Folk wisdom says that when you are feeling stressed you should take three deep breaths to calm down. But what is it about mindful breathing that relaxes us? Mesmerize was created with this question in mind: its unique audio-visuals are purpose-built from scientific research on the connection between breathing and relaxation to minimize stress and maximize relaxation.
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The calming effect of deep breathing is not only folk knowledge, but a scientifically-supported intervention on the autonomic nervous system which controls the body’s stress response.
“Heart rate variability” (HRV) is the gold standard for measuring the body’s stress response. When stressed, the heart beats rapidly and with little variation, pumping blood throughout the body; when relaxed, the heart beats only as often as the body needs in order to maintain normal functioning. By measuring HRV before and after breathing exercises, scientists can measure how much they effect stress levels.
With near complete consensus, studies have shown that deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, box breathing, square breathing, and other meditation exercises involving abdominal breathing all increase HRV, supporting our intuitive understanding that deep breaths have a calming effect. But when we were building Mesmerize, we wanted to go a step further. We asked ourselves, “How do we maximize these benefits?”
As it turns out, not all breathing is equally effective.
For the average adult, pacing breathing at a frequency of 6 breaths per minute produces what is called a resonant response. “This is when heart rate and blood pressure oscillate 180 degrees out of phase, while heart rate and respiration oscillate in phase with each other. The consequent resonance effects produce very large increases in … HRV,” (Tan et al., 2011).
In scientific trials, researchers rely on visual biofeedback devices that monitor subjects’ breath rate and heart rate variability to ensure that resonant frequency is achieved, often using a breathing coach who tells the patient to increase or decrease the speed of their breathing. However, a 2012 study (Busch, et al., 2012), found that when subjects are shown a visual representation of their own breathing alongside an ideal breathing curve and asked to make the two match, the attention demanded of them by this breathing feedback actually caused an increase in sympathetic arousal, or stress.
The difficulty in making Mesmerize was thus finding a way to guide users’ breathing without taxing their attention and subverting the very benefits we were hoping to achieve, as other apps have done by “gamifying” breathing.
Our unique solution was to use a long-standing meditative practice found in the Tantric, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions, focused-attention meditation, which involves giving one’s full attention to an image or pattern, such as a mandala, to aid in meditation.
By creating complex, hypnotic patterns that visually “breathe” in time with the desired frequency and pattern required to achieve resonant frequency, we found that users were able to keep a proper pace without devoting attention to whether or not they were “doing it right.” As the visuals breathe, so do they. No worrying required.
Mesmerize’s unique audio-visual system, combined with our clinically-proven mindful meditation voice-overs and soothing psycho-acoustic music, makes it the best relaxation intervention on the AppStore.
Download for a FREE TRIAL and let Mesmerize show you how deep relaxation can be.