Stress Reduction Without Meditation

Do you meditate? Do you do it regularly?

Photo by: Dingzeyu Li

Photo by: Dingzeyu Li

I believe that meditation changed my life a few years ago when I was battling with depression. Within a mere 8 weeks of dedicated meditation 20 minutes per day 7 days per week, I was essentially cured of (or in remission from) my symptoms. Keep in mind that I had some experience with meditation growing up which may have played a role in the rapid rate of improvement I experienced. My parents meditated and my Mom even brought me to a meditation class a few times when I was in high school. I did not meditate during those classes - I used the time strictly for daydreaming as teenagers tend to do…. but it did expose me to concepts about how to meditate which undoubtedly came in handy later. Just before my move to Arizona for medical school, my mother scheduled an appointment for me with a beloved spiritual guide/ meditation coach who used biofeedback during sessions, and that was a very fruitful and eye-opening experience for me.

Now back to my use of meditation in adulthood: I admit that once I was feeling much better after a few consistent months of meditating, I fell off the wagon a bit and would practice much less regularly. This is common. Once you feel better, you forget to meditate! That’s no bueno because meditating to the brain is like exercise for the body. If you don’t do it regularly, it’s difficult and you don’t get the long-term health benefits.

I have a real struggle in my practice with engaging patients consistently in meditation. This, along with my own inconsistency with it led me towards a biofeedback device from HeartMath. I had been educated on HRV using a professional version of this exact program through HeartMath in medical school during my biofeedback courses, and I knew it would be a great potential tool to advise to patients. I don’t like to recommend things I’m not intimately familiar with, so this compounded my reasons to purchase the newest personal/home use version and start using it myself.

The way it works is you place an ear piece which picks up on the subtleties of your heart rhythm. That earpiece connects either directly into your phone, by Bluetooth to your phone (you can pick which version you like), or through a separate non-phone device (the EmWave), all of which versions will provide you with the real-time visual feedback of your heart rhythm while you work through the session. Starting with level 1 (least challenging), you will learn how to stay “in the green” (versus blue and red which indicate lower coherence) while you do your deep breathing or meditation exercise.


Photo by: My husband

Photo by: My husband

Screen-shot of my HRV during one of today’s sessions

Screen-shot of my HRV during one of today’s sessions


The narrated/guided sessions or “meditations” can be timed or un-timed. You are encouraged to watch your physiologic response on the screen of your phone to help you understand how to re-visit a state of “coherence”. The device is monitoring your “heart rate variability” which is an indicator of how your nervous system (specifically your autonomic nervous system which is intrinsically linked to your stress response) is responding to your environment and how adaptable/flexible it is in handling stress. A body that is able to handle stress (a.k.a. a heart rhythm that has high coherence) is less vulnerable to the deleterious effects of stress. You can read more about the utility of measuring HRV (heart rate variability) here.

The benefits of high coherence: improved sense of well-being, reduced subjective experience of stress, seen as a positive bio-marker for healthy aging, reduced anxiety and improved mood. HeartMath in particular is a company who can display a fair amount literature on their products validating it as a clinical tool, and it’s used by professionals all over the country.

Why use a device instead of just meditating? Well, for a lot of people, meditating is a new and foreign concept and unless you have the financial means to set up a few sessions with a coach, using a biofeedback device like this can be a great option because:

  1. You get real-time feedback so you know if you’re “doing it right” or not.

  2. It’s more motivating to be consistent because the program comes with an “award system” and tracks your progress in the app that you can reference at any time.

  3. It hooks up right on your phone without needing internet connection which makes it convenient to use any time, anywhere.

  4. It comes with guided narrations if desired, but even when you opt out of a narration, you can watch a colored mandala to help you with your breathing technique while simultaneously getting feedback on your progress.

Basically, I’m digging the program so far. It seems to be a great complement to my existing meditation routine and would be an excellent stand-alone resource for individuals looking for a high-quality, reliable support device to help them develop a daily stress reduction habit at home. If it sounds like a good fit for you, visit the HeartMath website and read more. P.S. - I am in no way financially affiliated with or sponsored by them.

In Health,

Dr. Otto