To explore the physiology of zazen, we began by recording respiration and heart rhythms using a respiration monitor and an electrocardiographic (ECG) sensor.
Eight subjects participated in the study. Some had training in zazen; others had experience with other meditative traditions (Vipassana, Yogic). Electrocardiogram and respiration data were collected for both meditative (counting the breath) and non-meditative (reading) conditions. Sessions were about 20 minutes long.
A Cardiorespiratory Viewer computer program was developed to aid in the display and analysis of the breath and heart data.
Results were as follows:
At least among these eight subjects, trained in Zen, Vipassana and Yoga, breath rate was substantially slower (by at least a factor of two) during meditation than during reading. This is not surprising, given that these ancient traditions have a common origin.
In addition, we noted that heart rate did not vary appreciatively between the meditation condition and non-meditative reading. Again, this is expected as our heart rate is not usually under our conscious control and it is generally not part of meditation training.