Heart rate variability (HRV) during Healing Touch

Heart rate variability (HRV) is widely used in meditation studies to study the effects of meditation on the autonomic nervous system.   The autonomic nervous system controls our visceral organs, including the heart, stomach and lungs, and is composed of two parts:  sympathetic and parasympathetic.  Sympathetic neurons are involved in “fight or flight” – responding to danger and stress.   Parasympathetic neurons are involved in “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” – helping us to digest food, reproduce and relieve ourselves.   Heart rate is a normally a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Healing Touch (HT) biofield therapy (a type of energy healing) emphasizes being “heart-centered” and making a “heart-to-heart” connection with the client.

During 18 Healing Touch sessions (5 healers, 18 clients), I measured heart rate variability (HRV) of both healers and clients simultaneously.  Each participant wore a FirstBeat portable HRV monitor during the session.  HRV was analyzed with Kubios software.   In HRV recordings, the sympathetic nerve activity is reflected in low-frequency (LF) levels (blue in diagrams below), and the parasympathetic nerve activity, in high-frequency (HF) levels (yellow in diagrams).  Practitioners of meditation and other mind-body practices typically show higher HF levels than individuals who are stressed.

I also measured random event generator (REG) output and magnetic field activity in the healing room, to detect any changes in the healing environment.

The HT practitioners showed three different patterns of HF HRV activity.  One HT practitioner/instructor showed very high levels of HF (A, below).  She practices heart-based meditations on a daily basis, and her HRV showed a strong oscillatory rhythm, reflecting her rhythmic breathing.   Two HT practitioners showed modest levels of HF (B, below).  Both of these practitioners have done various types of inner work for a long time.  The last two HT practitioners showed negligible levels of HF (C, below).  These two practitioners were younger in age and recently certified.


Interestingly, high HF HRV levels were associated with a practitioner’s ability to alter REG-output.  The three HT practitioners with moderate-to-high HF levels were able to significantly change REG-output during the HT sessions.  REG-output during the HT sessions with the two practitioners with negligible HF HRV activity was random and non-significant.  In other words, the HT practitioners with strong parasympathetic components in their HRV were able to alter the healing space during an HT session.  This finding, which is preliminary, suggests that the effectiveness of HT practitioners may be measurable with HRV and REG.