Using technology to find Inner Balance

Credit: Alice Truong/DVICE

Given today's non-stop work culture, it's no surprise that we're stressed out. For those of us not lucky enough to have unlimited paid vacation days (can you even believe that's a thing?), HeartMath wants to help you catch your breath. Yes, as it turns out, there's an app for breathing.

By helping you to pace your breath, HearthMath's Inner Balance app aims to shift your heart rhythm to keep stress at bay. Using an earlobe sensor, the app measures your heart-rate variability, thought to be a representation of your emotional state, to help you find your inner balance.

Using the app has helped me understand how something as simple as breathing can have an impact on my mood. Similarly, instant feedback from the app has also taught me how stressors can distract me. But have I found nirvana? Spoilers: it's still a work in progress.

How it works

The $99 sensor that clips onto your earlobe is connected to your 30-pin iOS device (iPads and iPhones with Lightning connectors will need an adapter). When you begin a new session, the free app will ask you to select one of eight moods that you're currently experiencing, ranging from excited to angry. It will ask you again when you're done, so you can track how effective these exercises are.

During the session, you pace your breathing to follow the animated spectrum of colors at the center of the screen. Somewhat reminiscent of a lotus flower, it pulsates slowly, the colorful orb inflating and deflating, just like your lungs.

The point here is to achieve coherence, which HeartMath says is associated with improved cognitive function and a sense of inner balance, among other positive health qualities. With every breath, the app provides feedback of your coherence based on your heart-rate variation, useful for understanding what works and what doesn't.

Achieving coherence

I have to appreciate how soothing the app experience is. Your level of coherence is conveyed both with color and chimes in varying pitches (high coherence: green, high pitch; medium: blue, medium pitch; low: red, low pitch). But at the same time, I can't help but treat this app like a game.

When I adjust the app to the most difficult challenge level, high coherence can seem like a lofty goal, whereas on the easiest settings, merely changing your breath can achieve a successful result. On the hardest level, I always start with low coherence, and with the wrong state of mind, I can stay there, which kicks off a cycle of frustration and chi dissonance. While it's great to hear that high chime, breath after breath, approaching Inner Balance as a game isn't the right mentality, as it's easy to get caught up in minor achievements and lose sight of the overall goals.

HeartMath recommends that you focus on happy emotions and thoughts during your sessions. But I find even that can be distracting (not helping are the non-stop mobile notifications that inevitably creep up during these exercises). Especially on the highest difficulty, I find I'm most successful at achieving and sustaining high coherence when I clear my mind and don't focus on anything in particular, instead of getting caught up by the mesmerizing rainbow orb at the center.

Each session lasts as long as you want it to. Afterwards, you're brought to a screen that breaks down overall time, time spent in each state of coherence, an achievement score (based on your "coherence points") and a chart of coherence over time — wellness analytics, if you will. A review tab will show you these reports, and you can also keep a journal to keep tabs on how events in your life affect you.

Nirvana?

Have I reached nirvana? I wouldn't go that far. After a few weeks of testing, I can't say I've noticed much improvement on my overall day-to-day mood (it's hard to change a grouchy reviewer). But I can say it's been effective in clearing my head for those five to 10-minute breaks. Nobody needs a $99 gadget to learn how to meditate, but the instant feedback Inner Balance provides is helpful in training people to shift stress and achieve mental clarity.

Via Inner Balance

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