Breathing exercises are a wonderful way to reduce anxiety, agitation and stress, while promoting relaxation, calm and inner peace. It may take some practice – and requires some commitment on your part to achieve results. However, the long-term benefits are well worth the effort – a calm and relaxed body and mind are less prone to health issues.
— Dr. Andrew Weil, on The Art and Science of Breathing (http://www NULL.drweil NULL.com/drw/u/ART02039/the-art-and-science-of-breathing NULL.html)
Dr. Weil often recommends the 4-7-8 breath (http://www NULL.drweil NULL.com/drw/u/VDR00112/The-4-7-8-Breath-Benefits-and-Demonstration NULL.html) for relaxation and stress reduction, a safe and easily implemented technique. In fact, it’s one of the most effective recommendations I make in my medical practice. But it only scratches the surface of breathing’s potential.
While I’ve been recommending specific breathing techniques for many years, I have found that similar to exercise and dietary recommendations, people frequently get hung up on one or more obstacles and don’t implement a regular practice of breathing in their lives.
Thus when earlier this year I met a small team of engineers at Prana Tech here in San Francisco with interests in yoga and meditation, who were developing a wearable device and app to track and train breathing, it really caught my attention. I’ve been testing and using wearable devices for years, but was particularly attracted to the possibility of empowering my patients (and myself) to practice breathing techniques during our busy days.
Obstacles to implementing breathing practice
1. I can’t find time to practice every day, or I simply forget to practice.
Taking the time to practice breathing can be hard amidst a hectic schedule of home life, work life, and the constant distractions of modern life. The beauty of breathing techniques is that they have benefit even when practiced only 2-3 minutes a day. Over time, one can build up to longer practice, but many people find that short exercises when practiced regularly can have significant benefit.
Prana’s wearable device allows you to practice breathing in short increments, typically 30 seconds to 2 minutes, and reminds you gently to take a brief break from your activities to focus on posture and your breathing practice when you need it most. Prana’s passive tracking mode identifies when the user is breathing more shallowly and from the chest, as happens when stressed or anxious, and discreetly vibrates to alert that it’s time to take a break and practice a breathing technique. This can easily be done at work seated in a chair, even discreetly during meetings. All is takes is a minute or two.
2. It’s hard to know if I’m doing the breathing techniques correctly. The initial results can be so subtle.
A teacher is indeed useful, both to learn the techniques correctly, and to get feedback and encouragement during the early days when the results can be subtle. This way, through regular practice, proper technique, and encouragement, one can experience the more dramatic benefits that manifest over time.
In my medical practice, I have often recommended that patients find an Iyengar Yoga teacher skilled in teaching pranayama (http://www NULL.yogajournal NULL.com/article/practice-section/breathing-lessons-2/) (the Indian science of breathing).
So if a simple wearable device and app like Prana can deliver many of the benefits of a good yoga teacher, anywhere and any time, it could benefit many.
3. I’ve been trying to learn breathing techniques on my own, and I’m not seeing results.
Posture is an often overlooked element, as it is essential to proper breathing. Sitting up straight decompresses the abdomen, frees up the diaphragm and allows a full range of breathing. Like a good yoga teacher, Prana’s device automatically tracks and coaches on proper posture, as well as breathing technique, so that the user gets the maximum benefit of each.
4. How do I know which techniques to use for my particular goals?
One can read books, Light on Yoga (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Light-Yoga-B-K-Iyengar/dp/0805210318) being a definitive, yet fairly dense, reference. But Prana features 30 of the most common breathing patterns recommended by experts. It includes descriptions of their effects and uses, and also videos demonstrating correct technique. Then the wearable device and app give feedback on performance in real time. It’s both motivating and reassuring.
5. I need a personal touch to motivate me.
After rolling out the initial product, it’s on Prana’s timeline to offer coaching from a breath training expert, who can look at the data, watch breathing via a video call, and provide individualized guidance and motivation. All without leaving home or office. There’s also game mode where proper technique earns points and rewards, offering a way to get feedback in a fun way.
The sooner you start practicing proper breathing techniques every day, the sooner you will start to feel the benefits. I often recommend people start with Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breath, since it’s safe and everyone can use a bit of relaxation.
I’m excited that Prana’s wearable device will make it easier for more people to learn and actually implement breathing as a tool for health and wellness. Excited enough to get me involved in the project. The project is now on Kickstarter, aiming to take it from a working prototype to a production unit.
I started by beta testing the Prana prototypes with my patients, and was impressed with the novel technology, which for the first time allows accurate tracking of breath while taking posture into account in a very light and trim package that clips on at the waistline. The app has modes for advanced biofeedback, but also has fun games where the control is your own breathing – appealing to a wider audience including children. The implications for health and wellness are profound, and I sincerely hope this project comes to fruition so that others can benefit.
Check out the Kickstarter page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/771156004/prana-wearable-for-breathing-and-posture/ (https://www NULL.kickstarter NULL.com/projects/771156004/prana-wearable-for-breathing-and-posture/).(pre-order discounts still available as of April 14, 2015)
Paul Abramson MD