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EmWave2 Review: The Best Biofeedback Tool For Anxiety, Stress, & Performance

On a mission to reduce the amount of anxiety in my life, I initially resorted to antidepressants. When I first started them, I unknowingly thought that they’d cure my condition and allow me to function. The problem was that they eventually not only stopped working, but they made my depression as well as anxiety way worse than it was prior to taking them.

My psychiatrist was spamming antidepressant after antidepressant at me hoping that something would work; I refer to this process as antidepressant roulette. After becoming increasingly frustrated with no results, I came to the realization that pills were not a healthy long term solution. In fact, it seemed like they were causing significantly more harm than they were doing good.

Upon withdrawal from antidepressants, I sought out the help of a highly-rated therapist. She taught me ways of coping with my anxiety via cognitive behavioral therapy; it helped a little bit. One session, she let me try a product to help with my anxiety called the “Freeze Framer,” developed by the HeartMath Institute. The product has since been updated and improved into what is now known as the “emWave.”

What is the EmWave2?

The emWave is a biofeedback device developed by the Institute of HeartMath. The HeartMath Institute was founded in the early 1990s as a non-profit research organization. Their goal was to investigate how heart functioning affects brain functioning and influences health. They published a significant amount of research in scientific journals spanning over a 10+ year period.

Their research demonstrated that there were specific connections between heart function and brain function. They then set out on a goal to use the research that they had conducted to make a positive difference in the lives of other people. The product they came up with was originally called the “Freeze Framer” but has since improved and evolved into what is known as the “emWave.”

The product uses the concept of biofeedback to help you learn how to consciously control a normally unconscious process – your heart-rate variability (HRV).


Why is heart-rate variability (HRV) important?

Most experts consider heart-rate variability (HRV) a direct reflection of our overall health. As a general rule of thumb, the greater your HRV, the more physiological resilient you are thought to be. Those who are unable to adapt to environmental stressors and circumstances often have low variability in their heart rate.

Additionally your heart-rate variability is directly associated with biological aging. Young people tend to have higher heart-rate variability than older adults. Despite the fact that age-related HRV decline is natural, abnormally low HRV for your age is associated with greater risk of mortality (e.g. early death) and other major health problems.

Communication between heart and brain

Many people are aware that their brain is responsible for regulating physical and mental processes, but the role of the heart is often underestimated. The HeartMath Institute discovered that the heart actually sends a greater number of signals to the brain, than the brain sends to the heart. All of these signals sent to the brain from the heart can influence your: emotions, cognition, and ability to handle stress.

The activity of your heart is responsible for constantly influencing the activity of your brain; there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. The research of heart-brain connection has expanded significantly over the past few decades. Scientists at HeartMath took things a step further by examining how the activity of your heart influences your brain function.

They analyzed key patterns based on scientific findings and discovered that different heart rhythm patterns (as influenced by emotion) have unique effects on cognition as well as emotion.

  • Erratic heart pattern: When you experience negative emotion, your heart rhythm becomes erratic and variability in between heart beats decreases. This results in a specific signaling imprint or set of neural instructions being send to your brain. When you are stressed and feeling overwhelmed, the brain responds to the rhythm of your heart by shutting down certain functions such as advanced thinking, decision making, and concentration. The more you stay stuck in stress, the more your brain functioning gets stuck in the “stress” response (or reinforced) as a result of your heart activity.
  • Stable heart pattern: When you experience positive emotions and relaxation, the pattern of your heart becomes stable. This stable pattern signals to the brain that everything is “OK” and that it should feel emotionally stable and positive. When the pattern of the heart becomes stable, it increases “coherence” (or favorable communication) between the heart and the brain. This in turn influences our cognition, emotions, and performance for the better.


The Heart has it’s own intelligence

The heart is not limited to just pumping blood, neurocardiological research suggests that the heart has a network of nerves so sophisticated, that it essentially has its own “brain.” The heart “brain” contains over 40,000 neurons which allow it to learn, sense, memorize, and carry out important functions. It is now understood that the heart carries its own level of intelligence and is responsible for dispensing hormones, neurotransmitters, and electromagnetic fields; all of which influence how we feel.

The heart is known to help regulate our emotions and process them. When we experience something negative, certain signals are sent out by our “heart” to the brain to elicit a certain state. When we experience something positive, different signals are sent from the heart to the brain to create a different state of functioning. Fortunately, we can learn how to regulate this functioning and spend more time in an optimal state rather than a negative one.

How the EmWave 2 works…

Early science believed that the heart always produced the same rhythm, regardless of circumstances. That early belief has since been debunked and we now know that the normal beat of the heart is rarely steady, even among a healthy resting person. The actual intervals between consecutive heart beats is subject to constant variation. The naturally varying intervals between consecutive heart beats is referred to as “Heart Rate Variability (HRV).”

Heart-rate variability isn’t typically analyzed when you go to the doctor, they simply get an average of your heart rate. The EmWave on the other hand allows you to analyze real-time changes in your heart rhythms by collecting pulse data. It continuously allows you to monitor increases and/or decreases in your heart-rate variability, and helps you learn how to actually increase your HRV.

A low HRV has been documented among individuals in poor physical and mental health. By using the emWave, you can learn how to consciously control your heart-rate variability (HRV), which will improve the health of your heart, brain functioning, and the overall efficiency of your nervous system.

  • Biofeedback: You’ve probably heard of biofeedback as a means to control some aspect of the autonomic nervous system. While most functions of the autonomic nervous system are out of our conscious control, there are certain functions that we can learn to control. By getting continuous feedback via sensors hooked up to some part of our body, we can learn to consciously change our physiology. Biofeedback is a well-established process by which people have learned to control functions such as: brain waves, muscle tension, blood pressure, and heart rate. The emWave is effective because it is based off of the concept of biofeedback.
  • Hardware device: The emWave is a hardware device that records your HRV (heart-rate variability) via an ear sensor. This sensor is highly sensitive and is placed on your ear lobe to record your heart rate. The ear lobe is among the most accurate places from which you can gather heart rate information.
  • Feedback: As the hardware collects data on your heart rate variability (amount of time between heart beats), it then spots a particular trend. If you have a high HRV with your heart-brain connection in sync, it will give you positive feedback in the form of a green light. If you are somewhat in sync, but not quite, you’ll see a blue light, and if you’re totally out of sync (stressed), you’ll see a red light.
  • Advanced: Even if you are in coherence, there are different levels that you can reach. The greater the coherence, the better results you’ll get. There is even computer software that allows you to get feedback based on animations (e.g. a hot air balloon that will not move unless you are “coherent”). Additionally, you will be able to read exactly what level of coherence you are in to the exact decimal in “real-time” on the software program.
  • Practice: With enough practice of sustained coherence, you’ll be able to replicate the state of coherent functioning “at will” without a need for the emWave. The emWave could be compared to learning how to drive with a manual transmission. When you first start out, you may have trouble shifting gears (staying in coherence). With consistent practice and learning, it’ll eventually become second nature – you won’t need a teacher or feedback to drive with manual transmission; you’ve learned through trial and error. Same goes for HRV training, consistent practice will allow you to control your HRV without the device.


How to enter a state of high coherence…

In order to train yourself to enter coherence and maintain a high HRV, the Institute of HeartMath came up with a few tips. Below are my personal tips for making it easier to enter and maintain coherence. You can tweak these to fit your individual preferences.

  1. Focus on your heart/center of your chest
  2. Consciously adjust your breathing
  3. Maintain breathing that increases coherence
  4. Add positive emotion
  5. Maintain heart-focus, breathing, positive emotion

Isn’t “coherence” just a glorified way of saying “relaxation?”

Many people get confused when they think that coherence is the same as relaxation. In other words, if they practice meditation or some type of relaxation, they will achieve high heart-rate variability (HRV). From a physiological standpoint, relaxation stems from an overly dominant parasympathetic nervous system, leading to poorer HRV.

Although coherence is associated with an increase in parasympathetic activity (to promote relaxation), it entirely different from relaxation in that the nervous system is able to oscillate at its natural resonant frequency, which results in increased physiological harmony as well as interconnectedness between the heart and the brain. It should also be clear that relaxation tends to lower the heart rate, whereas high heart-rate variability can occur with any heart rate.

If you were to compare digital waves of your heart pattern in a relaxed state, you’d note that the high frequency of the HRV spectrum would increase (as a result of parasympathetic activity). In a coherent state, you’d see that the heart pattern would appear smoother and more organized in a cohesive rhythm (like a sine wave). HeartMath also makes it clear that during coherence, your cognition and positive emotions are engaged, whereas during relaxation you are lessening all forms of activity.

When you have a high degree of coherence, you are able to focus, while remaining physically calm. You feel emotionally balanced and are able to perform at your best.

Factors that influence heart-rate variability (HRV)

There are many factors that influence coherence (high HRV), but the two biggest factors tend to be our breathing pattern, and our emotional state (focus also plays a role). By learning to simultaneously adjust our breathing pattern as well as our emotions, we can enter a state of high HRV seemingly “at will.”

  • Breathing: Among the most influential factors of coherence is that of breathing – inhales and exhales directly influence your heart rhythm. Your particular pattern of breathing such as the speed of your inhale and exhale will either shift you into a state of coherence or away from it. With continued use of the emWave, you will be able to figure out a breathing pattern that helps take you out of stress and into a state of high coherence.
  • Emotions: Breathing alone will not keep you in a state of high coherence, emotion also plays an important role. HeartMath researchers have discovered that one of the most powerful indicators of our HRV is our emotions. The emotions that we feel have a direct influence upon our heart-rate variability.
    • Negative emotions: Emotions such as: anger, anxiety, frustration, and irritability give rise to heart rhythm patterns that are irregular and erratic. If you were to view a digital pattern of your heart wave pattern, you’d see significant unevenness as well as jagged ridges throughout the displayed “wave.” This is referred to as an “incoherent” heart rhythm pattern and indicates that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system are out of sync – one is overly dominant. When negative emotions are prolonged, they result in an inefficient operation of your physiological functioning. This leads to low levels of energy and more wear-and-tear, which leads to accelerated biological aging.
    • Positive emotions: When you are in a good mood and feel positive about life, your nervous system actually functions differently. You no longer feel as if you are in danger or threatened, rather you experience emotions of peace, compassion, love, and gratitude. These emotions create a completely different heart rhythm pattern than negative emotions. The pattern that positive emotions create can be seen on a visual display as being very smooth and in perfect harmony. This is referred to as a “coherent heart rhythm pattern” and it signifies that our physiology is in sync.

Why you want to operate in “high coherence”…

When we are experiencing positive emotions for a sustained period of time, we can measure this in our physiology. The experts at HeartMath refer to it as “psychophysiological” coherence or an increasing connectedness between our psychological (mental/emotional) functioning and our physiology (body/nervous system) functions. When in a state of high psychophysiological coherence, you are using your physiology more efficiently, experience emotional stability, and clarity of thinking. Ultimately you are in a superior state of functioning, leading to improvements in many areas of life.

The heart rhythm coherence measured by the emWave allows you to determine whether you are psychophysiologically “coherent” or “incoherent.” It also gives you feedback that allows you to consciously increase your coherence. When you are coherent, your physiological functions become balanced with more of a weight on parasympathetic (relaxation) activation. There is also improved communication between the heart and the brain.


Potential Benefits of the emWave2

There are many potential benefits to be obtained from the emWave including: a balanced mood, less stress, boosted creativity, and peak performance. By no means is it a guarantee that you’ll experience all of the benefits listed below, but you’re likely to experience at least a couple.

  • Anxiety reduction: Regular usage of the emWave is likely to result in significant reductions in your general anxiety. If you suffer from any kind of anxiety, the emWave will teach you how to turn down your sympathetic-induced “stress response.” Although the device won’t prevent stress from occurring, it will make you significantly more resilient to feelings of stress – because it will allow you to control your response to it.
  • Cognitive performance: Some people will notice that their brains work better when they’re less stressed. By increasing efficiency and function of the nervous system, you manufacture hormones and neurotransmitters that support brain health. When you’re stressed, your prefrontal cortex shuts down – yet when you’re relaxed, this area (involved in higher-order functions) becomes active.
  • Creativity: Many people report a significant increase in creativity when in a state of high coherence. This is because the nervous system is functioning efficiently and the stress centers in the brain aren’t activated. When you’re less stressed, brain regions involved in creativity become more active.
  • Depression: The heart is responsible for sending more signals to the brain than vice versa. Since the heart is constantly signaling for the creation of certain hormones, neurotransmitters, etc. – it would make sense that heart functioning can directly influence our mood. When you have a low HRV (i.e. low coherence), your heart sends out stress signals to your brain that keep you locked in a negative mood. When you learn how to control your HRV and maintain a high state of coherence, positive signals are sent that keep you in a balanced, positive mood.
  • Emotional regulation: If you want to feel calmer and more balanced throughout the day, emWave should help do the trick. When the body creates stress hormones, it is an unconscious process that we don’t control. However, whenever we feel stressed and/or negative emotions, we can enter a state of high coherence, leading to feelings of contentedness and emotional balance.
  • Hormonal balance: When you’re over-stressed, the heart signals for the production of stress hormones – which can create imbalances over time. Additionally hormone imbalances can take a toll on your body and your mood. As you learn to increase your coherence with the emWave, your heart will correct imbalances in its signals for hormone production.
  • Intuition: Many people report noticing an enhanced intuition and/or being able to come up with effortless insights as a result of being in high coherence. This is likely due to the fact that the brain is better connected with the intelligence of the heart, and that it is easier to experience insights when you’re calm and aware rather than overly stressed or too relaxed.
  • Neurotransmission: It is known that emotional states, physiological arousal, and the heart influence neurotransmission. Certain neurotransmitters get created when you’re stressed in comparison to when you’re calm and feeling content. If you want to feel calmer and more content, using the emWave will help alter your brain’s neurotransmission by helping you consciously change your HRV.
  • Peak performance: The parasympathetic nervous system becomes slightly more activated than the sympathetic when in a state of peak performance. Your arousal isn’t totally shut off (as it would be during intense relaxation), rather you still maintain alertness. Some would classify this as a state of “flow” but it’s more of an integrated flow of the autonomic nervous system.
  • Rewires nervous system: When you’re highly stressed all the time, your nervous system learns to behave a certain way. The stress response continues to activate areas of the nervous system associated with the stress response. When you use the emWave consistently, you create physiological resilience by rewiring the operation of your nervous system.
  • Stress reduction: The biggest benefit associated with this device is that it works amazingly well for reducing stress. Many people buy it just to use when they’re stressed out because it is based in science. They know that the device will help transform their state from feeling stressed to calm and optimistic.
  • Turns unconscious to conscious: Without any sort of biofeedback, it is impossible to know whether you are truly in a state of coherence vs. incoherence. By using the emWave, you will be able to not only figure out when you’re in coherence, but you’ll be able to consciously control the process.


Who would benefit from the EmWave2?

Virtually anyone who hasn’t already mastered their HRV with emWave would stand to benefit from using this product. Regardless of whether you are stressed out, feeling negative, or simply want to increase your physiological resilience – the emWave can help train you how to gain conscious control over an unconscious process. This product has been used by over 100,000 top performers to boost performance and well-being.

If you have anxiety, high stress, or have suffered a nervous breakdown, this would be among the first products I’d recommend using. It will help turn down an overly dominant sympathetic nervous system and strengthen your parasympathetic activation. Even if you don’t have anxiety, depression, or stress – there is evidence suggesting that people with high HRV tend to have less health problems and live longer.

There is also some evidence to suggest that you may be increasing your overall longevity by slowing biological aging with an increased HRV. The appealing aspect of using the emWave is that you can consciously increase your HRV to the point that you feel more relaxed and age at a slower rate than you would without it.

Personal experience with EmWave2

I have been using the emWave for years and know that it works extremely well. I was introduced to a variation of the product in 2006 called “Freeze Framer.” When I first began using it, I found the product to be extremely frustrating and didn’t believe that it even did anything. I even stopped using it for awhile because I thought I had been duped and that the product was just a marketing gimmick.

It took me a couple weeks of practice before I was able to even achieve “intermediate coherence” for any sustained period. This is probably because I was so stressed and simply couldn’t focus or summon up any positive emotion. As I kept using it, I finally learned how to enter “higher coherence” and noticed significant shifts in my thinking and cognition along the way.

I’m at the point that whenever I use the emWave now, entering coherence is relatively easy – almost second nature. I know what to focus on, how to adjust my breathing, and the emotion to maintain. Each time I use it I feel more creative and certain days I feel as if it has helped with inspiration or my ability to write.

Several ideas for articles on this website have come immediately after I’ve used the emWave or even during a session. I can vouch that it’s improved my creativity and most importantly, has been my “saving grace” on days that I’ve experienced any sort of high stress.


How often should you use EmWave?

Assuming you buy the emWave, I’d recommend using it just once or twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes per session. You don’t want to overdo it because you’ll only be spinning your wheels. Just like it takes consistent practice over time to learn how to ride a bike or drive with a manual transmission, you probably won’t learn how to maintain high coherence overnight.

  • 10-20 minutes: Most people should only use the software between 10 and 20 minutes. Using it more will probably result in a lot of frustration and confusion, especially when you are initially learning.
  • 1-2 times daily: I’d recommend using the software a couple times a day, preferably spaced out (e.g. once in the morning, once in the afternoon). No need to go overboard – three times would work fine as well.
  • 90 days (consecutive): To master your HRV, I’d recommend using it every single day for a full 90 days. I know three months may sound like a lot, but if you are extremely “incoherent” and have a difficult time learning, you’re bound to figure something out within 90 days. At this point a high state of coherence should become second nature.

Will emWave cure your anxiety and stress?

From a medical standpoint, it cannot be promised as treating or curing any disease. However, it should put a major dent in reducing the amount of anxiety and stress you experience. It will also increase your ability to cope with it. For certain individuals, the emWave may actually serve as a functional “cure” by minimizing function of the sympathetic nervous system.

Why you should own (and actually use) an emWave2

Unless you’ve already mastered your HRV with an EmWave, getting this product is arguably one of the most cost-effective investments you’ll ever make towards improving your well-being. While the product may not “cure” any mental illness, it will teach you a skill that no one can take away: how to consciously control your HRV (heart-rate variability). By increasing your HRV and learning what it feels like to maintain optimal heart-brain coherence, you’ll gain the ability to drastically improve your quality of life.

The price for the emWave2 is incredibly cheap for a device that will help rewire your entire physiology (for the better). Most people have no problem spending a couple hundred dollars on soda, potato chips, and snacks – but when it comes to a product that works, they express skepticism. On the same token, the product may help prevent a significantly more costly health problem (think doctor bills) and maybe even an early death.

The science behind the emWave is real – it’s not simply “positive thinking,” New Age hocus pocus, or a manipulative marketing gimmick. I don’t promote products that I haven’t both used and found effective. If you want to increase your physiological resilience and optimize your mental health, you need an emWave.


Statistical percentages of improvement

The HeartMath Institute has collected data on over 5,500 people that have used the emWave for a period of 6 to 9 weeks. They reported significant improvements in energy level, anxiety, depression, focus, and sleep. Below are some added statistics that you may want to check out.

  • 50% less fatigue
  • 46% less anxiety
  • 60% less depression
  • 24% better focus
  • 25% better at listening
  • 30% better sleep

In my experience I can vouch for improvements in all of these areas. When I first started using it, I noticed less anxiety in the moment that I used it, but as I continued my daily usage, anxiety has dropped even when I’m not using it. My focus has improved, mood has become more balanced, and I am less depressed (and anxious) as a result of being able to control my stress response. I cannot recommend this device enough for people who want to improve their mental health or just flat out want to function better as a human being.


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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Nick May 13, 2015, 5:25 pm

    Very thorough and concise review here mate, well done! I’m going through what might be labelled a “nervous breakdown” right now, things in my life piled up, and I don’t think my stress coping mechanism were the best to start with – consistently in SNS activation. After delving into the great work at heartmath, and seeing that this is something very powerful that I believe can not only help with negative states and periods, but help us live greater more fulfilling lives, I just got my emwave2 yesterday, and am trying to use it about 5 times per day:

    on waking – 20 mins
    before work – 10 mins
    midday – 10 mins
    after work – 10 mins
    before sleep – 20 mins

    I know you say 3 times max, but I’m thinking this should be a good plan based on the fact that I’m trying to achieve the goal of reconditioning my nervous system, and given the consistent amount of anxiety and tension I’m carrying, I want to speed things along, while remaining realistic (I know it won’t happen for at least a few weeks to a few months of sincere practice).

    What do you think of this plan for someone with severe stress levels, and the things that come with that (depression, fatigue, etc.) Also, do you have any feedback on which heartmath techniques would be best suited for someone in my position? Thanks a lot mate, great site, and great work! -Nick

    • GLOOM May 14, 2015, 10:44 pm

      I think it sounds good. If you notice that you aren’t making progress in regards to becoming more adept at achieving coherence, you may be overdoing the practice. If you’re progressing at a quick rate, continue to increase the difficulty.

      For the higher difficulty levels, significant concentration is generally needed, and you may have a tough time maintaining extremely high coherence multiple times per day. Best of luck Nick.

    • Ean Weichselbaum July 27, 2016, 1:32 pm

      Hey. Nice plan. I also practice with the device a lot. Extremely useful. How did your practice go? Regards, Ean

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