To get a sense of how powerful modern biofeedback tools are, I ordered up a fresh new
personal stress reliever ($199) from HeartMath, one of the latest in portable digital relaxation aids.
The emwave is a slick metallic box about the size of a smallish iPod, with an oval red scanner on one side. I was instructed to place my thumb over the scanner; hold it there until the device found my pulse and breathing rate; and then wait about 30 seconds for the emwave to rate my level of stress.
I know it's probably not the case for everybody, but my thumb is not built to be calm: I had a heck of a time getting the emwave to pass judgment on my condition. (HeartMath does provide an ear lobe attachment that makes getting a good connection simpler.)
But after a bit of noodling, I finally got the sensor to pick up my heart and breath rate.
Then there was the single light-emitting-diode display. One's entire physical state -- yup, the whole shooting match -- is boiled down by the emwave to three levels of stress: Red is for not so good, blue for mellowish and green for zenlike.
The goal, then, is to get from your stressed-out "red" self down to your really calm "green" self -- which of course I had no idea how to do.
Though emwave does provide some software words of encouragement ("breathe through your heart,") you're basically left to struggle. But after a while, I got the hang of it, and guess what? It works.
Getting the emwave sensor to turn green requires a fascinating balance of trying to not try.
You breathe evenly and cleanly to start, which helps you to calm down, but the real green, best-rested levels comes when you sense your surrounding world in a different way. I know this is nutty, but I found that how I saw and felt things was almost separate from my evenly breathing body.
Regardless of my obvious limits in descriptive auto-metaphysics, for anyone who has chased a state of repose in other disciplines like yoga or meditation, emWave offers an interesting new riff on calming down.
||Just Relax, and Let emwave Take Over
Better yet, the emwave is easy to transport and not at all unattractive. Mine came in a nice blue finish in a decent leatherette case.
Now, some much needed disclaimers: Despite my positive experience with the emWave, biofeedback as a whole is still controversial.
Health insurance companies seem to take the concept as a personal insult, so claiming biofeedback as a legitimate health expense can be a challenge. New York psychologist Dr. Bruce Wilson is optimistic about biofeedback, but realistic.
"Biofeedback is part of the modern therapeutic arsenal," says Wilson. "But the long-term results can vary. So it's probably smart to check in with a professional at least a little bit before you go hog wild."
Still, the emwave is a real tool for stress management: a portable device that gives an unbiased assessment of your stress level in various situations, all in real time.
It's like an iPod into the soul.
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