Over the past few years, I have become obsessed with heartmath biofeedback/coherence training software. If you have never heard of HeartMath, they make devices and software that measure your heart rate and then use well researched statistical techniques to give you realtime feedback about what kind of mental/physical state you are in. The purpose is to use the feedback that the software is giving you to drive yourself towards a more positive or *parasympathetic state. At any point in time, the software will tell you that you are in one of three categories, low coherence, medium coherence, or high coherence (you can see this by looking at the screen, or simply listening to the tones that the software plays).
When I use the HeartMath software, I am able to tap into a state that I believe some people would characterize as a “flow” state, a state that many athletes and professionals try to achieve when they are embarking on a difficult task. Even now, as I am writing this blog post, I am plugged in and running heartmath on my phone, actively participating in the biofeedback.
If you are familiar with Heartmath’s method of coherence training, then you know that you are supposed to: Breathe deeply and evenly, focus on breathing through the area of the heart, and focus on positive energy/memories/loved ones/affirmations. I think that this is a very beneficial way to do the coherence training, and this is how I tell my friends and family to do it when I first show them how to use the software. However, I have discovered a way to train that allows me to benefit even more from using HeartMath’s software. I have discovered that semi-passive coherence training, that is, training without focusing my thoughts on anything in particular, has allowed me to find benefits in areas where I did not expect it.
Let me describe how semi-passive coherence (SPCT) training works. When I do SPCT, I am normally doing some kind of work on my computer, watching television, or reading. I call it “semi-passive” because you are not actively thinking about anything in particular (like breathing or positive emotions), even though you are still actively participating in the biofeedback, listening to the sounds, and trying to achieve a state of high coherence. This is different from the HeartMath method of training, which does require you to focus your mind on particular things. You might ask, “How can you achieve a state of high coherence if you are not changing the focus of your thoughts?” Although you are not changing the focus of your thoughts, there is a way of changing how you think and how you feel, by doing something I call physically and mentally letting go. You “let go” into whatever you are doing, whether it is reading a book or sending an email to a coworker. You “let go” of negative or anxious thoughts as they come into your mind. I have found that the more I am able to “let go,” the higher my coherence level goes. And, if negative or stressful thoughts try to creep in, and I start to give them too much attention, my coherence level starts to go back down.
The reason I wanted to write this post, is because it has been my experience that most people perceive HeartMath primarily as a way of measuring your meditation practice. But, I believe that training in the way that I described, using the semi-passive method, has even further benefits. When you start to train while doing different tasks, like working at your desk, you learn what kind of state your mind is in when you are normally doing those things, and the feedback that the software gives you allows you to transform your ability to do work in a way that makes difficult work more pleasant and more efficient. I believe that this also greatly improves mental and physical health, because you are teaching yourself to be in a more pleasant state during situations when you would normally feel stressed or indifferent. It is for this reason, that I would love to see HeartMath create a means of wireless coherence training, possibly by allowing compatibility with other portable electrocardiogram devices, or creating their own. I honestly just want to use the software all the time, not only during “meditation” sessions. I imagine a world where we are all walking around with constant awareness of our state of coherence.
*I use the word “parasympathetic” very loosely here and for lack of a better term. It’s not exactly clear to me that the software is actually driving you toward a more parasympathetic state. The software is driving you to increase the power at .1 hertz on the heart rate variability frequency spectrum. I believe there is no clear consensus in the academic literature on what exactly occurs at the .1 hertz frequency spectrum. My personal experience with the software tells me that something undeniably interesting and beneficial happens when you increase the power of frequencies near .1 hz and beyond that, while decreasing the power of the lower frequencies. I’m not saying that you will have the same experience. My goal with this post is for people to try it for themselves.
This is what I use:
There is a non-IOS option as well:
(Notice: I get 15% for purchases through the above links. I wrote this article before I got 15% from Heartmath. After writing the post, I found out that Heartmath had an affiliate program, so I replaced the old links in this article with the new affiliated ones. I will never post a product on this blog that I don't fully believe in.)