A new year gives us a new opportunity to care for our heart’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. Research tells us that the amount of time between our heart beats, our heart rate variability, can indicate general wellness. Trauma treatment psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk says that “tells you something about how your breath and your heart are in sync with each other.” The greater the variability, the better.
Traumatized people have low variability rates, reflecting another way trauma disconnects people from their bodies. In seeking treatment options, van der Kolk and his team asked, “How can we change people’s heart rate variability?” One answer they found: yoga.
Yoga’s emphasis on breathing and movement activates parts of the brain that trauma shuts off, allowing people to “regain ownership over” their bodies. In fact, any physical activity that “engages your body in a mindful or purposeful way,” and pays special attention to breathing has potential to improve heart rate variability and reactive the parts of our brains disconnected by trauma or stress.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, the psalmist writes, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart (v. 11). Imagine someone being upright in heart while stretching towards the sky, or breathing with intention while planting flowers in the garden, or running along a trail leading into a forest of towering hardwoods.
The wellbeing between body and spirit flows both ways. When we make peace with our spirit, peace flows to our bodies. When we make peace with our bodies, peace flows into our spirits, too.
Source: On Being podcast, Krista Tippett interview with Bessel van der Kolk, July 11, 2013, retrieved February 22, 2021. https://onbeing.org/programs/bessel-van-der-kolk-how-trauma-lodges-in-the-body/
How will you be physically and spiritually upright in heart this year?
God, help me breathe deeply this day, knowing that every breath I breathe is your Spirit. Amen.