Amongst those who practice mindfulness meditation, many share the same goal: to reduce stress and anxiety, and thus, gain better-quality sleep, improve physical health, and achieve peace of mind. The benefits of meditation are tried and true, and recent scientific studies only bolster this notion. However, the effects of consistent meditation are not always readily transparent, leading to some doubts on whether certain techniques are working for an individual, or if the effort is all for naught. Thankfully, we have technology on our side to help quell those doubts, in the form of biofeedback devices. These nifty wearables, when applied to the practice of meditation, can help practitioners track their physiological progress and feel confident that meditation is helping them meet their goals. Common functions that are measured include heart rate variability and brain wave activity, two components that are essential to properly understanding how meditation plays a role in one’s health. With the variety of wearable technology on the market, it’s all too easy to find the one that can best assist in meeting your health and wellness goals. We’ll be reviewing a few factors which can be objectively gauged through biofeedback devices, and that meditation directly affects.
Where the Heart and Mind Meet
Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to the measure of variation in time between heartbeats. Medical professionals use HRV as a measurement tool to determine one’s heart (and overall) health. When an individual has a low HRV, their risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke increases by up to 45%. A high HRV, on the other hand, is strongly indicative of an individual’s advanced physical and physiological capacity to tolerate and recover from stress. While it’s quite daunting to imagine that a simple physiological phenomenon of varied time between heartbeats can have such drastic health implications, HRV can in fact be improved. Studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation can directly increase one’s heart rate variability.
In a recent study conducted in 2018 by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, great focus was placed on HRV, specifically utilizing it as a tool to observe one’s “state of brain”. When an individual becomes subject to stress, their HRV is instantaneously altered. Thus, HRV data provides scientists with a clear understanding of exactly how one’s body and mind respond to stress. According to Dr. Bruce West, the Army’s senior mathematical research scientist, “heart rate variability provides a window through which we can observe the heart’s ability to respond to external disturbances, such as stress…the HRV time series is very sensitive to changes in the physiological state of the brain.” Within this study, meditation was introduced to measure how such an activity could quantifiably impact one’s ability to manage and recover from stress, and even minimize dysfunctional features such as impulsivity, inability to focus and concentrate, and impatience. The study determined that both yoga and meditation are indeed effective methods of stress reduction. It was also deduced that long-term meditation practitioners can permanently sustain these benefits, resulting in consistently healthy HRV rates. What’s more, the army study successfully determined that meditation can improve one’s overall executive control, granting an individual greater capacity for utilizing complex mental processes and cognitive abilities in order to carry out productive, goal-oriented behavior. While this 2018 study used an innovative data processing system to measure such effects of meditation on the heart and brain, similar studies can be conducted right at home.
Many commonplace wearable devices like Fitbit and Apple Watch have built-in technology to track and monitor changes in HRV. After establishing a baseline, users can track changes both while practicing meditation and throughout resting periods. Over a period of weeks and months, the effects of meditative techniques should become quantifiably apparent. If the research holds true, an individual’s HRV can see a positive incline over the course of consistent meditation practices, with these figures eventually reflecting in one’s resting state. While the real work lies in meditation, these devices can give us affirmation of our progress and success. In some cases, HRV data may also reveal that certain meditation or mindfulness techniques aren’t doing as much as they could be. This useable data can direct users in a practical manner to switch up their techniques and find what works best.
Achieve Calm Brainwaves With Biofeedback Devices
Electroencephalography, or EEG, is a diagnostic test used to measure abnormalities within brainwave activity. The first human EEG test was conducted just under a century ago. For the majority of that time span, EEGs required bulky and extremely costly equipment. Conventional practices required that the patient’s head be hooked up to innumerable wires while they sat still and waited for their unique electrical activity to be professionally interpreted. Things have since changed – sleek EEG devices have only recently become available to the consumer market at a relatively inexpensive rate, allowing us everyday joes to get a detailed glimpse into what goes in our complex brains. One such device has done a remarkable job of maximizing the technological features behind such consumer wearables: Muse. This device has transformed EEGs and its valuable data into a lay-friendly product, having been the first to ever introduce something of its sort to the consumer market. Muse takes on a sleek form that rivals the size of a headband, and is curved at the edges to be tucked behind the ears for a secure fit. Marketed as an EEG-powered sleep and meditation tracking device, Muse detects changes in brain electrical activity that are then translated into data which can be easily interpreted by a layperson. When intense medical jargon is taken out of the equation, such data can become invaluable to product users and allow them to better understand the effects that various activities and external factors have on their brain.
But what exactly is Muse’s role in meditation? Muse’s technology is meant to optimize your meditation sessions by using its many calibrated sensors to track your brain activity during your practice. Brain waves reflect one’s state of mind and mood, with conscious mindfulness and calm being the goals throughout a meditative practice. When the device senses brain activity that signifies stress or a wandering mind, the user will be notified with varying sounds associated with sunny or gloomy weather. Stormy soundtracks are instantaneously triggered when faltering brain activity is detected; this is intended to bring the user’s mind back to the present and regain a calmer state. When the practitioner’s brain has returned to a state of calm, peaceful weather sounds are played as assurance that the meditative practice is on track. By the end of the meditation session, a graph is presented with the vacillating changes in brain activity that may have taken place. With signifiers like weather sounds and conclusive quantifiable data, Muse’s goal is to direct users to achieve the best meditation and maximize their health benefits in the long haul. The idea is that over time, an individual can learn to properly meditate and maintain that state of mind throughout their daily lives. Such a device comes in especially handy for first-time meditators who aren’t quite sure if they’re practicing correctly and require more structured direction.
Meditation, on its own, is an extremely powerful tool that can positively influence an individual’s psychological and physiological states. But when health-centric technology is introduced to the mix, the maximization of its effects can be astounding. Wearable technology essentially enables us to peer into the inner workings of our mind and body, and the data necessary to effectively journey through the path to ultimate health and wellness.