Increased heart rate variability during nondirective meditation

Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2012 Aug;19(4):773-80. doi: 10.1177/1741826711414625. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


Purpose: Meditation practices are in use for relaxation and stress reduction. Some studies indicate beneficial cardiovascular health effects of meditation. The effects on the autonomous nervous system seem to vary among techniques. The purpose of the present study was to identify autonomic nerve activity changes during nondirective meditation.

Materials and methods: Heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure variability (BPV), and baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) were monitored in 27 middle-aged healthy participants of both genders, first during 20 min regular rest with eyes closed, thereafter practising Acem meditation for 20 min. Haemodynamic and autonomic data were collected continuously (beat-to-beat) and non-invasively. HRV and BPV parameters were estimated by power spectral analyses, computed by an autoregressive model. Spontaneous activity of baroreceptors were determined by the sequence method. Primary outcomes were changes in HRV, BPV, and BRS between rest and meditation.

Results: HRV increased in the low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) bands during meditation, compared with rest (p = 0.014, 0.013, respectively). Power spectral density of the RR-intervals increased as well (p = 0.012). LF/HF ratio decreased non-significantly, and a reduction of LF-BPV power was observed during meditation (p < 0.001). There was no significant difference in BRS. Respiration and heart rates remained unchanged. Blood pressure increased slightly during meditation.

Conclusion: There is an increased parasympathetic and reduced sympathetic nerve activity and increased overall HRV, while practising the technique. Hence, nondirective meditation by the middle aged may contribute towards a reduction of cardiovascular risk.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Baroreflex
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cardiography, Impedance
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart / innervation*
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Pressoreceptors / physiology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Time Factors