Need a reminder to breathe?

 11 Jun 2016 - 10:04

Need a reminder to breathe?

By Daniele Seiss

A meditation teacher once told me that monks at a Zen center in the South of France regarded a ringing telephone as a "bell of mindfulness." When the phone rang, they would pause and breathe deeply several times before answering, to bring their attention to the present. Callers knew the monks wouldn't pick up immediately.

Dealing with excessive stress is an issue for a lot of people, compounded by the fact that we are not always aware when we are stressed. Wouldn't it be great if we had our own bell of mindfulness to remind us to stop and breathe? And better yet, to show us how to breathe most effectively to reduce stress?

I recalled the telephone bell of mindfulness when I tried Hear and Now (free, iOS). It works as a bell by sending prompts to users via cellphone. Users then use it to guide them through deep breathing exercises to reduce stress. Afterward, the app will tell them how effective the exercise was.

When a reminder comes, users hold an index finger over the phone's camera and flash so the app can read their heartbeat. It then guides them through a series of deep breaths. The idea is to match the app's breathing pattern as closely as possible.

During the exercise, users see and hear a pulse that mimics their heartbeat in soft tones, along with relaxing background sounds and a voice guide. Any or all of the sounds may be silenced if preferred.

Like any meditation, breathing correctly can take some practice -- users tell how well they are doing by how sharp the background becomes as they breathe; the app also will tell them how closely their heart rate tracked with the breathing guide (the more closely the better).

The app then rates the quality of a user's breathing exercise based on changes in heart rate that indicate a drop in stress levels (the more variablity in the rate the better). Users can get deep into the data by tracking markers provided by the app, such as their sympathovagal balance index, one of several measures of heart rate variation, if they choose.

After the exercise, the data is stored so users can monitor their progress.

At first I thought the reminders were mildly irritating, just one more distraction. But after I started using the app more regularly, I found myself looking forward to them -- and noted I began breathing more deeply whenever I heard my phone ring.


Name: Hear and Now

Cost: Free

Operating system: iOS

Creator: BioBeats

User ratings: iTunes, 4.5 out of 5 stars (10 ratings)

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