Friday 26 Oct 2018

Inner Balance: Biofeedback for Wellbeing

The HeartMath Institute offers at-home biofeedback that cultivates health, resilience, and overall wellbeing for your body and mind. It’s meditation-esque, but not exactly the same. The app, called Inner Balance, essentially helps you train your heart to access a harmonious state called coherence, which corresponds to all kinds of physiological and mental good things. In other words, when your heart is in smooth, patterned rhythm, you are happier and healthier. And you can learn to get yourself there via this simple practice.

How it works: a pulse sensor clips onto your ear and connects to your phone. The app can then measure your heart rate variability, or HRV. Our heart rate, it turns out, does not stay constant but rather fluctuates continuously. When we’re in coherence, this fluctuation has the pattern of a smooth sine wave. When we’re dysregulated, the HRV graph is jagged and erratic. Heart rhythm coherence regulates our overall physiology, stabilizes our emotions, and helps our brains work better. You can read more about the science here. And so this app, using verbal prompts, sounds, and visual guides, shows us how we’re doing and coaches us toward greater coherence.

The Quick Coherence technique is both proven and uncomplicated: breathe in rhythm, focusing on the heart area, and bring to mind an experience of appreciation, love or joy. That’s it. The biofeedback helps you identify, sense, and sustain the feeling of heart rhythm coherence that results. The more you practice, the more you can access this feeling in daily life, so you recover better from stress, have greater clarity of mind, and find more enjoyment. The Inner Balance practice doesn’t just train your heart but rather connects you to your heart, and therefore to yourself. It will help with and be helped by meditation, certainly. And it’s no accident, science-wise, that in pop terms we view our heart as our essential core, our driving force. Seriously; just read up on all the ways our hearts send messages to the rest of our bodies and brains.

My HeartMath Experience So Far

I’ve practiced by sitting in meditation position, with my phone set in front of me in a viewable, minimal-neck-craning type location. (As tempting as it is to close your eyes, you do need to watch the screen.) I like the primary home screen, with its HRV ticker and rainbow-wheel breath timer that expands and contracts in a soothing, rhythmic color-bloom. Your session progresses through three-minute circuits around this wheel, with red, blue or green colors signifying your level of coherence. So far I’ve practiced for nine to fifteen minutes each time, but even shorter sessions have benefits.

My average coherence level improved significantly in just a few sessions. I can sustain high coherence for long stretches during my practice, and I can even begin to access that state during stressful situations. I also tune into it, mindfully, in ordinary moments. It feels good.

My meditation practice definitely gave me head start. But you can begin anywhere: begin wherever you are.

Feature photo: SrdjanPav for Getty Images

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