Cardiac coherence training (CCT) involves the use of biofeedback to control heart rate variability (HRV) — the moment-to-moment change in heart rate. With the help of the clinician, a person can learn to make the heart rate fluctuation more rhythmic or coherent.
The skills learned with the use of biofeedback can be practiced at home for relaxation and can be used as a stress management tool during daily activities. However, the program is much more than a simple relaxation technique — a person learns to appreciate oneself, to substitute stressful responses with more positive emotions, and to more freely engage one's heart and caring side.
We have long known that stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) and relaxation or positive emotions involve the parasympathetic system. Much research has shown a direct connection between sympathetic vs. parasympathetic tone and physical and mental health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, there appears to be a two-way communication system between the brain and the nerves surrounding the heart.
This system affects the body's stress hormones and immune system. Research has shown benefits of CCT for management of stress and anxiety symptoms, work satisfaction, and work and school performance. Additionally, the HRV pattern associated with a stress response may be a risk factor for complications in cardiac patients. Further research is needed about the role of CCT for these patients.
There are no specific contraindications to CCT, but individuals with active suicidality or psychosis may require a more intensive level of psychiatric care.
Additionally, there may be technical difficulties with the use of this form of biofeedback for individuals with cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).