Fat Lady on a Bike: My Journey to Peace and Fitness

Join me and my wonderful Electra Townie bike on my continuing journey to inner peace and both inner and outer fitness.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Finding My Heart Space

Part of my journey to increased calm and healthfulness has involved learning to meditate.  I started with guided imagery as part of the Green Mountain at Fox Run program, and then started doing actual meditation when I began phone coaching sessions with one of the behavioral specialists there.  Being the perfectionist that I was/am, I spent much of the first weeks trying to figure out if I was doing it right, and really concerned that I wasn't.  Eventually I got over that and became much more comfortable with the notion that meditation is a practice, in the same sense of that word as I am familiar with from my musical life;  there's no way to be perfect, but the repetition makes the whole process occur with a greater sense of ease.

Then my coach started talking about getting into my "heart space," breathing into it, feeling and acting from it, and I was lost.  I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.  Three years later, I still didn't, not really, but had made enough progress so that I was no longer worrying about why I was "failing" at this piece of my task.  I guess that eventually I started to believe that I was probably there, whatever that meant, but simply unable to feel what that meant.

Fast forward to our time in San Francisco, where at Carol's meeting she learned about a company that makes a product called "emWave" -- a combination of software and sensor that helps train you to achieve what they refer to as "coherence," a synchronization of your heart rate with your autonomic nervous system.  This sounded intriguing, so we saw a demonstration of the desktop computer program and promptly bought a system to try at home.  The program suggests that you "focus your attention in the area of the heart and pretend you are breathing in and out through the heart area."  Since I had never been able to do that in any reliable way, I thought using the software might help me attain that connection, which seems to be pretty important to inner peace.

I installed the software when we got home and have now had several sessions.  I think this is just the tool that I need.  I'll try to describe what a session entails.

After opening the program, you attach a sensor to your earlobe; the other end plugs into a little unit that plugs into a USB port.  It looks a lot like a thumb drive.  Then you press start and your session begins.  For the first 30 seconds or so, the unit calibrates your heart rate, and you can check whether the sensor is well-placed to get a good signal.  Once it has calibrated, you start hearing a chiming every five seconds to tell you how your state of coherence is.  Here's a rather fuzzy screen shot of a basic session:

The squiggle along the top represents your heart rhythm.  You are shooting for a smooth and regular pattern rather than something that looks like High Sierra.  The three bars in the lower right are the three levels of coherence:  red is low, blue is medium and green is high.  The greater percentage of the time you spend is blue or green, the more relaxed and centered you are.

The default has a low bonging for low coherence, a medium chiming for medium coherence, and a spritely high ringing for high coherence.  I found that I wasn't budging off the low level and thought it might be because I find the low bonging quite restful, so I reversed the low and high sounds assigned by the program and have had much better luck.  It's very helpful to have the immediate feedback, and it's getting easier for me to bring myself back out of the low level by focusing on my heart space, so I guess I've already done better at finding it than I ever did before.

The program also has interesting visualizations to help you stay focused and motivated, as well as three games that you control by keeping yourself in the more desirable states of coherence.  I'm looking forward to spending more time with these as I practice centering myself with this interesting and helpful tool.  Maybe future posts will actually originate from my heart space.  One can but hope.

A hui hou.

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