HRV 101 pt. 3: how to do HRV training

Everything you need to know to start HRV training today.

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 integrate HRV training into your daily life.

As soon as we start taking these steps, we will activate a subconscious level of awareness. It reminds us that we’re safe enough to move out of survival mode into recovery mode. If you’re able to take the time to pay attention to your breath 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. We’re restoring our reserves so we can tackle our stressors whenever they might show up.  

HRV training, or flow state training, trains the mind and body to be more present and adaptable to change. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Breathwork

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

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. 

Step 2: Prioritize sleep

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 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 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 rhythms 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.
  • Sleep in a dark room. If you live in a city, using blackout shades or an eye mask can help.
  • Avoid noise disturbances. 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.

Step 3: Soothing music

Apollo was initially developed by neuroscientist musicians who saw and felt the power of music. Put headphones on and tune-in to tune-out and improve access to safe mindful recovery states like those described above with breath. 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. 

Step 4: Soothing 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.)

Step 5: Gentle movement

Gentle movement is great to unwind from stress. Try basic stretching. Dr. Dave recommends timing your breathing to your stretches. Yin Yoga is straightforward and approachable (don’t worry if you’ve never done yoga before) and has incredible benefits. The most essential part of yin yoga is breathing. Try pairing your breathing to Apollo vibrations while you stretch.

Step 6: HRV training with Apollo

A tool like Apollo 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 Apollo:

  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.
  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.

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 (fight-or-flight) nervous system 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.

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