HeartMath Inner Balance Review: Like Meditation Training Wheels

The benefits of consistant meditation are too well told. Lower stress, better focus, easier sleep. But despite its inherent simplicity, it can be really tough to learn and practice, especially if relaxation doesn't come naturally.

The HeartMath Inner Balance is designed to hold your hand as you learn, which may be all some of us need.

What Is It?
It's an app for iOS that, bundled with a hardware accessory, that's built to get you into a calm, focused, zen-like state.

Who's It For?
People who have been curious about meditation (or who have tried and failed to learn) but learn better when they have some guidance.

HeartMath Inner Balance Review: Like Meditation Training Wheels

Design

The hardware consists of a small clip (not unlike one you'd use to keep chips from getting stale) that gently attaches to your earlobe. The sensors in that clip monitor your heart rate. The clip is attached to a wire that goes into your phone's 30-pin connector (you'll need an adapter if you have the newer lightning connector on your phone/tab). The app itself looks outdated, despite it being new. Think 2009 iOS apps.

Using It
You hook the clip up to your ear and fire up the app. When you start a new session it asks you to select your mood: Excited, Anxious, Angry, Happy, Peaceful, Content, Sad, or Bored. When you start, your screen displays a colorful circle that expands and contracts. You are supposed to time your breath with the circle. Doing so generally lowers and evens out your heart rate. There are four other screens to choose from. Two are just other forms of the breathing visualization, and two track your stats and metrics as you go.

As you meditate you are striving for what HeartMath calls "coherence,"which is when your breathing patterns and heart rate fall into a steady rhythm together. There is a colored dot in each screen which tells you if you're in low coherence (red), medium coherence (blue), or high coherence (green). The app delivers a bit of coaching to help keep you on track as you go, and your sessions can go for as long as you like. At the end of the session you are asked to rank your mood again, and have the option of writing a journal entry. All of the info is saved in a log.

HeartMath Inner Balance Review: Like Meditation Training Wheels

The Best Part
It actually works. If you've ever had any success in meditation, you will be familiar with the sense of serenity that quickly comes while using the app. Once you get into a state of "high coherence" you really do start to feel blissed-out and relaxed, but still quite focused. Advanced meditators won't need it at all, but it's great for someone who is starting out and/or needs a little help with focus.

Tragic Flaw
That would have to be the price. This thing costs a hundred bucks! For an app and a mono-tasking sensor. That's pure crazy. Especially because, at some point, someone is going to realize that you can actually use the camera on your phone as a very accurate heart rate monitor (when you put your finger over it), and they'll build an app that does exactly this and sell it for two bucks.

This Is Weird...
There are a lot of anomalies in the app. For instance, you can be on one screen and it's telling you to exhale, then switch to a different screen and it says you should be in the middle of an inhalation. It's very inconsistent.

HeartMath Inner Balance Review: Like Meditation Training Wheels

Test Notes

  • There are four levels of difficulty. The higher you go, the more narrow the parameters for keeping you in coherence. I was the Buddha at level one (that's good!) but really struggled to get into high coherence at level four.
  • There's a fair amount of customizability in the settings. For instance, you can choose to extend or shorten the breath duration. The app could definitely benefit for more (and better) coaching throughout the sessions.
  • You can turn sound on, but you shouldn't. If you do, it will play somewhat abrasive tones to let you know what level of coherence you're in. But the tones seem to come at random times, and I found them so distracting that it ended up annoying me out of coherence. Problematic, when the whole point is to meditate.
  • There is no Android version yet, though HeartMath says that's coming within the year. It would probably have to be a Bluetooth version, as Android phones don't have 30-oin connectors.
  • The wire with the ear-clip and the 30-pin adaptor are two separate pieces. Why? Who knows, but the hardware already feels kind of low-budget and that only adds to that feeling.
  • It seemed to be measuring my heart rate fairly accurately, but I decided to take it off my ear and clip it to a blanket instead. Rather than simply registering nothing, it perceived a heart rate that fluctuated between 80 and 150 beats per minute. From a blanket. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Should I Buy It?
For $100? No. Which sucks, because despite the somewhat janky-looking software, we actually love this thing. We're ADHD internet people and we struggle with meditation. We know how good it is for us, but it's hard for us to do. This app/gadget really helped a lot, and make us feel better, decreased stress, and even made us work with more focus. So, maybe for some, the $100 is worth it. For $25, we'd be telling the whole world to buy it. But for most of us, the cost is just too high for something we know we could probably do on our own (even if we don't).

Again, for people who already meditate regularly, there's not much point to this thing, but for us beginners, it's wonderful. If HearthMath can modernize the app and bring the price down on the accessory (or just let us use our phone's camera, which would open it up for Android, too) then they've got a real winner on their hands. [HeartMath]