Reversing Thought Reverses Upsets

I was inspired by Josh Waitzman’s concept of building a mental trigger that he described in his book “The Art of Learning.” He describes how a repeated mental process can create calm before competing in martial arts competition.

Reversing Thoughts Reverses Upsets

The concept was easy but I had never built one. For my trigger, I wanted to see if reversing thought reverses upsets.

I had made progress finding a technique to restore a calm state of mind once I had detected an Upset with my Glass Half Full work. I decided to try and adapt the reversal technique I had learned from The Work of Byron Katie in this test.

The Work has as a central tenet that all stories we use to upset ourselves can be reversed and found to be equally true. For example, if another driver on the highway comes close to me and I think “He is driving too fast,” reversing the thought to “I am driving too fast” or “He is not driving fast enough” is found to be equally true. As my judgement about the position of our cars is entirely relative a lesson is delivered about how mutable thought and story can be.

My Question

Would reversing a thought improve my outlook reliably following an Upset?

What I Did

Over the period of almost two weeks, I measured the change in my disposition after using the Reversal protocol each time I knew I was Upset. I compared these results with the Sensations and Glass Half Full protocols I had used in earlier studies.

How I Did It

I created a short survey using Google Forms and placed a shortcut to it on my iPhone home screen. The survey was a structured set of questions that walked me through the process of reversing the thought behind an Upset once I felt one coming on.

For the protocol, I would walk through survey when I felt that I was Upset. The first question would capture my mood on a scale of 1 to 5. For the next two questions, I would write out the thought that was the source of the Upset, then write its opposite. In the final question, I would again do the mood capture. This way I could see how much my state of mind improved as a result doing the Reversal protocol.

As another example of how the reversal works, I had the story that a person I was interacting with was overreacting and creating an unnecessary emergency. When I reversed the thought I wrote that I was creating the emergency. When I did that I realized that I had called the meeting and was the source of the discussion. When I saw this reversal as true the Upset evaporated. My first mood score was 2. My second score was 4. That incident has a 2 point improvement in mood.

What I Learned

Reversing a thought was as effective as Glass Half Full thinking and significantly more effective than regrounding in Sensations. Here is a graph of the improvements delivered by the Sensation versus the Reversal protocols:

Reversing Thoughts Reverses Upsets

The average improvement in mental state when resetting to sensations was .94, when doing a reversal protocol 1.64. Doing a Student’s TTest between the two data sets gave a p value of .0034. Anything under .05 is considered a statistically significant difference. Doing the reversal protocol gave a significantly better results in the improvement of my mental state.

Looking at these results and the results of the Glass Half Full study, we see that engaging with and altering the source thought that lies beneath an Upset reduces its energy. Both finding a positive in the situation and reversing the thought’s content work successfully.

When Upset trying to divert attention to a thought not associated with the Upset or sensations, the offending thought seems to remain “stuck” in the mind and continues to source Upset state. So these protocols that do not address the underlying thought are not as effective.

When you are Upset or feeling down, addressing the underlying thought using a variety of methods will likely unwind the source of the emotion.

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Glass Half Full Succeeds in Unwinding Upsets

I became interested in what mental technique could most effectively reverse an Upset. If meditation and understanding the nature of how our thoughts shape our experience is the “long game,” then having good habits around how to react at the moment of becoming upset would be the “short game.”

Defining an Upset as the moment of feeling irritation or concern about something, I compared two techniques of how to react. The first was to reground myself in my sensations in that moment. The second was to identify what was the source of the Upset and finding the opportunity in that source. I wanted to see if Glass Half Full Succeeds.

glass-half-full-succeeds

My Question

Which technique is superior, regrounding in Sensation or finding the Glass Half Full?

What I Did

I measured my mood multiple times a day for a two-week period while using a Sensations protocol each time I felt an Upset. I then measured my mood multiple times a day for a second two-week period while using Glass Half Full protocol for Upsets. When completed, I compared the two periods for mood and the results of both techniques.

How I Did It

I created two short surveys using Google Forms. I placed a shortcut to each on my iPhone home screen. One was a simple mood capture. The second was a structured set of questions that walked me through either regrounding in Sensations or finding the Glass Half Full.

For the mood capture, I set alarms on my iPhone for nine notifications a day. At each notification I would capture my state of mind on a scale of 1 (angry or worried) to 5 (very happy).

For the structured protocols, I would walk through survey steps when I felt that I had entered a state of Upset. The first question was the same mood capture scale of 1 to 5. For the next questions, I would either capture my current body sensations in a text box or write out the opportunity in the situation. The intent for this section was to move my attention to the protocol. In the final question, I would again do the mood capture. This way I could see how much my state of mind improved as a result doing the protocol.

At the end of the two capture periods I had two types of data I could compare. I had my daily mood captured up to nine times a day during the period I was using the different protocols. And I had the improvement in my state of mind for each protocol.

What I Learned

Using a Glass Half Full thought process in an Upset situation far outperformed regrounding in Sensations.

During the periods I used the different protocols my overall daily moods were not significantly different.

glass-half-full-succeeds

My average daily mood while using the Sensation protocol was 3.34. and the average using Glass Half Full was 3.52. Using a Student’s TTest to compare the two data sets, p = .18. We would want to see p less than .05 for the difference in the data sets to be statistically significant. So my overall mood was not different during the two periods.

The improvement in my state of mind during Upset incidents was higher using the Glass Half Full approach.

glass-half-full-succeeds

The average improvement using the Sensations protocol was .81 and the average using Glass Half Full was 1.54. Using a Student’s TTest to compare the two data sets, p value is .002. This means the difference in approach was statistically significant.

The potential implication in this first test is that it takes thought to offset thought. Simply moving attention to sensations does not appear to rewrite the thought. Moving attention to a positive thought works much more effectively. So when irritated or worried in the future make your glass half full.

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Meditate Better by Leaning Your Head Back

I had started using Heartmath again after hearing a great podcast by Damien Blankensopp on paced breathing and its positive effects on the autonomic nervous system. As a result, I had started doing paced breathing sessions each morning for 20 minutes. That morning ritual provided a great source of data for experiments on how to meditate better.

My friend Dr. Keppen Laszlo is a chiropractor and I mentioned to him my work with heart rate variability (HRV). He suggested I could improve my HRV by leaning my head back during my measurement session. As he explained it to me, this head position relieves negative pressure on the nerves that are connected to respiration.

If following this advice led to more stable respiration and respiration is the foundation for increasing HRV, it would be possible to capture the improvement during my Heartmath sessions. I decided it was worth investigating.
Meditate Better

My Question

Would leaning my head back while doing paced breathing meditation increase my Heartmath scores?

What I Did

Each morning I do a paced breathing session for twenty minutes during which I measure my heart rate variability using Heartmath. A paced breathing session means that I breath use an app to ensure I breathe in for seven seconds and out for seven seconds during each respiratory cycle.

For twenty-one sessions, during each session, I either leaned my head back at an approximately thirty degree angle from the verticle or leaned it slightly forward based on a randomly generated instruction. I measured the differences in outcomes of these two head positions by comparing the resulting Heartmath scores.

How I Did It

During the paced breathing sessions I used Heartmath EMWave Pro to measure a score based on the resonance between my respiratory rate and my heart rate. Heartmath gives a score for the amount of time the heart rate frequency is near .1 Hz. When the meditation is more focussed this “meditators peak” is more pronounced.

At the end of each session, I divided the total Heartmath points generated during the entire session by the exact number of minutes and seconds yielding a Points/Minute score. Some sessions were a few seconds longer than 20 minutes and I wanted a precise comparison.

Prior to the twenty-one sessions, I generated a “0” or “1” randomly in a spreadsheet for each day of the study. On the days that a “0” was generated I leaned my head slightly forward during the session. On the days a “1” was generated I leaned my head back during the session.

When the twenty-one days was complete I separated the head forward and head back data into two sets that I then compared using a Student’s TTest. I also looked at and compared the averages.

What I Learned

Leaning my head back during meditation significantly improved my Heartmath measured meditation scores versus leaning my head forward.  Here are the averages for the two data sets:

Meditate Better

The TTest p value was = .0337. Anything less that .05 is a statistically significant result. There was a clear advantage to leaning my head back during the paced breathing meditation.

I was struck at how conventional wisdom on the standard meditation posture could create a misunderstanding.

Meditate Better

If the novice meditator tries to create an upright posture by pushing the back of the head up (at red arrow) the net effect would be the head leaning forward. This would reduce the ability to keep the respiration stable and have the reverse effect of what is desired in the meditation.

If you are a meditator looking to improve your practice, consider your head position. While keeping your back and torso upright relax the neck and ensure you are not leaning forward. This will stabilize your respiration and the positive from this will be more time in meditators peak and a more robust autonomic nervous system.

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Grounding Myself to Improve Disposition

I believe that we create our own reality in how we interpret and react to the world around us. If we have a positive interpretation, we find ourselves living in a positive world. If our disposition is negative, the world reflected back to us is negative. I’ve always been interested in how to reshape my own reactions to the world through regular routines similar to those we find in physical fitness programs.

Grounding Myself to Improve Disposition

Borrowing from the various lessons I have learned from Byron Katie’s The Work, Liberation Unleashed and the writings of Anthony DeMello, I decided to test a technique of grounding that looked more like doing repetitions in the gym than any once a week spiritual routine. I designed a fast way to ground myself in simple, sensation based direct experience using a survey as one “repetition” and did nine reps a day.

My Question

Could grounding myself in direct experience nine times a day change my overall disposition?

What I Did

I created a routine that I could easily repeat multiple times a day where I captured my mood, identified any negative thinking in the previous hour then regrounded myself in direct experience.  By filling out a web-based survey on my smart phone, I walked through this process in a pragmatic and easy way. The key was for me to identify my thinking, then ground myself in direct experience.

Direct experience is a sight, sound or felt sensation in a given moment. Thinking is everything else. For example, “sound of fan” is a direct experience of hearing a sound and “fan being on is costing me money” is my thinking assessment of my situation. Understanding the difference takes practice. The idea was to in each iteration of the exercise I would bring myself out of thinking or negative thoughts and bring myself to the experience of the current moment.

How I Did It

I created a Google form on my iPhone to capture my mood, an upsetting thought, and an observable direct experience when an alarm sounded. This simple survey I could fill out in under fifteen seconds.

The process would be that the alarm would sound, I would open the form and record my mood via a multiple choice question. I could rate myself as upset (1) to completely in flow and happy (5). The form also had text entry boxes where I would capture a negative thought or worry I had from the previous period and a noticing of direct experience in that moment I was recording these impressions.

I set the alarm for nine sessions a day and captured 317 sessions over a 45 day period.

What I Learned

Grounding myself in direct experience multiple times a day improved my overall disposition. Here is a graph of my disposition over the period of the experiment.

Grounding Myself to Improve Disposition

The trend line rises over the period. Though a 3 or 4 remained a consistent state most of the time, the number of 1’s and 2’s reduced, increasing my average. So I wasn’t becoming more euphoric, I was reducing the time I spent in a grumpy state.

I had a baseline of 200 mood readings prior to this experience for comparison. When I compared the 200 baseline readings with the 317 readings post test, I found a significant difference after the test was started: PValue

My average mood score had increased and comparing the two data sets using a Students T-Test there was a statistically significant difference in my disposition (P Value smaller than .05).

The lesson for me is that improving the tendency to be grounded in the moment can be trained, like any type of fitness.  By using the interruption of thinking with a very simple self-assessment process, I had created a repeatable exercise, and with sustained repetition of that exercise had gotten tangible results.

 

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Using TDCS to Zap Subconscious Bias

A hot topic in Quantified Self (QS) circles is transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) and its ability to nudge the brain toward different types of growth. I wanted to see if I could start using TDCS to zap subconscious bias. The QS community has a love/hate relationship with TDCS. There are people who embrace it or those who slap a big warning label on it.  I decided to do my own tests to see what results I could get.

Paraphrasing Wikipdia: “TDCS uses a constant, low current delivered to the brain area of interest via electrodes on the scalp. TDCS can increase cognitive performance on a variety of tasks, depending on the area of the brain being stimulated. It has been utilized to enhance language and mathematical ability, attention span, problem solving, memory, and coordination.” This is not a photo of me, but when I do a TDCS session the application of direct current to my brain it looks like this:

Using TDCS to Zap Subconscious Bias

My Question

Could I use TDCS to change a subconscious bias?

What I Did

I took 21 subconscious bias tests while running TDCS (or not) based on a random schedule. The bias test was from a web instrument offered by Project Implicit of Harvard. You can take fourteen different tests to determine if you have a subconscious bias.

These tests can measure your bias with respect to weapons, skin tone, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I am purposely not going to report on which bias I measured so the topic of this study remains altering the subconscious vs which biases I might have. If you are curious about your own biases I recommend you try a test.

How I Did It

I generated a “0” or “1” randomly in a spreadsheet for each day I was going to do the tests. On the days that a “0” was generated I took the bias test without modification by TDCS. On the days a “1” was generated I took the test while applying TDCS.

When applying TDCS I used a commercial TDCS device to apply 2 milliamps of current to my prefrontal cortex. There are over 50,000 “montages” (placements) for TDCS electrodes so I chose a common and straightforwad one that reportedly improves learning rates. Here are the placements for the montage:

Using TDCS to Zap Subconscious BiasAfter taking the test, I translated the result of “strong, moderate, slight or no” bias into numbers (1 – 5) that would allow me to run the math on whether there was a statistically significant change to my bias when applyint TDCS.

What I Learned

Direct application of current to the learning area of the prefrontal cortex did not immediately alter my subconscious bias during that session. Over time, either due to TDCS stimulus or my getting “better” at taking the test, my subconscious bias was reduced.

When I compared those sessions where I was either using TDCS or not, I ran a Student’s T-Test on the two groups of results. The result showed the groups were not statistically different with a p-value of .38. If the p-value was under .05 the results would have been significant. This means the use of TDCS in a session did not change the bias in that session.

When I looked at the scores over time, a trend emerged. It appeared that over time my bias decreased. Here are my scores over the 21 sessions:

Using TDCS to Zap Subconscious Bias

The trend goes down. So either I learned how to take the test more efficiently or the TDCS had an effect. The tests are designed to not be modified by conscious effort so any learning is likely to have been at a subconscious level.

There is more work to do. The theory is that the TDCS current nudges the brain toward more plasticity while learning. I was not learning other than taking the test multiple times. An alternate test would be to apply TDCS while learning something new about the bias. This first study provided the basis for future views, but did not deliver a complete result. So goes science and so goes Quantified Self.

 

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OM Signal Shirt on the Slopes

I took my OM Signal shirt on the slopes at Breckinridge for the Thanksgiving weekend. This short post is attributed to a full weekend spent on the slopes and not shuffling through mounds of data nor posting my regular blog. I had a good time with family and friends:

OM Signal Shirt on the Slopes

I had gotten an OM Signal shirt as part of its initial launch last summer. Though it was a bit overdue (about a year) and the shirt chased me via post from London to San Francisco to Denver I never gave up on it because they tried really hard to make it right.

The first shirt was like a compression shirt that constricted your chest, terribly uncomfortable. This is not that shirt, but this is what it felt like:

OM Signal Shirt on the Slopes I tried to run with it…once. It was just too uncomfortable. So my two OM Signal shirts sat the summer out in my sports kit drawer.

Fast forward to the late summer and OM Signal helpfully sent me another shirt at no cost. This is the shirt I took skiing. Unlike the first one, this same sized shirt was very comfortable. There is a band inside the shirt at chest level, but it felt fine to the point that I didn’t even notice it. The rest of the shirt is form fitting, but not noticeable either. So huge improvement and thumbs up to OM Signal for the improvement.

Here are two plus hours of skiing at Breckinridge:

OM Signal Shirt on the Slopes

You can see the ski runs pretty clearly. And the breaks. I was intrigued by the respiration rate as OM Signal is the only integrated product I know of that has both heart rate and respiration for a sporting environment.

Looking at how to use the quantification to improve performance, I think the respiration might be an indicator of calmness while skiing. That may not be true, but worth a look.

The app is clean and has a nice interface. Of equal quality to a Jawbone or Fitbit. I would prefer it less structured and I realize I am not center of the bell curve for users.

So no real quantified self goodness in this post, just a report on my OM Signal shirt and a bit of time on the slopes. You will hear more about the shirt as I am now intrigued and will do some additional tests. Comments and ideas are always welcome.

 

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Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

I thought I would try a nootropic, or “smart drug,” to see how it would work for me. I really like the podcast Smart Drug Smarts, by Jesse Lawler. It is well produced, informative and entertaining. Jesse is great, however, he does not shy away from pitching his products as in each episode he encourages you to buy his nootropic, Nexus.

Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

Nexus ingredients include Aniracetam, CDP Choline, Phosphatidylserine, and Pycnogenol®. On the website the product claims to “enhance cognition, beat stress, and sharpen concentration.” It goes on to claim that it created with fast thinking and neuroprotectivity in mind. The capsules are not cheap. At $1.00 a capsule and a recommended daily dose of 2 capsules, you are in for $60 a month, or $55 if you subscribe. At that cost, it had better work.

My Question

Would Nexus improve my cognitive performance?

What I Did

I tested myself using eight cognitive tests in the Quantified-Mind app after either taking Nexus or not. I then compared scores of the group of tests where I took Nexus to the scores where I did not take Nexus to see if the smart drug improved my test scores.

How I Did It

I created a spreadsheet column of randomly assigned numbers between o and 1. Each day in the afternoon I checked the next number in the column. It if was 1, I took two caplets of Nexus. If it was 0, I did not take Nexus. Thirty minutes after I took the capsule (or not), I would open the Quantified-Mind app and take eight tests. Those tests took approximately 15 minutes. They ranged from memory tests like dual-n-back to attention and reaction tests. I took down each test score for all eight tests and put them in the spreadsheet. After 19 tests, I compared the averages in the two groups and did a student’s TTest to see if the differences in readings were significant.

What I Learned

Smart drugs do not make me smart. Of the eight tests I took during each session, there was no significant difference in the readings between if I had taken Nexus or I had not. Here are my scores:

Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

You can see that none of the tests had a statistically significant difference. If there was, the TTest P value would have been less than .05. You can argue that the sample size was too small. If we discard the TTest and just look at the averages, my scores seemed to go down in all but two of the categories.

Of interest is that on one test I seemed to do better – Attentional Focus. On that test you stare at two lines and tap a key when one gets longer. It can be difficult to maintain staring at the lines and the Nexus seemed to improve my averages there. On all the others, where I had some cognitive task to perform, my scores seemed to be degraded.

So I guess if I had an important report to write and I took Nexus I would stay focussed on the keyboard and keep typing, but the words that came out might not make as much sense.

One of the things I learned from Smart Drug Smarts podcast is that a test of one brain…is a test of one brain. The mixture found in Nexus might work for you. And I will continue being a fan of Jesse and his podcast. It is intelligent, fun, and informative. I just won’t buy his nootropics because they don’t work for me.

One thing I did learn in several sessions I had to throw out is that a lack of sleep trashes cognitive performance. On those days that I had had a poor night sleep the night before my scores were awful. I threw out those sessions, and I learned that sleep trumps nootropics with respect to performance. So in the future if I get a good nights sleep, and have an inexpensive cup of coffee in the morning my brain will be in good enough shape to handle that work report without having to resort to smart drugs.

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Meditation Breakthrough With Brain.fm

As a followup to my earlier work on binaural beats, I did another tracking study using Brain.fm. After fine tuning the approach and trying it for more than a month, I had a meditation breakthrough with Brain.fm.  I found a hugely useful technique to help me have a smoother wakeup.

breakthrough with brain.fm
What it might look like to wake up without the brain working to full capacity.

Each morning I conduct a tracking routine that includes heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure, blood glucose and various body dimension measurements. In my last study, I had used Brain.fm for five-minute sessions without any discernable effect on my physiology. With feedback from the founders of Brain.fm, I retooled the tracking approach and tried again.

What I Did

The advice I got was that it takes 10 minutes to entrain the brain using binaural beats. I redid the tracking study so that I added a 10-minute session prior to taking a five-minute HRV reading. I wanted to ensure I had enough time listening to the binaural beats so the would be effective.

To determine the efficacy of Brain.fm’s binaural beat meditation soundtrack, I compared it to similar sounding music without binaural beats embedded. I wanted to compare the effect on HRV after 10 minutes of binaural beats vs an identical period of time without the beats.

How I Did It

I created a Google spreadsheet with a randomly generated number (0 or 1) for each day in the study. On waking, I would look at the sheet to determine whether to use Brain.fm (1) or a Pandora station I called “meditation” (0) that I set up with reference artists Deva Premal and Krishna Das.

If I used Brain.fm I would turn on the unguided meditation for 10 minutes and sit relaxed with normal respiration.

breakthrough with brain.fm

On completion of the 10 minute session, I put on the Polar H7 heart rate belt and the HRV Logger from Marco Altini and took a five-minute HRV reading while continuing to listen to the Brain.fm binaural beats.

On days when I used the Pandora station I would conduct the exact same procedure listening to the meditative music without binaural beats. On completion for both music sources, I would log my rMSSD measurement in the Google spreadsheet.

What I Learned

I was unable to find a significant difference in my physiological state when using music with binaural beats or music without binaural beats. Across 30 measurements, my average rMSSD with binaural beats was 50.9 vs 49.8 without binaural beats. The T Test showed that there was no statistically significant difference between the two soundtrack types (p=.87).

The Brain.fm site says that its binaural beats would have an immediate effect, and it appears that immediate means at least longer than 10 minutes. As a tactical approach to calming the body or the mind on waking, I don’t find it practical to have a preparatory session longer than 10 minutes. So for me, Brain.fm’s binaural beats are not a good tool to assist in my morning meditation.

The Breakthrough With Brain.fm

Though the soundtrack with embedded binaural beats did not have a discernable effect on my HRV readings, I did have a breakthrough with Brain.fm. My continued use of the product showed me without question that some form of music played during morning deep breathing work made it more likely I would engage in the activity and stick with it once I started.

There is something pleasant and energizing about sitting quietly for 10 minutes while my physical system comes online and wakes up. I found myself getting out of bed more readily knowing the session was the first thing I would do. Once I started the session it seemed to go quickly. Often I was surprised when my device indicated I had successfully completed the session.

For my morning sessions, I will still use Brain.fm. It has a pleasing format, it easy to use and I like the soundtrack. It is packaged well enough to be ready for use. I am realistic about it jacking my brain with frequencies in less than 10 minutes. That does not happen. Sometimes, however, relaxing tunes is just good enough to make a product useful and for that, Brain.fm is a winner.

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Muse Indirectly Crushes Meditation Training

Looking at my morning tracking routine I realized that one of the most impactful wearable devices I have used has been the Muse EEG headband. After using it for more than five months, I think that Muse indirectly crushes meditation training.

I started using the Muse EEG headband in June of this year and have sat with it 152 sessions. The data the product has given me has not been the source of value. The source of value has been that the product has helped me become a habitual meditator.

Muse indirectly crushes meditation training

Muse claims to read your EEG and give you a “calm” score. It also awards a secondary score that is cumulative as a game style mechanic to keep you coming back.

When I started with Muse I took a straightforward sporting approach to the mediation training.  I would practice each morning with a goal to get higher “calm” scores. I saw it similar to training for a 5K where I would look to my speed. The fun would be to see how much higher I could push my calm score with practice.

Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. I did not improve the score even with months of  practice.

Muse indirectly crushes meditation trainingThe calm score itself is of questionable usefulness. It did not correlate with any other physiological factor that I compared it with. For example, when looking at the correlation between the score and heart rate variability (HRV) across 145 readings, there was no relationship (Pearson r = -.016). I had taken HRV readings simultaneous with the Muse readings and they did not track together at all. Blood glucose levels (r= -.17), average resting heart rate (r = .13), blood pressure (r=.21) all were at best a weak relationship.

Thinking that the calm score might somehow be associated with how distracted or stressed I was, I looked at a morning mood score I had been keeping versus the calm score. Oddly, I found a moderate inverse relationship between the Muse calm and my perception of mood (r = -.32). That meant I was more “calm” when I was in a lousier mood that morning. That made no sense at all.

So my original idea of practicing to increase my calm score did not pan out for me.  So why do I believe Muse indirectly crushes meditation training? Because for me, meditation had been boring and numerous attempts in the last 32 years to incorporate it in my daily routine had failed miserably. Chasing the Muse score in a structured way each morning I broke the boredom and acquired the habit of meditating. And meditating has scientifically validated positive benefits.

The Muse basic session is six minutes long with a starting calibration of one minute then a five minute reading. After multiple months of starting doing these simple six minute readings with the headband I found I had started comfortably expanding the amount of time I was sitting quietly.

First, I incorporated a ten-minute session before the Muse session to test the effectiveness of binaural beats, and that ended up with me sitting quietly for fifteen minutes each morning. Then a podcast on HRV inspired me to add twenty minutes of paced breathing later in the day. I was able to expand because I had gotten comfortable with sitting during the initial months of short six minute Muse sessions.

So the paradoxical outcome presents itself. In the past when I had tried to “learn” to meditate I could not do it for long and was unsuccessful. When I introduced the game of chasing the Muse calm score I was able to get enough time sitting quietly to find meditation doable and even pleasurable. And when I had enough data to determine the score I had been chasing was meaningless I had worked my way up to 35 minutes of sitting a day. That is why Muse indirectly crushes meditation training.

I imagine the engineers who created the scoring system and the EEG technology may not appreciate my assessment. It seems better to have the scoring and EEG technology to be a valued feature. However, the product bills itself as a meditation assistant. In that, it performs its job perfectly.

To someone looking for a Quantified Self product review on Muse the answer may sound like something out of a wearables zen koan. To realize the value of the Muse product, diligently try to improve your Muse score until you are sitting in comfortable in daily meditation realizing that the score never was the point.

 

 

 

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Slow Breathing Workout Increases My HRV

What is the Slow Breathing Workout?

I heard Richard Gervitz talking about a slow breathing workout as part of a daily discipline on the Quantified Body Podcast. I had started doing slow breathing sessions back in May 2014 though I had never specifically looked at the effect on my daily heart rate variability (HRV) reading. And I had fallen out of the habit so I was interested in trying it again.

slow breathing workout

A slow breathing workout means taking your respiration to a slower pace than normal with inhalations and exhalations of equal length. This is not normal breathing as it synchronizes the cardiac and respiratory systems. Gervitz recommended 20 minutes per day.

The beneficial effects of doing this breathing include a more flexible autonomic nervous system, increased resilience to physical or psychological stress, and sharpened mental clarity. Motivated by what I heard on the podcast, I decided to jump back into a disciplined slow breathing workout.

My Question

Could doing 20 minutes a day of deep, meditative breathing in the afternoon improve my morning HRV readings?

What I Did

I had a standing practice of measuring my HRV for five minutes on waking each morning. This provided a baseline of 24 readings. I began doing 20 minutes of evenly paced breathing each afternoon. This provided 18 additional morning readings that were impacted by the slow breathing workouts. I controlled for confounders by removing readings where circumstances were out of the norm like low amounts of sleep or too much food.

How I Did It

For my morning readings, I used Marco Altini’s Heart Rate Variability Logger to take a five-minute rMSSD reading.

slow breathing workout

Prior to the five minute readings I would listen to 10 minutes of soft music to settle in and ensure I was relaxed. For my afternoon HRV breathing workouts, I used a basic breath pacer app for iOS. With it, I could set the number of seconds per inhalation and exhalation. This would allow me to breath slowly and at a steady pace for the sessions.

slow breathing workout

I also like to get biofeedback as I do my slow breathing, so I used Heartmath Pro to track how effectively I got I aligned my cardiac and respiratory systems. The Heartmath dashboard shows the HRV in the top panel and the heart beat frequencies in the lower left panel.

slow breathing workout

The useful thing about the biofeedback is that I could adjust the length of my inhalations and exhalations until I found the highest level of alignment. Without feedback I would have to use levels derived from published data. With the biofeedback I had set up slow breathing exercises tailored for my physiology.

What I Learned

Starting an afternoon slow breathing workout regime increased my average morning HRV readings to a significant degree. You can see the lift in the scores on the graph of readings through the period:

slow breathing workout

Looking at my readings pre-program my rMSSD averaged 42.8 for the morning session and post-program it averaged 54.8, a 28% increase. Doing a TTest comparing the readings before and after being on the slow breathing workout showed a p-value of .037, meaning the change was statistically significant. You can see the raw data that is the basis of the calculations.

I found my optimal breathing came out at 7 seconds for each inhale and 7 seconds for each exhale. I started with 5.5 seconds per inhale and exhale and kept moving it up until I found my level.

That said, the biofeedback application is not necessary to get the benefit of a slow breathing workout. Though it is helpful to get the biofeedback readings, a simple breathing app with 20 minutes of practice each day will give you all the benefits. And I will continue with it now that I have established its value.

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