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BW Businessworld

Have App, Will Breathe

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You need to take notes and organise thoughts as you whiz through your work day — an app on your tablet is the ideal solution. You want to add cool effects to the photos on the phone — a choice of richly featured apps will help you do just that. But would you need an app to breathe? Many will think it's a perfectly ridiculous idea.

On the other hand, with people using their mobile phones for everything but just plain old phone calls, it isn't in the least surprising. The app stores certainly don't think it's unusual, which would explain why they are replete with apps that help you relax, stop worrying, meditate, breathe deeply and even sleep. The whole idea of using a phone or tablet for things that nature should be in charge of may be quite amusing, but many of these apps are very well thought through and created with inputs from scientists and health experts.

The difficult part for any potential user would be choosing which app to download  and often pay for.

If anyone knows how important it is to breathe correctly, it's us Indians, with our familiarity with yoga and natural medicine. The benefits of deep breathing are extolled at great length and if you are not fully clued in, the descriptions for breathing apps will explain. But it takes no genius to know that long, deep breaths, as opposed to holding breath in tension, will calm and get you out of the partial fight-or-flight mode on a long, stressful, busy day.

Breathing apps fit nicely on a phone because you can use them anywhere, anytime; such as before a presentation that's making you jittery or just before you punch your boss in the nose, thereby ensuring a slight lack of employment and much breathlessness. Apps are often free or have a trial version for you to figure out whether you'll get along with it or not. Most count on simple sounds and visuals to help you breathe evenly. Long Deep Breathing for the iPhone, available at $0.99, allows you to set inhale and exhale durations, get audio directions and change screen colours. A large number of similar simple breathing apps are available on all platforms.

BellyBio Interactive Breathing tells you to place your iPhone or iPod Touch on your stomach and enjoy playing with your "inner balloon". Soothing ocean waves start rolling in as you position the device, as directed, on your belly. The waves synchronise with your breathing and as the music rolls, the device turns into an "abdominal music player". You get bio-feedback with the ‘Calmitude Pitch', which tells how stressed or calm you are, calculating the sound pitch during inhalation. It also makes a graph of your breathing level. And if you feel lonely in breathing efforts, you can see a map of other BellyBio users on the planet. This charming app is free, but for additional music, it's $0.99 per theme. Should you become calm enough to sleep off, BellyBio doesn't work because abdominal breathing needs active participation from the owner of the belly.

There are a number of other breathtaking apps. A digital health company, Saagara, has developed apps for iOS and Android based on pranayama, one of the core principles of yoga. Using the app's meditative glowing interface, you learn to relieve stress. The Saagara apps, Universal Breathing and Health Through Breath, teach how to regulate breathing and get physiological benefits and clarity of thought. "Our purpose is not to teach the intricacies of yoga, but to use it in an accessible manner to improve health and wellbeing," says Saagara CEO Dr Nagabhushanam Peddi. The popular Saagara apps, especially Health Through Breath, are being used for meditation, to control high blood pressure, migraines, stress, insomnia, and physical rehab after surgery. You can take a peek at these apps through YouTube videos. While a tad more expensive than some apps, at $9.99, Health Through Breath is obviously worth the money, going by the ratings. It has a free trial version too.

1. Chakra Balancing has a voice-guided tour on meditation techniques
2. Insomniacs, go to bed with your smartphone and this Sleep Pillow app
3. Lie back and synchronise your breathing to the glow of a blue light
4. Soothing sounds of White Noise can be a perfect lullaby to the sleep-depriv

For a simple video-based app, try the free Yogic Breath for the iPad. This one has step-by-step instructions for pranayamas such as Anuloma Viloma and Kapalbhati.

Deeper Breathing and Breathing Test for Android are simpler ones. With Kapalbhati for iOS ($2.99) you can set timings to practice this energising kriya.

If breathing isn't enough for you, try meditation and mindfulness apps. These too are uncountable and sometimes feature gurus such as Deepak Chopra. The popular Simply Being for iOS, BlackBerry and Android guides you into a feeling of relaxation. Chakra Balancing and Energy Healing for the iPad ($4.99) narrate how to balance chakras and release energy. Its developers, on, seem to be eager to respond with any questions you have. There are also self-hypnosis apps such as Relax and Sleep Well or Complete Hypnosis Pack for iOS that will take you to a point where you can give suggestions yourself to improve life, or just reduce your anxiety level.

Combine deep breathing and meditation by writing an anxiety journal. At Ease for iOS is not frivolous in the least. Let it all out in writing and even examine whether you are anxious about anxiety. There are resources in audio and text to aid your journey to becoming a calmer person. Not bad for $3.99.

If none of this quite floats your boat, tackle your worries head-on with Worry Box. This Android app lets you log worries into your phone and find which of them are in your control and which aren't, before giving solutions to tackle them. Turn this little game serious, and use it for self-help.

Insomniacs, just go to bed with your smartphone for a good night's sleep. There is no end of apps to give you back your zzzs as simple or complex as you like. Sleep Pillow for the iPad, at one end of the spectrum, uses white noise to lull you off to la la land. A pretty, simple interface lets you choose a scene and ambient sounds. Nod off to a calming sound of rain, a crackling fire (wait till winter comes), waves lapping at the shore, or go pro for a wider selection. Along with the sounds, the Sleeping Zone for the iPhone also emits a blue light in the room. You can set it to switch off mode after a while.  If you want to make your own music, try iPad's Sleep for $0.99 and choose from 100 ambient sounds. White Noise for BlackBerry also uses everything from chirping crickets to running streams to get you power-napping. Of course, everywhere there are apps for you to count sheep, if you have quite finished examining the ceiling.

For something with more features, try iHome Sleep for iOS. This app has, other than the usual sounds, many types of alarms, gentle wake-up options and sleep tracking statistics and logs, and it even gives you weather updates and news when you wake up. To top it all, your sleep status can be updated on Facebook and Twitter for a deeply interested waiting world.

TABLET TO SLEEP: Self-hypnosis apps, such as Relax and Sleep Well, promise to relieve your stress and release your worries

And if you should find yourself getting too comfortable and snoring, well, there's an app for that too. Several, in fact. Snore No More for Android will pick up on snoring and wake you, probably ensuring your spouse gets a better night's sleep than you do. But also on the Android Market is Ignore Snoring, which will help you sleep despite the
noise you are making.

There are dozens more breathing, meditation, sleep, relaxation and other health-related apps, including some that train you to hold breath for diving, help sync your breath to heartbeat, or focus on combining slow breathing with relaxation techniques. The apps, of course, can't make anything better for its users. It's the users who have to make sure they take these little pieces of technology and add them effectively enough to their lives.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 10-10-2011)

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