Browsed by
Category: Relaxation Equipment

Wearable Biofeedback: Spire

Wearable Biofeedback: Spire

This would seem totally incredible if we were in the early years of biofeedback, say the 1960s: consumer focused, affordable, and wearable biofeedback instruments. A dream then, a reality now.

In recent years, we have seen the steady growth of such devices. First it started with heart-rate monitors for runners and then it went into many sleep tracking devices, from watches to bedside EEG monitors to beds holding bio-monitoring hardware.

Now we have the first breathing monitors. As we have discussed before, breathing is very powerful force in determining our mental states and our mental states are a powerful force in determining our body state through our way of breathing. A new device, Spire, is a good start of what I hope will be an extensive wave of breathing monitoring.

Spire, What is It?

Tracking breathing has required: wearing a sensor built around the chest or holding your nose next to the microphone of a smartphone so it can hear inhales and exhales. Spire has moved all sensing to hardware only slightly larger than a 25 cent piece.

Taking a cue from all of those advertising photos for spas and yoga centers, the makers of Spire have made their device look like a small flat stone. The stone-like device has a large clip that allows clipping Spire to your pants/belt-loop area or to the center strap of a bra. That’s it. Once on, it is all ready for monitoring.

Breathing movement is captured by the stone and data are sent to a the phone app where it is decoded and turned into a usable display.It should be noted that Spire concentrates our breathing when we are still as sitting around or resting. Not stock still but not up moving around, either. When we are still and our breathing moves into a tracked zone (Tense, Calm, or Focused), data are summarized and we can be buzzed by Spire that we have been in one of those zones. If we are alerted that we are in the Tense Zone, we can choose to relax or use a 3 minute exercise on the app. This works the same for the other two zones, Calm and Focused.

Zones are determined by how many breaths we take per minute and how consistent the movement of those breaths are across a few minutes. If our breathing is slow and smooth, we are in the Calm Zone.  If it is faster but smooth, we are in Focus and if our breathing is fast and choppy, we are Tense.

Thoughts on Spire

I’ve been using Spire for about a month now and I like it. I first set it to buzz me when I was Tense. Many times, I wasn’t perceiving I was under any special stress. Clearly, my body was seeing things differently.  Now, I’m following Spire’s heads-up and trusting my body has it right and I need to back off with a few moments of deep, slow breathing.

Tracking Focus is an exciting possibility.  Beyond real-time alerting when we are in Focus, Spire includes guided breathing session of a few minutes to shift us there. If I pay attention to the alerts and do the practice sessions, I should be able to learn the secret of calling up Focus.

One capability I wish was included is the ability to have Spire simply show breaths per minute so a person could work towards specific breaths per minute target. Getting the breath under 10 bpm is beneficial for lowering blood pressure and is relaxing. Going deeper, down to 6 bpm conveys additional health benefits and is very relaxing. Throwing in a timer and an optional guided session to do this would be a valuable improvement.

I recommend getting Spire, but its real potential will only become realized by wearing the device daily and giving it dedicated attention and doing the guided sessions. The device is well made, easy to pair to your phone, easy to recharge, and stays put wherever you clip it. (Note: I do not receive any compensation from Spire or through its purchase at the link below).

$149

Links:
Spire website

Video below: The developer of Spire, Neema Moraveji, P.hD., talks about breathing and the development of Spire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding and Following En-Trancing Found Sounds

Finding and Following En-Trancing Found Sounds

Most people have some sound, natural or man-made, that they know can grab their minds and en-trance it. Gentle rainfall, a fan, crickets chirping, a train passing, a rocking chair.

The common features of these en-trancing found sounds is a fairly steady rhythm that is seduces our mind and emotions into following it. Just following. No need to be critical of anything. How can you be critical of ocean waves, hmm of a hair dryer, or a car moving down the highway on a long trip? First we follow the sound and then we allow ourselves to let the sound lead us as we turn off our evaluative minds. Our larger world drops away as the sound covers over other competing sounds that might distract us or at least keep us vigilant, listening for trouble.

Making the transition between being very active and being very internalized and deep can be hard but here is a method to make that journey. Use a favorite found sound is an easy, direct, usually highly effective way to ease into deeper relaxation.

Sounds to Try – Entrancing Found Sounds:

Nature Sounds:

Water – rainfall (on many different types of surfaces)
Water – waterfall
Water – stream
Water – waves
Birds
Night sounds
Jungle sounds
Swamp sounds
Wind
Frogs
Crickets
Owls
Fire – bonfire, fireplace
Heart beat

Human-made:

Electric fan
Wooden sailboat
Water sprinkler
Typewriter
Grandfather clock
Car
Train
Hair dryer
White noise
Brown noise
Pink noise
Vacuum cleaner
Jumbled human voices (i.e. cafe sounds)
Metronome
Ticking clock
Bathroom shower
Airplane
Windchimes
Motorboat on waves
Clothes dryer
Passing traffic on a city street

How to Find Them

Some of these are easy to find or setup such as floor fan, wind chimes, or ticking clock. If we can set them all we need to do then is position ourselves to hear them. Another way is use recordings via phone apps, desk computers, or mp3 files

See these sources for computer based found sounds:

simplynoise.com
purewhitenoise.com
soundsleeping.com – Compose your own mix of sounds or listen to single sound from an extensive recordings library
whitenoiseplayer.com
rainymood.com

Search your phone’s app store for: white sound; relaxation; and stress apps

Look through audio recordings at any large bookstore (online and bricks and mortar) or speciality seller of relaxation tunes.

Manage Your Sleep, Manage Your Stress

Manage Your Sleep, Manage Your Stress

Sleep, the great medicine that lies at our feet.

Sleep is not a throw-away activity that is welcome when we get everything else done and really serves no purpose. Completely wrong. Before the 1950s we could get away with underestimating the importance of sleep to restore and regulate our bodies and minds, but no more. Five decades of solid research has confirmed that we can’t get away with poor sleep if we want to manage our stress. Every year much more is learned to show us we just can’t hide from or gloss over the power of sleep.

Managing Sleep
Quantity and quality. That’s what our sleep comes down to. Fortunately, since 2009, tools are now available to help us track and, in the case of two devices, coach us towards getting the sleep we need to counter stress.

Zeo – This is a simplified brainwave monitor that gives us a map of what sleep experts call, our sleep architecture. Sleep architecture is the pattern of brainwave changes and duration that churn away as we snooze. Typical patterns have us moving quickly into deep sleep, then into dreaming, back into deep sleep, and so on throughout the night. Deep sleep and dream sleep patterns are especially important. They will determine how clear headed we will be and how refreshed/recharged we feel.

Zeo (pictured) shows us how long we have slept, what our sleep patterns look like, and ranks how well we have slept (Zeo Score).  For added benefit, Zeo has an online service that allows users to upload data for comparison with other sleepers and provides suggestions on how we can sleep better. Pictured is the table side receiver unit that picks up signals from a headband the sleeper wears all night long that transmits brainwave data.

Up by Jawbone (pictured), Fitbit (not shown here), and Bodymedia (not pictured) – All of these devices are built to track movement so that we can push ourselves to be in better shape through: walking, running, and exercising.  Each unit tracks steps, estimates calories burned, and keeps track of total time we spend at various activity levels. In addition to keeping an eye on daytime movement, they can track nighttime movement (or its absence) as well.  Have a lot of movement during the night? Then you are spending more time thrashing than snoozing deeply. Built-in clocking software gives a nice chart of the amount of sleep by date, number and duration of awakenings, and estimate deep sleep/dreaming periods.

Lark (pictured) is a movement sensor but is made for only tracking sleep sessions, not daytime fitness activities. It also includes a silent vibrating alarm.

Do any of these devices substitute for a night in the sleep lab or professional sleep coaching? No, but they put so much more real information in front of us than has ever been available to the average person before. Armed with this new data, we can shape our sleep and shape our lives. These devices here, they are affordable, they are helpful, they are powerful. Get one to guide you towards better sleep and thereby, away from stress.

Slow Paced Breathing

Slow Paced Breathing

Breathing steps forward again and gives us the way out of stress and access to our the power of relaxation. Most days our rate of breathing, measured by breaths per minute, is somewhere between 12 to 18 bpm. A nice pace that keeps our breathing shallow and our mind zipping along.

If we want to get to a more relaxed place, we need to get bpm down to a maximum of 10. According to studies, keeping our breathing at no more than 10 bpm for about 15 minutes twice a day kicks in changes to bring many people’s blood pressure into the desired healthy range and can retrain the body to keep pressure down. Bringing the breath rate down reduces the stress response that gets our body to release smooth muscle tension that can clamp down on our blood vessels, raising blood pressure.

That’s one benefit. If we can learn to lower our bpm at will, we will have superior control over our stress. We can bring our breathing rate way down, lowering our stress level with it. By decreasing our breathing in steps, we can get to 6, 5, and maybe four breaths per minute. That’s right, 4 or 5 breaths per minute. So, what does that feel like. Alert, calm, in-control relaxation.

Getting Paced
The trick is taking a fast breathing pace and slowly, over some minutes, bring it down by increasing the exhalation time and the time between exhalation and inhalation. Trying to keep this in your head, by counting seconds of breathing, is tough, so that is where equipment, audio recordings, software, and apps come in.

Equipment
Resperate came on the market about five years ago when eight studies showed good results for lowering high blood pressure in some patients. It is about $300 or so and comes with CD player sized main unit, headphones, and a chest strap. The chest strap contains a sensitive device that keeps track of your breathing. The main unit shows your starting breathing rate and then plays music and voice instructions to slowly bring your breath down to at least ten bpm. A digital readout gives a precise count of your breath rate per minute. Great for both blood pressure work and general relaxation training. Recommended. Link

The Nightwave is a simple device that sits on your nightstand and projects a soft light on your bedroom ceiling. By breathing along with this beam of light (it slowly fades on and fades off), you can lower your breath and thereby ease yourself to sleep. Link

Audio Recordings
Several relaxation artists have put together mp3 and CD recordings of music with special signals marking when to breathe in and when to breathe out. This is a low-cost way to do this work, and the music adds another dimension to paced breathing.

Breathe Away High Blood Pressure – Highly Recommended (good music with a Tibetan bowl as signal) – Link

Breathe Easy – Highly Recommended – 6 CDs ambient and classical music choices – Link

Slow Down! – Recommended – Link

Apps
If you have a smart phone or iTouch, there are some apps available to lead your breathing (this is great app developers have jumped into this). These apps include verbal instructions, intros to paced breathing, tones, and graphics to get you to the right speed. Here are a few:

Breathing Zone (iTunes app store or www.breathing-zone.com)

Universal Breathing (iTunes app store)

Software
The makers of the Nightwave have produced a download/CD (the Daywave) that puts a small icon on your PC that helps users pace their breathing. The icon is a bubble that expands when it is time to breath in and shrinks in size when it is time to breath out. A nice work-day relaxation companion. Link

Here’s a similar software program called, Breathe Away TensionLink

$20 Biofeedback? Yes.

$20 Biofeedback? Yes.

Legit biofeedback can be at your fingertips for $20. A well calibrated digital thermometer can reflect the state of your body and your mind via thermal biofeedback. This has frequently been used and studied using equipment that does the same thing but costing hundreds of dollars.

When we are stressed blood is drawn away from our fingers and toes and moved into our major muscles and organs. Also, our blood vessels are restricted so the body can jack up our blood pressure.

Cold hands=stressed. Our hands don’t have to be ice cold, although they could be, but below the temp they would be if we were really relaxed. A really relaxed temp is in the mid-90s. Moving away from that, we move into lesser and lesser states of relaxation and into greater states of stress response (our vessels grow smaller and smaller because our body says it wants to push up our blood pressure). Hand temperature is very responsive to the ups and downs of our personal levels of stress. Of course we don’t need a thermometer to tell us when we are experiencing high levels of stress, we know it when we feel it. Fine. What is surprising however, how often we have “holding stress” that is, we are partly stressed but we have no idea that our bodies are in that condition. If we can bring down useless “holding stress”, an habitual keeping our bodies in a state of readiness, usually waiting for something that never comes or rarely appears, we can do wonders for our bodies and minds. Holding the lead to this digital thermometer for 60 seconds will tell us if we are holding stress.

We don’t have to be hooked to this $20 device all day long. With regular practice we can get a sense of the temp of our hands and if it is proportional to the situation we are in (Are we too stressed for the occasion?). We can learn from thermal biofeedback what it takes to bring our bodies into a calmer state. We might relax, as we know how to relax and bring our hand temp to the low 90s. To get really relaxed we can press on and seek to hit 95 degrees. Now the real challenge begins, can we hit yet higher temperatures of 96 or 97? To get there we have to learn how to talk to ourselves and how to visualize (more about these topics in later blog posts).

Whatever temp we work at, we can bring that experience into our daily lives (on the fly) by remembering what our body felt like when we hit  95, 96, 97 degrees. Bringing that body memory more and more fully into mind and body will increase our temperature, driving down our stress level at the moment.

So heat your way to deep relaxation.

See our bookstore to order the digital thermometer from Amazon and you may wish to get the book, Finding the Calm Within which is all about thermal biofeedback. To find both of these items, select “Stress Management” when arriving at the bookstore.