As I have been pursuing my journey related to mindfulness and stress-reduction, I've been applying things to my life and seeing what helps and what doesn't.
If I divvy up 20 - 30 minutes of meditation time and use 3 different biometric devices, am I getting the same value as if I just sat there for 30 minutes and meditated?
I'm probably not.
I think that a lot of meditation and mindfulness practitioners and experts would probably take exception to what I'm doing.
At the same time, it's fun for me to do it this way, I get to play amateur scientist and try out technology I'm interested in.
I also get to look at different signals from the body and understand a bit better how they work.
This is fun for me.
Also, I get to write blog posts about them and that is also fun.
On the subject of playing amateur scientist and HRV and mindfulness, I've started using Welltory.
When it comes to HRV, Welltory does a great job of providing interpreted results and education. They provide a lot of information and integrate with a lot of other products that I use (FitBit, Google Fit, Qardio).
Welltory very much encourages the 'try it and see' or 'amateur scientist' approach to quantified self, which aligns well with how I do things. They encourage you try things and see if they help.
All of this puts me squarely in the realm of 'Quantified-Self Nerd'. Which is OK with me, I think. I'm turning the stress and stress management into a fun and interesting activity, which helps reduce stress.
Looking at HRV is not like looking at basic bio-data data like steps, calories, or resting heart rate.
As a measure of variability over time it is both more powerful and a bit harder to understand.
I'm currently using two different app/hardware combos to look at information related to HRV.
The fist app is called Biostrap. It provides hardware and software for looking at sophistcated biometric data including HRV. I'm currently only using the wristband, and only looking at HRV.
I'm also using Complete Coherence's Android App with a Polar H10 heart rate monitor. The Complete Coherence app doesn't provide you with direct information on HRV, but offers you insight on how well you are using their breathing exercises which are designed to improve HRV.
As a result, the Complete Coherence application is a little bit more intuitive, though not as clean or modern looking as Biostrap. Because you are measuring coherence (their term) and not HRV directly they're a bit freer to make it easier to consume. It's a simple 1 - 100 scale with color coding from bad (red) to good (green).
Here some example graphs that it produces after (not during) a session:
The one challenge is that it is sometimes hard to tell why I'm getting the scores that I'm getting. I'm doing the breathing exercises and mostly that makes the score go up, though sometimes it doesn't. If it doesn't, there isn't a strong indication of what I could do better. With a bit of trial and error I discovered that playing with the breath-timing settings allowed me to get more consistent results. Presumably this means that there was a breathing pattern that better suited me and changing it (changed from 6 breaths-per-minute to 5 breaths-per-minute) produced improved HRV.
But I can't actually see that directly in the app.
In contrast, Biostrap is designed to provide you directly with HRV readings. This is considerably more involved process than just strapping on a writband and having it count steps or give you your resting heartrate.
The Biostrap hardware uses a clinical-grade photoplethysmogram (PPG) to gather much more precise heartbeat data than other PPG-based fitness bands.
Because the hardware is more purpose-built for heartrate it looks a bit more utilitarian (no displays or buttons) and it requires a little more handholding. You have to explicitly tell it to do a biometric session and when you are going to sleep.
The data that comes back is much more detailed and the analysis gives you a much clearer picture of the HRV measurements the app is taking. It isn't transmuted into a user friendly number or code.
As a result I can see what my HRV measurements are: I can see averages, I can see individual data points, and I can see trend information over time. The app has a clean, modern look which you can see here:
Yes, but what does it all mean you ask? What's good? What's bad? What's average?
The first answer I found was, 'It depends' and then, 'You're better off comparing against your self over time.'
And then I found this article that at least provides some guidance.
After all is said and done, my average is a tiny bit above the average for my age and gender, so that's good, I guess. Now I have a goal to work toward which is to improve on that.
Of course, Biostrap doesn't provide me with guidance on how to improve.
For that, I'm going to continue to use the Complete Coherence system for improving HRV, along with regular exercise and meditation. Hopefully I will see long term improvement in my averages. I like the Complete Coherence program (which extends well beyond HRV into other mindfulness-related areas). I am sharing it with some colleagues who are interested in improving health and new ways to manage stress and improve energy.