Saturday, September 8, 2012

Heartrate variability and the EmWave2 (a review)

I am finally, mentally speaking, back to the real world after an unbelievably great hiking vacation with my kids in the Eastern Sierras in California. Read the last bunch of posts for more on all that, if you are interested in tales (and pics) of stomping around the mountains.

So, what have I been up to? Trying to re-orient myself to CrossFit and lifting, first of all. Hiking a whole lot of miles with a pack on is a great time, and it certainly was made easier by all my CrossFit training and general strength training, but not touching a barbell for almost three weeks made for a rude return to the gym. All that hiking was pure endurance work, not strength training, and the damn barbell felt very heavy upon my return. I am working hard on containing the ego and trying to train smart, meaning not pushing too hard too fast to get back to form, but there is always that damn ego, pushing the other way. "You can lift more than that," it whispers to me, switching to yelling if the whispers are ineffective. It is the old battle, winnable only if I double down and fight that ego-driven crap.

So the usual meditation practice comes in handy, but lately I have upped the meditation ante -- into the previously (for me, anyway) unknown realms of heartrate variability..

Defined as simply as possibly, heartrate variability (HRV) has little to do with your overall heartrate and everything to do with the overall changes between beats, the so-called beat-to-beat interval. The operation/intersection of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems -- and particularly one's ability to calm oneself out of stress through breathing and other meditation-based techniques -- determines how high (good) one's (HRV) is. Stressed-out or depressed people have awful HRV.

So you would think that a person who practices Zen-based meditation would have good HRV. Good HRV is a strong indicator of overall nervous-system and cardiac health, as well as psychological health.

But I wondered. I *think* I can get pretty far into The Zone when I meditate, and it certainly helps my sleep and mood. But how is my HRV?

Pretty damn good, as it turns out, but not perfect.

See, I had some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, so I picked up an EmWave2, which measures and tracks HRV. It even operates at different degrees of difficulty, which, I assume, is just a function of a higher level of sensitivity to HRV as the difficulty levels increase.

I plugged it in and, well, kinda kicked ass at the lowest level. I was able, through pretty simple meditation/breathing techniques, to get my "high coherence" (best) levels at about 95% of my overall time on the machine right off the bat. But when I bump the difficulty level up a bit, it becomes (surprise!) more difficult. And then I really have to zero in on creating that empty mind that the Zen stuff teaches you to strive towards. It is very cool, and, no surprise.... My scores are way better when I am not stressed. Even cooler: when I *am* stressed, I can usually breathe myself into lower stress and higher coherence pretty easily.

I am, ultimately, of two minds about this device. I highly recommend it if you can afford it. It is both a great measuring stick, for a meditation practitioner, of how one's HRV (and resulting health) is affected (and improved) by basic meditation techniques, and a way for the non-meditation person to begin meditation practice in a way that is -- because it's on the computer and can be enhanced with games, music, etc -- designed to be "easier" and more "fun" than staring at a wall. But my second thought is that you shouldn't break the bank to get one of these things. Standard meditation practice gets you all the same results. You just won't be able to measure them so quantitatively. Don't worry about that; you will still feel the difference.

Bottom line: I like my EmWave2 a lot and will keep using it as a way to measure the "success" of my meditation practice, but if it got stolen, I would be fine and would keep on meditating like i was before. Me and the wall.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

1 comment:

  1. The emWave2 is available at half price for $99.50 on 11/28/2014 at