I reallyreallyreally do not like inanimate objects talking to me. I avoid Siri, preferring to do my own research than to hear her voice—or to have her record my every Internet search (though I hold no illusions about privacy anymore…). I am not tempted to invite Alexa into my home to find that old Sinatra record for me, thank you very much.
And back in the day when we actually got into cars and drove places, I always resented the high-pitched voice of that GPS woman, who on occasion directed us to dead-end streets and once recommended that we exit sharply to the right when we were in the middle of a bridge.
I’m not accusing her of malicious intent, but her satellite-guided bumbling was not a confidence-builder. I am perfectly capable of bumbling on my own.
Why then, do I invite the man-in-the-box into my life practically every day? It’s because he’s integral to The Device, which shall go nameless so that I’m not guilty of unintended promotion—or worse.
Let me sidepedal a bit here and note that I am very receptive to integrative medicine, which brings together the best from East and West. My daily meditation, linking me to the Buddhism of 2500 years ago, has been a great help.
I do try to stick with practices that are evidence-based, and to maintain a healthy skepticism about things that sound extreme to me—Eastern or Western.
When several people whose opinions I respect raved about a physician who practices integrative medicine, I made an appointment.
I wanted to see whether she would offer me new, preferably non-pharmacologic approaches for handling my chronic conditions: specifically migraines that I know have an anxiety component, and mild hypertension.
Well, some of what she suggested made no sense to me. But she recommended The Device, which she felt might help alleviate these issues. And it turned out that she was right.
It wasn’t inexpensive—costing several hundred dollars—but it involved deep breathing, so I felt it was sufficiently safe and akin to the meditation that’s a valued part of my life.
The beloved neurologist who treats me for migraines thought it was a good idea, as it’s a form of biofeedback, which is an evidence-based method to alleviate migraines.
A description: An elastic belt holding a sensor is attached to a computerish small box, as is a pair of earbuds. I snap the belt around my torso and insert the earbuds. Then I listen to the instructions that the little man-in-the-box provides. Note: I am substituting The Device for its brand name.
Here’s how a session begins:
“Lean back and relax and listen to the music as The Device detects your individual breathing patterns,” he tells me.
If I perform that difficult task to his satisfaction for several seconds/minutes, he says, “The Device has detected your individual breathing patterns. Now breathe according to the guiding tones.” I hear sounds—bom, bom—and I match my breath to the tones.
Sometimes, as in this morning, he immediately tells me I’ve reached the “therapeutic breathing rate,” which means I’m really cookin’. More often, seconds/minutes pass as he goads me with that familiar refrain: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out” before I reach that coveted goal.
Once there, I continue breathing in and out in sequence with the tones for another 14 “therapeutic” minutes (not sure why it’s that time length, but it always is) until he says, “The Device is turning off. Bye for now.” Let me tell you, I’m never sorry to part with him at that point.
And then I get to see how well I’ve performed by clicking on the box’s levers. Here’s where I realize my slight touch of OCD kicks in. I’m back in school, and I really want to do well.
In fact, I usually do. The range deemed acceptable for the initial breathing rate is between 6 and 30 breaths per minute—the lower the better. I’ve never gone above 7.2; this morning’s readout was 5.2, which I guess means I had a pretty restful night’s sleep.
The recommended final breathing range is 5-10 breaths per minute, and I’m nearly always below that—usually 4.8-4.9. Occasionally, I’ve gotten to 4.3, which is nearly Yogi territory, I think. More about that shortly.
The Device also reports my synchronization rate (how well I synchronize my breathing with the tones) and my breath detection rate (how well the sensor can recognize my in-and-out breaths).
I’m usually right where I should be with those as well. Except if I cough or sneeze. Or hiccup. Then all bets are off.
But I’ve learned one especially bitter lesson. If my initial inhalations are too long while the sensor is assessing my pattern, once the tones begin, I wind up struggling to match them. And the man-in-the-box knows it. He chides me: “Don’t hold your breath!”
Try breathing in for longer than you possibly can—and continue for 14 minutes—and you’ll see what it’s like. (Actually, just take my word for it; it’s not something a sensible person would do.)
The lesson I learned: When using The Device, never-ever breathe in for long, lest the sensor monster constantly remind me of my failure.
In such instances, my synchronization rate would ensure a “needs additional work” message on my school report card.
He (my electronic tormenter) has also on more than one occasion said: “Try to breathe more evenly.” I make an effort not to take offense that he’s dissatisfied with my performance.
And he is oh-so picky about that sensor. “Tighten the sensor,” he’ll command. Or “loosen the sensor.” Even “reposition the sensor.” His standards are high. I scramble to do his bidding.
I used to strap on The Device just before bedtime, but I found all kinds of reasons not to go through the process then. So it’s now the first thing I do upon awakening—after taking a long drink of water to prepare my dry mouth for the routine.
Sometimes I wonder, as you may well, why I subject myself to this regimen-with-verbal-abuse on a daily basis. Of course, I always have the option of shutting the darn thing off.
But, while The Device hasn’t totally replaced medication, it really has done what the doctor said it might: migraine frequency diminished, blood pressure low-normal, anxiety lessened.
So I’m locked in to this challenge. Plus, in these pandem-icky days, I figure it’s not so bad to give my lungs a bit of a regular workout.
And then I meditate and express lovingkindness for all the nasty thoughts I’ve had about the bossy little man-in-the-box.