How to Maximize Your Mindfulness Practice with a HeartMath Monitor
I’ve practiced Zen mindfulness meditation every day for 31 years.
Six years ago I started using Heartmath to enhance and monitor my Zen meditation.
Heartmath has a sensor that clips on your ear and monitors your heart rate for consistency. If you are using the iPhone software, it will show whether you are in the red, blue, or green.
Red is low coherence. Blue is medium coherence and green is high.
You get a higher score for being “in coherence”, a state of emotional relaxation in which your heart rate becomes very regular.
Here’s how I do my morning Zen practice using Heartmath.
Sit Someplace Quiet
First thing in the morning, I go to my office, close my door and sit. This enables me to get maximum quiet time to focus without disruption.
Minimize Visual Distractions
In Zen, it’s preferred to sit in front of a blank, non-textured wall, with the eyes partly closed. This minimizes distractions.
If you close your eyes your mind will drift more easily, so keeping them slightly open helps you focus.
Posture for Sitting Zazen
I sit in a half-lotus position on the floor of my office. This is the traditional Zen posture, where you sit on a small cushion, with your legs crossed. It allows you to be comfortable, but not so comfortable you fall asleep.
Sit with your head over your shoulders and a straight spine, to minimize stress on your body or a tendency to fall over.
Place your hands in your lap, with your right hand inside your left, thumb tips gently touching.
This slight touching becomes a point of mindfulness. When your mind drifts, your thumb tips will separate. Gently resume the light connection.
This is not a time to think about the day or life’s drama. Your goal is to be completely present. Here are three things that will help you ground and be present.
Clear Your Mind
Our mind tends to constantly chatter. Zen calls this “the monkey mind.”
When using Heartmath, it quickly becomes apparent that what you are thinking about directly affects your state of coherence.
Thinking about sex or planning the day’s events? You’ll quickly fall out of coherence.
One of the best ways to stabilize your heart rate is to clear your mind, making more space between your thoughts. Zen refers to this as “thinking nonthinking”. Here’s how you do that.
When you become aware of your mind drifting along a chain of associations, simply note “Thinking” and then return to clearing your mind. With practice, the length of the gaps between thoughts will increase.
If you glance down at your HeartMath monitor, you may notice you are in the red. This may lead you to feel even more stressed. Notice “I’m in the red” and let it go without judgment. The important thing is to not respond or be overly concerned with where it currently is on the red, blue-green scale.
Do a Body Scan
Start at your toes, noticing how they are feeling, then slowly work your way up your legs, through your torso, down your arms to your hands, then go back to your neck and head, noticing every tiny sensation as you go.
“My foot feels numb. My calf is itchy. My knee is aching. My butt is too.” The more detail you notice the better.
It’s important to note everything as you slowly work your way up your body. Objectively noticing, without judgment, will help you remain calm and in a state of coherence.
Also, notice your external environment. “The birds are singing. It feels cold. The heater is turning on.” This also helps you ground into the present.
Breath is the core of your meditation practice. It reveals your state of mind, and influences it as well. Pranayama, or the yoga of breath, is a whole complex area of study.
Simply put, when we’re stressed, we breathe low and shallow. To become less stressed, take deep belly breaths. This will feel unnatural at first but will slowly become easier as your diaphragm relaxes.
There are a number of breathing techniques you can use, but here’s one I’ve found particularly useful.
Breathe in to a count of four. Hold it to a count of eight. Then breathe out to a count of seven. Repeat the cycle.
Using a heart rate monitoring device like Heartmath will give you immediate feedback about your morning meditation.
To keep your heart rate as regular as possible, choose a place where you won’t be interrupted. Start early in the morning, sitting in half lotus in front of a wall, with eyes half-closed to maximize the ease with which you can concentrate.
Then begin to notice, without judgment, how your body feels, the thoughts passing through your mind while breathing into your stomach. Slowly over time, you will get better and better at becoming calmer and less reactive and begin to experience the many benefits of being mindful.