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Keywords:

  • Autonomic nervous system;
  • Parasympathetic tone;
  • Relaxation;
  • Heart rate variability;
  • Power spectral analysis;
  • Autogenic training

Abstract

To examine the hypothesis that the relaxation response is associated with an increase in cardiac parasympathetic tone, the frequency components of heart rate variability during relaxation training were investigated in 16 college students. Electrocardiograms and pneumograms were recorded during a 5-min baseline period followed by three successive 5-min sessions of the autogenic training (relaxation) or by the same periods of quiet rest (control), while subjects breathed synchronously with a visual pacemaker (0.25 Hz). Although neither the magnitude nor the frequeney of respiration showed a significant difference between relaxation and control, the amplitude of the high-frequency component of heart rate variability increased only during relaxation (p= .008). There was no significant difference in the ratio of the low-frequency (0.04–0.15 Hz) to the high-frequency amplitudes. The increased high-frequency amplitude without changes in the respiratory parameters indicates enhanced cardiac parasympathetic tone. Thus, our results support the initial hypothesis of this study. Enhanced cardiac parasympathetic tone may explain an important mechanism underlying the beneficial effect of the relaxation response.