training with the Apollo wearable:

  1. Follow our suggested mode usages to get the most of Apollo.
  2. Using Apollo intentionally reminds us that we are safe enough to be present with ourselves, in our bodies, in the moment. The more we use Apollo to remind ourselves we’re safe and in control in situations that we have considered uncomfortable, triggering, or upsetting in the past, the more we are retraining our brains and increasing HRV.
  3. Breathe with Apollo. As you pair your breath with Apollo, it enhances the effects and over time, you’re making it easier to tap into your breath to bring yourself back into balance whenever you need it.

Practice makes perfect

We’re not as complicated as we think we are. As discovered by Eric Kandel, practice makes perfect. Our patterns as humans go back to ancient animals, the aplysia sea snails! The sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) is responsible for survival mode. Once we’re past the point of survival and we’re safe, our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to turn on recovery mode to help us feel good and have an enjoyable and fulfilling life.

If we don’t feel physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and legally safe, our recovery system can not do its job. Safety is at the core of HRV training. These techniques help you feel safe and in control, on your terms.