Thursday 4 March 2021

Gadget Review: Inner Balance

Gadget Review: Inner Balance

Review By Casey Douglass

Inner Balance

Heartmath have a nifty gadget called the Inner Balance. It connects to your smartphone and, by monitoring your heart-rate variability, gives you feedback as to whether you are in the synchronised state known as heart coherence. Heartmath UK+IRL kindly sent me an Inner Balance to have a play with, and after a few months of experimentation, I finally feel ready to put some thoughts out there.

The Inner Balance & The Inner Balance App

The Inner Balance sensor is a small, light, pebble-shaped device. It has a clip on the back to attach it to your clothing, and a wire that connects to an ear-clip. The plastic body is home to one large rubbery button to turn it on and off, alongside a tiny blinking led for status updates. The whole thing is very comfortable to wear, and I was particularly pleased that the ear-clip didn’t pinch; it just gently clasped. My sessions lasted anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, and I never became uncomfortable with the device. This is a great thing, as you don’t want unnecessary distractions when you are trying to focus.

I installed the Inner Balance app from the Google Play Store, and my Android smartphone connected to the Inner Balance via Bluetooth without issue. The app itself is home to a lot of stuff, and to be honest, I could probably write a whole review on just the app alone. It contains tips and tutorials, your own logs and journal, and even synchronises to HeartCloud, a free account that you can sign-up for, that allows you to compare your coherence stats with others in a global community. The most important element of the Inner Balance app however, are the breath pacing animations that it uses to help you to enter into a state of heart coherence.

What Is Heart Coherence?

Research has shown that the heart and the brain communicate in both directions, each affecting the other in a variety of ways. If someone is in a state of coherence, these interactions will be more harmonious or beneficial. When someone is not in a coherent state, these signals can become disrupted and more chaotic. The Inner Balance measures the user’s level of coherence by way of their heart rate variability (HRV). When you are in a coherent state, the graph of your HRV, when plotted over time, will look closer to a smooth sine-wave pattern. When you are in a non-coherent state, the plot is more irregular and jagged. The Inner Balance app gives you the on-screen pacers and feedback information you need to effectively put Heartmath’s Quick Coherence Technique to work, and to bring yourself into coherence.

The Quick Coherence Technique is very simple. The first step is to bring your attention to the area of your heart and to slow your breathing until both your inhalation and exhalation each last around five seconds. The second step is to try to feel a positive, heart-felt emotion, such as love or appreciation. As far as I understand it, the change in breathing rhythm helps to shift your nervous system into a more balanced state, and the heart-felt emotion further amplifies this effect. There are other techniques in the Guides section of the Inner Balance app, but the Quick Coherence Technique is the main one that I used.

The Inner Balance App Part 2

The Inner Balance app gives the user a number of animations that help to get their breathing into a suitable rhythm. It’s worth noting that the target breathing rhythm and many other session settings can be altered to taste. It’s best if you try each of the breathing animations or views to see which is most pleasing. The first two feature large animations to set your breathing to. I did find that these tended to chug at times on my low-end smartphone though. You can also have a mini-HRV graph undulating above some of the animations. I personally found this to be distracting but it is something that you can easily turn off. All of these animations (and their accompanying sounds) give you feedback as to what your coherence level is. Or you can choose to sit with a screen of data, one that presents you with a number of graph plots, including your HRV, Coherence over time, and your Pulse.

I appreciated the tools that the Inner Balance app provided, and the configurability it offered. It didn’t take me long however, to feel that the chiming sounds and the information on-screen served as more of a distraction than any thing else, so I promptly muted the sounds and soon adopted a practise of using the animation to set my breath rhythm and then looking away. This suited my mindset and my practise but I didn’t find anything particularly wrong with the app. It crashed occasionally, as any app will, but that only happened once during an actual session, and I had almost 170 sessions with it before I wrote this review.

Inner Balance App Screenshots

My Experiences

So how did I get on? Did those 170 sessions with the Inner Balance give me any noticeable benefit in my life? The answer is, I think so. It was subtle, but it was there. It’s really great to have a device like the Inner Balance that can give feedback on what you are doing. I’ve lost count of how many times that I’ve read a certain breathing technique lowers stress or activates your parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation response, among other things. It’s one thing to believe that the technique helps, it’s another thing entirely to have data on the screen of your smartphone that actually proves that you are entering a certain state, even if it can’t quantify every knock-on effect that said state might have in your body.

I’ve been engaging with various meditation practises for decades. I'll admit that when I was a teenager, this was in the hope of developing some kind of extra sensory perception. As life has continued, and my health has taken a dive, I’m more than happy if a meditation or a mindfulness technique just helps me to experience a little space between miseries. I’m saying all of this to highlight that I didn’t come into this as a total novice, and altering my breathing and focussing in certain ways comes quite easily to me. As an aside, I’d like to think that there is some kind of depressive rock band somewhere, or at least a song, called “A Little Space Between Miseries.”

When I performed the Quick Coherence Technique, I could see confirmation on my smartphone that my HRV was responding to what I was doing. Sure, I wasn’t given proof that I was relaxing or that my brainwaves had changed, but I was given enough reassurance to know that I was doing the technique properly, and that my body was responding, and that felt very liberating. My coherence score and the ability to make notes in my in-app journal after the session, meant that I could easily see what helped me to achieve a higher level of coherence. As an example, when trying to cultivate a heart-felt positive emotion, I found that a feeling of appreciation consistently seemed to give me higher coherence than the feeling of love. I wouldn’t have guessed that would happen. True, it could be that I’m not very adept at cultivating love in that way, and that might change over time, but as something concrete to point at and to ponder, it was valuable to note.

For me, the state of coherence itself felt like a bit of space had opened up. Yes, a little space between those miseries I mentioned a short while ago. A five or ten minute session left me feeling calmer, and less easily triggered by my thoughts. I’ve suffered with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for around thirty years. When my body is in an anxious or triggered state, any negative or fearful thoughts can continue to amplify my fight, flight or freeze response for some time after I’ve calmed down. On the occasions where I had a short session with the Inner Balance after the first peak of my anxiety, I noticed that the same, intrusive thoughts didn’t have quite the same effect again. They were still there, but a bit further away. A bit like if you have a wasp in your room and you manage to shepherd it to the window, which you promptly close once its outside. It might still be bouncing against the glass, but as it’s on the outside now, it doesn’t upset you so much. That’s kind of how I felt.

In a broader sense, I felt other benefits too. Having an Inner Balance session before getting to sleep did seem to give me a slightly better night’s sleep. My sleep felt like it had a different quality but again, it was a subtle difference that felt slightly better to me. I think that my sessions with the Inner Balance also settled my stomach a little. Again, nothing I’d shout from the rooftops about, but it seemed to be a change for the better and it seemed to last. I can’t say that I noticed any improvement in my concentration levels or in other areas related to any kind of mental or physical performance, but my health is pretty grotty at the best of times, so it’s not always easy to discern these things.

Let’s Plot Some Data!

I was also curious to see if I could increase my coherence levels over time. The goals that already come in the Inner Balance App suggest practising three times per day for at least five minutes, with a longer fifteen minute session once per week to build your Coherence Baseline. This I did, as best I could, for almost fifty days in a row. Some days might have only had two sessions, but the vast majority had three. I decided to plot my results on the graph below:

Inner Balance Coherence Averages

My days of A-level maths are a long way behind me but I think I made a decent go of things. I decided to calculate the average coherence across my sessions for each day. This melded my session coherences into one figure that was easily plotted. If I had three sessions with a coherence rating of five on a given day, the average for that day would naturally be five. This approach also allowed me to plot the sessions where I hadn’t really committed to being so routine with things. The two red data points on the graph above are the bookends for my “three times per day” experimental period. The zone to the left of the first red point was a time when I was a bit haphazard and didn’t do my sessions every day. The zone to the right of the rightmost red spot is where I relaxed things to just one session per day. I plotted the averages and asked Open Office Calc to draw a trend line, which you can see in a tasty plum colour.

Before drawing the trend line, I did get the feeling that the data points became more focussed in the 5-6 Coherence band, but to see the trend line paint the picture of a slow increase was heartening. I will also add that one lower coherence session in a day really scuppers the average when the other two were nice and high. I also found that coughing drags my coherence level down too. Guess who has a chronic cough? Yup. Me. I think the graph speaks quite well for itself, so I will let you draw your own conclusions.

I also wanted to add that in the middle of my stricter experimental period, I tested the Audio Visual Coherence Breath Pacers, also available from Heartmath UK+IRL, which were included in those averages depicted above. 

Final Verdict

When I started using the Inner Balance, I did so with an open mind and with the hope that it would be beneficial. I didn’t expect miracles, and I didn’t expect any changes that might occur to happen particularly quickly. Like many things to do with health, the change is gradual, but I do feel that I could see the benefits of using the Inner Balance, even in such a relatively short period of time. I also think that it’s really helpful that even a five minute session, a couple of times a day, can seemingly give you a helping hand. When it became time to do a session and I didn’t feel like it, the thought “It’s only five minutes!” really helps remove some of the friction towards taking action.

It is here that I will mention the only hiccup that I had with the actual Inner Balance device, and it’s a minor one. The clip that fastens the Inner Balance to your clothing is a nice chunky thing. It has a little bump near the hinge that you can push on to lever the clip one-handed. Near the end of my 170 sessions, that little bump snapped off. Its loss simply means that I have to pull the clip open from the other end, and that’s easy enough to do. My Inner Balance was a demonstration model, so I have no idea how old it is or how many people played with it before it came to me. I can’t even be sure it wasn’t my fault and that I didn’t try to open it in a mindless way.

The Inner Balance is a great piece of technology and it does what it sets out to do with a minimum of fuss. The Inner Balance app lets the user tailor many things to their own taste, and the whole thing does a fine job of getting out of the user’s way. If you want to experiment with any kind of focussed or meditative state and have a thirst for a way to measure your progress, the Inner Balance seems to be a good solution for that thirst.

Thanks again to Heartmath UK +IRL for the review access to an Inner Balance.


The Inner Balance is available from Heartmath UK + IRL and is currently £159. It is available for iPhone/iPad, Android and Kindle Fire HD devices. Visit the Inner Balance page on the Heartmath store for more information.

If you’d like to read more about the science and research behind heart coherence, has a freely browsable online book called Science of the Heart. It’s well worth having a browse through and it goes into a lot of depth.

You might also like to watch Howard Martin’s TEDx talk. Howard is one of the key figures who has played a role in Heartmath over the years.