I just got my first monthly report from Whoop, it’s analyzed the excess amount of vitals it’s taken 24 hours a day in October and set that data against things I’ve input, like when I’ve done pranayama, yoga, meditation, and other stuff like if I was hydrated or got a massage and having quantitative results about how those things directly affected my health is ASTOUNDING!
Because OBVIOUSLY we know these things are good for us, there’s absolutely no shock there. But somehow having these specifics I’m like, now I can’t not do these things. Right? Because I know exactly the cost of not doing them on my health, and my health is already somewhat precarious because of the OTS. I remember when I found out that aspartame turns into formaldehyde in your body and I never drank Diet Coke again. Hopefully, now that I know exactly how good these are for me, I’ll be more reliable about doing them. Anyway, here’s some highlights:
The single biggest overall impact across the board was pranayama. It dropped my resting heart rate by 3bpm (which is pretty accurate because they measure it constantly while you’re sleeping then take the average, versus most people measure it once in the morning), increased my heart rate variability (a more reliable tell of your nervous system’s health) by 16ms (which is good, you want lower heart rate but higher variability), increased my sleep duration by an average of 17 MINUTES, and also increased my time spent in REM sleep.
When I did yoga, there were positive effects on my heart rate and variability, meditation had substantial effects on my heart rate variability and total sleep time, hydration also had really high numbers (decreased RHR by 3, increased HRV by 9, and +15minutes sleep), and massage (Tim and I massage each other sometimes before bed, it’s not like a full length pro massage even) had a pretty big impact, decreasing HR by 3, improving HRV by 14, and +6 minutes of sleep. I definitely think this data will go a long way towards motivating me to continue these good habits!
Okay so I mentioned last time that I just found out my nervous system problems are a subset of a whole spectrum of problems called Sympathetic Dominance, and it has to do with being too intense. Last night, I was doing an old recorded Baron Baptiste class and I had this sudden realization, this intense stuff is not serving me, even if I love it, and it’s most familiar to me. I need to soften, let go, move slowly. I love tapas and I have extreme respect what it does but fire fire fire, burn out the garbage, etc, is just fueling my sympathetic nervous system and the imbalance that’s already there. While I’ve done a lot to improve the situation for my nervous system to be more balanced, I still have things to work on obviously.
So they say you can stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the calming, rest and digest side, by doing breathwork where your exhales are longer than your inhales. A couple things in particular I read will help strengthen or stimulate the parasympathetic is 4-7-8 count inhale, retention, exhale, and alternate nostril breathing with equal inhales and retentions, and double exhales (that would look like 4-4-8-4), and sometimes I skip the retentions and just do a four count in and eight out. So I’ve noticed I struggle with retention now, I’m pretty out of practice with intense pranayama.
I read in Desikachar’s book that if your heart rate increases at all during retention, you shouldn’t be practicing it. “The breath should never be held if there is a sudden increase in the pulse rate. Heartbeat and respiration are interdependent and if the breathing is poor, the pulse increases. There are psychological reasons for this rule, too. Many people are very nervous about their hearts and a rapid increase in their pulse rate may cause anxiety. The guiding principle is htat holding our breath should never make us uneasy, but rather we should be able to observe quietly the quality of our breathing.” Which is from Heart of Yoga again, as far as I know, Desikachar only wrote the one book.
So basically, what’s really hard about all this is, you’re trying to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system by breathing slower in general, and doing these specific pranayama practices also, and by doing that you hope to create a calming effect on your whole body, including your heart. But, retention also stresses your heart and might increase your heart rate temporarily. I guess it’s all a part of yoga, right, where you’re trying to do increasingly complicated poses without compromising your smooth, long, steady breathing. It’s all a practice, and sometimes a struggle, and hopefully by the end we’ll be calmer. Really, all of this comes down to sthira/sukha, strength and softness, trying to find balance.
I did a guided meditation on Insight Timer afterward where a woman taught me to use vibration to stimulate my nervous system by singing “voo” much like we sing/chant aum. I did feel calmer afterward, but it’s always hard to pinpoint exactly why. I’ve already read that singing in general stimulates the vagus nerve, and that singing in groups improved peoples’ heart rate variability.
In any case, at least I’ve got physiological data to back up that even though the pranayama is increasing my heart rate and I’m struggling with it, it’s having significant positive affects on my cardiovascular system and sleep! And I’ve already noticed that having the numbers to back up what I already knew about how good these practices are for me is motivating me to actually complete them.