Updated: Mar 4, 2020
There are a plethora of mindfulness exercises, different types of meditation, and mindfulness trainings available.
As a scientist I always wondered how do I measure my progress?
Progress towards higher resilience to stress, improved overall health, and consciousness growth.
For example, if I sit down and meditate for 20 minutes, how do I know it was helpful for my body and mind? Was it an effective use of my time? Would it be better to meditate 30 minutes instead, how often?
This is when I started experimenting with various electronic devices (e.g., like the Muse meditation headband, HeartMath, ...) and technologies that would allow me to measure my body's response to mindfulness techniques.
I realized that meditation and mindfulness techniques have a more effective impact if you have a healthy body. This is when I got inspired by biohacking pioneers like Dave Asprey, Ben Greenfield, Eduard de Wilde, and Olli Sovijärvi.
Biohacking is closely related to the Quantified Self movement. It uses the latest in wearable technology and testing labs to test our bodies.
With short feedback loops, we can experiment and quickly discover what works and doesn’t work with diet and lifestyle changes. Technologies to track sleep, exercise, stress, health and even brain function are accessible to us nowadays.
There is the latin saying "Mens sana in corpore sano" (A healthy mind in a healthy body), expressing the theory that physical exercise is an important or essential part of mental and psychological well-being. While I agree with this quote during my experiments I found out that the opposite is even truer:
"A Healthy Body with a Healthy Mind"
Similar to how a body needs training to stay strong, the mind needs also training to stay focused in the present moment.
I started experimenting with different approaches, and gradually figured out a system for me that can not only be used to measure the results of our efforts that we put into mindfulness activities, but also incorporates the latest science on body improvements ideas with the goals to become ultra resilient to stress, improve my overall health, and continue lifting my consciousness growth.
The system I devised is using several metrics to determine your stress levels and reducing them gradually over time using a combination of mindful practices and meditation, sleep, exercise, and optimized nutrition.
For example, one primary aspect of how stressed you are in the current moment is your heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. This variation is controlled by a primitive part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It works regardless of our desire and regulates, among other things, our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion.
Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.
People who have a high HRV may have greater cardiovascular fitness and be more resilient to stress. A higher HRV therefore is good for you, and a good proxy for your stress resilience level.
There are multiple devices out there that help you measure and track HRV over time. We distinguish between wearable devices like the Oura ring, the Garmin Vivosmart 4 fitness tracker, or devices that you can use for ad-hoc measurements like HeartMath.
In addition, there are smartphone apps like Welltory that allow the aggregation of your measured data to generate additional insights and allow rapid experimentation of ideas.
For example, you could do a measurement of your stress levels, energy, and productivity before a new activity, then do the activity, and then measure again afterwards. You would do that a few times and then obtain results of the activity's impact on your overall stress level, energy, and productivity. If the outcome is positive you have confidence that this activity could be helpful for you. If not, you also know based on solid data.
While HRV is a great metric for tracking your stress resilience, there are plenty of other helpful bio-markers that you can obtain though lab tests. All this data is there to providing you with valuable insights on your current level and status of your body & mind's overall health.
The motto therefore is
"What you can measure you can also improve!"
That means there is a indeed systematic way to track the impact of your mindfulness exercises and meditation.
Integrating these techniques, ideas, and methods into a structured curriculum for mindful leadership results in a scientific approach, which will increase your overall resilience to stress, improved health, consciousness growth, and overall effectiveness as a leader.
Stay tuned for more articles in this series ...