Your spirit is an important driver in life and has a great impact on health and performance. But how can you tell if you’re “spiritually” healthy? Most spiritual assessments consist of perception-based surveys or questions about your faith, involvement in a religious community, spiritual practices, or level of spiritual factors such as gratitude, love, peace, and hope. These are helpful, but what if there were ways to actually measure the physiology of the spirit and how it affects your energy levels?
To many people the spirit seems abstract and mysterious. It’s like the wind. You can’t see where it comes from or where it’s going. However, you can feel its effect and measure its direction and speed. While there might not be a direct spiritual measurement for your body—such as temperature, blood pressure, or cholesterol levels—at this point in time, there’s a way to see the impact of the relationship between your spirit and body.
Your autonomic nervous system manages important functions—such as heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion—that you don’t use conscious thought to regularly control. Your nervous system is always active to help your body adjust to both the internal and external demands of life as well.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is a reliable index of autonomic function and a window to understanding the physiology of your soul. HRV is a measure of how much time varies between heartbeats. This seems counterintuitive. Most people think the heart beats in a metronome-like fashion at exactly the same interval between beats. However, your heart slows down when you exhale and speeds up when you inhale. It constantly changes in conjunction with other systems to help your body adjust to different stress levels and demands.
So what do these changes between heartbeats have to do with health, spirit, and performance? It turns out that when the variability between heartbeats is chronically low, people tend to be fatigued and are at greater risk of burnout, illness, and injuries. On the other hand, high HRV is a sign of increased energy, adaptability, resilience, and overall capacity for health and performance.
HRV is similar to the gas mileage of a car. Miles per gallon is an overall measure of how a car responds to driving conditions. Low gas mileage could come from a combination of factors such as road conditions, driving habits, dirty spark plugs, clogged air filter, low tire pressure, bad gas, etc. In the same way, HRV is affected by many factors. However, it’s a good overall measure of how your body is responding to life demands, and that’s why elite athletes and Warfighters rely on HRV to optimize training and readiness.
Even though HRV isn’t used to diagnose disease or specific conditions, it can help you understand overall function, energy, and spirit. The level and quality of HRV is reflected in one’s spirit and energy levels. When your HRV is low, it can be a sign that your spirit is weary, downcast, and disheartened. Still, people with higher HRV tend to be rich in spirit, energized, enthusiastic, and determined when faced with adversity.
It’s important to manage your energy levels for well-being and performance, and HRV is a tool to boost awareness around what renews and strengthens your life energy and spirit. Ask your healthcare provider about biofeedback therapy, which uses electronic sensors on your body to provide data that can help you monitor and train your HRV. To learn more, read HPRC’s “Tune your body for high performance through HRV.”