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Reliable quantitative measure of meditation is still elusive. Although electroencephalogram (EEG) and heart rate variability (HRV) are known as quantitative measures of meditation, effects of meditation on EEG and HRV may well take long time as these measures are involuntarily controlled. Effect of mediation on respiration is well known; however, quantitative measures of respiration during meditation have not been studied. Breath rate variability (BRV) as an alternate measure of meditation even over a short duration is proposed. The main objective of this study is to test the hypothesis that BRV is a simple measure that differentiates between meditators and nonmeditators. This was a nonrandomized, controlled trial. Volunteers meditate in their natural habitat during signal acquisition. We used Photo-Plythysmo-Gram (PPG) signal acquisition system from BIO-PAC and recorded video of chest and abdomen movement due to respiration during a short meditation (15 min) session for 12 individuals (all males) meditating in a relaxed sitting posture. Seven of the 12 individuals had substantial experience in meditation, while others are controls without any experience in meditation. Respiratory signal from PPG signal was derived and matched with that of the video respiratory signal. This derived respiratory signal is used for calculating BRV parameters in time, frequency, nonlinear, and time-frequency domain. First, breath-to-breath interval (BBI) was calculated from the respiration signal, then time domain parameters such as standard deviation of BBI (SDBB), root mean square value of SDBB (RMSSD), and standard deviation of SDBB (SDSD) were calculated. We performed spectral analysis to calculate frequency domain parameters (power spectral density [PSD], power of each band, peak frequency of each band, and normalized frequency) using Burg, Welch, and Lomb-Scargle (LS) method. We calculated nonlinear parameters (sample entropy, approximate entropy, Poincare plot, and Renyi entropy). We calculated time frequency parameters (global PSD, low frequency-high frequency [LF-HF] ratio, and LF-HF power) by Burg LS and wavelet method. The results show that the mediated individuals have high value of SDSD (+24%), SDBB (+29%), and RMSSD (+26%). Frequency domain analysis shows substantial increment in LFHF power (+73%) and LFHF ratio (+33%). Nonlinear parameters such as SD1 and SD2 were also more (>20%) for meditated persons. As compared to HRV, BRV can provide short-term effect on anatomic nervous system meditation, while HRV shows long-term effects. Improved autonomic function is one of the long-term effects of meditation in which an increase in parasympathetic activity and decrease in sympathetic dominance are observed. In future works, BRV could also be used for measuring stress.


Rahul Soni, Manivannan Muniyandi. Breath Rate Variability: A Novel Measure to Study the Meditation Effects. International journal of yoga. 2019 Jan-Apr;12(1):45-54

PMID: 30692783

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