If you have taken up the meditation challenge or maybe have been doing it for years you may be asking yourself, “How do I know if I am doing this right?” While anytime you take some time to balance yourself out is a time well spent it is nice to know that you are indeed gaining some benefits, especially, if it’s a new skill for you.
But first I shall blind you with some science
Cheesy 80s song reference aside I will not try to bore you with the science. I having a background in Sport and Performance Psychology and taken a few exercise physiology courses love the stuff. Have I mentioned how much of a geek I am. So I will keep it short and include a couple of links to references for those who want to know more.
Why balanced breathing is effective and what it actually is doing. I mentioned stress in an earlier post. The body in order to deal with the stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (otherwise known as the fight or flight response). That’s how the body speeds up the heart, through sympathetic tone. The same thing happens when we take a nice deep diaphragmatic breath. The body senses all that oxygen in the lungs and through a bunch of physiological triggers the sympathetic nervous system goes into action, increases your heart rate and gets that oxygen into the blood and the blood to the body. Now on the exhale of balanced breathing the body collects signals and activates the parasympathetic system to slow the heart. So on the inhale you have sympathetic tone and on the exhale parasympathetic tone. If they are equal then you are balanced and the body is working as efficiently as possible. When you are balanced your heart rate looks like this over time:
When you are balanced there is high heart rate variability (HRV). So finding a biofeedback device or app can help you track HRV. The above picture is from the emwave program that was developed and marketed by a company called Heartmath. They make a PC based product and an app (Inner Balance) based product (currently only on iOS). Both require a sensor that monitors pulse. The computer program is a bit pricey. The app is free but the sensor does cost some money.
There are other lower cost options that are apps on both the iOS and Android platforms. I will mention a few that I have tried out. These all operate under the same principle but present the results in different forms. Sweatbeat HRV is an app. Depending on which app store you get it the cost will vary. I also believe there are in app purchases. This app requires a chest Heart Rate Monitor or something else. You can check it out on their site. It operates similar to emwave but has some different features as well.
Another app that is on both platforms is HeartRate+ Coherence. This one you also have to pay for but does not require a separate device to record your heart rate. It uses the camera and flash on your phone. You hold your finger over the camera and the flash illuminates the capillaries (I’m guessing) and detects blood flow. Another similarly functioning app, Stress check, uses the camera as well but presents the results as just your stress level. Low stress is high HRV and High stress is low HRV.
As with anything tech related you might run into issues of reliability. I have used all and for the most part they all do a good job in comparison to emwave. My recommendation is to use one and experiment on yourself. See what gets you balanced, see what stresses you out. You might be surprised on what thoughts can induce a fight or flight response and some that you’d think would but don’t. The ultimate goal is to recognize when you are in balance so you can do it without an app anytime and anywhere. Have a good weekend and God Bless!
“At night I remember my music; I meditate in my heart, and my spirit ponders.”
Psalms 77:6 (HCSB)
If you follow me on Twitter the rest of the month I will post my results from the Inner Balance app as well as others. @functionaldad