Heart and Circulatory Physiology

Oscillations of heart rate and respiration synchronize during poetry recitation

Dirk Cysarz, Dietrich von Bonin, Helmut Lackner, Peter Heusser, Maximilian Moser, Henrik Bettermann


The objective of this study was to investigate the synchronization between low-frequency breathing patterns and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) of heart rate during guided recitation of poetry, i.e., recitation of hexameter verse from ancient Greek literature performed in a therapeutic setting. Twenty healthy volunteers performed three different types of exercises with respect to a cross-sectional comparison: 1) recitation of hexameter verse, 2) controlled breathing, and 3) spontaneous breathing. Each exercise was divided into three successive measurements: a 15-min baseline measurement (S1), 20 min of exercise, and a 15-min effect measurement (S2). Breathing patterns and RSA were derived from respiratory traces and electrocardiograms, respectively, which were recorded simultaneously using an ambulatory device. The synchronization was then quantified by the index γ, which has been adopted from the analysis of weakly coupled chaotic oscillators. During recitation of hexameter verse, γ was high, indicating prominent cardiorespiratory synchronization. The controlled breathing exercise showed cardiorespiratory synchronization to a lesser extent and all resting periods (S1 and S2) had even fewer cardiorespiratory synchronization. During spontaneous breathing, cardiorespiratory synchronization was minimal and hardly observable. The results were largely determined by the extent of a low-frequency component in the breathing oscillations that emerged from the design of hexameter recitation. In conclusion, recitation of hexameter verse exerts a strong influence on RSA by a prominent low-frequency component in the breathing pattern, generating a strong cardiorespiratory synchronization.

  • creative arts therapy
  • cross-sectional study design
  • bivariate data analysis
  • heart rate variability
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