Once upon a time in my mid-twenties I began practicing meditative breathing. The practice was prompted by my lifestyle at the time and the refection on myself that I was living a bit “unhealthy”. As youngster I practiced karate from the age of 10-13 so I was familiar with eastern philosophy and meditation, at least to a point. I had read several books as a requirement of my martial arts training but, I had zero experience with actual meditation. So I picked up Zen Training by Katsuki Sekida and began reading about how to meditate. Although my meditative practice only lasted about 6 months at the time I learned quite a bit about why regular breath work can help us to lead better lives. The beginning of the book broke down physiologically what breath work does for the body. Where most books would dive right into the psychological and spiritual. The point here and well expressed by the book is the meditative practice is more than just spiritual. Breathing is the most basic thing we do and when practiced in a particular way we can lead vastly improved and healthier lives.
In the twenty years or so that have passed since my 6 month stint with meditative practice I have since revisited meditation from time to time but, never sticking with it. None the less I retained a lot of what I initially learned and re-read the Sekida book several times. Now that I work in the biofeedback industry I commonly come in contact with references to breath work as a pillar of controlling most other physiological responses. After being in the industry for a short time and realizing that most clinicians working with biofeedback focus on breath work as the foundation of physiological response improvement I thought to myself “I already know this!” and I frequently say “the monks have known this for like 10,000 years”.
Working in the biofeedback industry I come across many various products for home use to aide as a supplement to clinical training or as the primary method of training. The hot topic these days has been HRV (Heart Rate Variability). Most home devices measure either GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) or HRV. Most all of the HRV devices talk about breath work because they are focused on coherence between the heart rate wave and breath wave. The difficulty here is that without directly measuring the breath and providing feedback the user is left to interpret their own breathing or try to follow a breath pacer. This works just fine if you are in tune with your breath and have done breath work before. I am not knocking these devices at all many of them work great. What I am saying is that if the breath is the pillar then why not start there?
I can tell you from my experience and I think most biofeedback clinicians would agree if that if a subject is hooked up with the 5 basic physiological monitors (Respiration, Heart rate (HRV), Temperature, Galvanic Skin Response and Electromyography (EMG) on the trapezius muscles) and then breathes at a controlled pace of 5-6 breaths per minute for several minutes, all of the other physiological responses would likely improve. Heart rate would slow, HRV would increase, GSR would stabilize or decline, muscle tension (EMG) would decrease and so on. So if the breath can improve our other responses why not more focus on breath work for home use?
An important point here is not just the focus on breath (such as a visual pacer) but, the measuring of the breath (with a respiration belt/sensor) and feedback based on that measurement.
I have always been a fan of technology and enjoy playing around with the latest and greatest stuff. I think this is a reason home use biofeedback devices interest me. The latest device I have been using is the 2breathe. The 2breathe is a home use device designed primarily for helping improve sleep. The device was one of those accidental things. The makers of the RESPeRATE (the only FDA cleared device for reducing Blood Pressure) realized that many of the users of RESPeRATE had an interesting side effect…they fell asleep! The side effect prompted RESPeRATE to create a device to help people fall asleep and sleep better (another side effect of regular breath work). This reminded me again about my previous meditation practice and the reason we do not meditate laying down is because the likelihood of falling asleep is high which is not desirable during meditation.
Although the 2breathe is marketed as a device to help you sleep it can also be used to practice simple breath work.
The 2breathe uses the same patented algorithm that the RESPeRATE uses. In a nutshell, the algorithm adjusts the breath pacer (tones) to guide the user’s breathing to a slower and slower pace with prolonged exhalation. The guided tones are based on measurements sent from a respiration belt and Bluetooth sensor. So the pacer is dynamic and can adjust in real-time based on how the user is breathing from minute to minute. This enables users to reach and stay at an optimal breathing pattern (both rate and exhale ratio) that’s comfortable without conscience effort, something that cannot be achieved with non-adaptive devices or apps.
The breath pacer’s use of tones is a very important part of the experience because it allows the user to close their eyes during practice. I have heard of different camps on this for meditation (eyes open vs eyes closed) and I feel I have better results with eyes closed. Additionally, the app does have a very intuitive visual pacer that is overlaid by actual breath pace. At first the visual pacer and actual breath rate monitor helped me a lot until I was accustom to the tones. It also helped me to tweak the belt position. The app design is practical flawless.
The device is very easy to set-up and use. The first time you open the software (currently iOS only) it walks you right through the set-up of the respiration belt and other settings. Even the least tech savvy should not have too much trouble. If you can download and open an app your all set. Once you are through the set up and understand how to put on the belt correctly you are ready to begin your practice. Once you are acquainted with the set-up getting started only takes about 1 min. Put on the belt, turn on the sensor, plug in your earbuds (or use the phone speaker), open the app and hit start session.
Delving into the Preferences menu in the app allows you set a few things like shortest and longest sessions which will change your home screen options on session length. Additionally, the slowest guided breathing pace which is defaulted to 5. If you are an experience meditative breather you will likely want to set this to the lowest setting of 3. Myself I wish it would go down at least to 2 as I find myself bottoming out at 3 during some sessions but, it is sufficient most of the time.
I have been using the 2breathe for a couple of months now and have noticed improved sleep and increased overall calmness. I hope to use this technology to continue my practice beyond my previous record of 6 months!
Some tips for using the 2breathe for breath work practice:
TIP #1 – For meditating, don’t lay down or recline. Sit upright with good posture, feet flat on the floor and hands comfortably resting on your lap or chair arms.
TIP #2 – Practice for at least 15 min per session
TIP #3 – Set a reminder in the preferences for a time of day when you are most likely to practice
Good luck in your practice!