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EmWave2: Portable stress relief for harried geeks

The emWave2 combines a gadget, software, and lots of blinky lights to help people manage stress. The tech crowd may come for the gadgetry and stay for the relaxation.

Move over, stress ball. This is the modern face of stress management. HeartMath

It can be hard to get a techie to relax. We are often found toiling away at Internet start-ups, programming under pressure, or blasting away at Call of Duty as enemies swarm across the lines.

The new emWave2 stress management system from HeartMath features several components that geeks love: a gadget, a computer program, and lots of cool graphs. It also has 20 years worth of stress research behind its development, but the glowing lights are what first catch your eye.

According to HeartMath, emWave technology is already being used by more than 10,000 health professionals, including 65 Veteran Administration hospitals and clinics for post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. The second-generation emWave2 is designed for personal use and is portable enough to tuck in your pocket. It also adds a computer interface and desktop program that can track your results, and it has several additional applications including a slideshow and a garden game that adds colors and images as you relax.

I got my hands on the emWave2 and took it for a stress-test drive. The $229 kit includes both an ear and a thumb monitor for your heart rate. I used the thumb monitor. It also includes a line of blue lights that give you visual feedback for controlling your breathing.

My first session--which took place while I was sitting at my computer in bare feet feeling pretty calm--resulted in what the manual calls an "incoherent heart rhythm pattern." My heart rate fluctuated and I didn't score very high on my coherence ratio. The coherence ratio is essentially a way to measure your stress levels. Higher scores are better. They indicate that you are in a more relaxed state of mind.

I tried it again, this time focusing on the breathing meter and thinking happy thoughts about frolicking in the fields of England. I rocked the coherence meter on that session, hitting 83 percent.

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Next, I purposefully stressed myself out by fighting the level-400 God King boss in Infinity Blade on the iPad 2. My heart was pounding when I started the emWave2 session, but following the breathing meter and listening to the warm chimes of the software soon brought me into a relaxed state of being. I hate to sound New Age-y, but it's true.

I reacted to the emWave2 much like I do to video games. It becomes a challenge to see how high you can score on the coherence scale and how regular you can make your heart beat.

Getting the most out of the emWave 2 requires a commitment to using the program on a regular basis. You can look back at your charts over time, see when you're most likely to be stressed, and take steps to mellow out.

The emWave2 system has a much bigger gee-whiz factor than a stress ball and it's more fun than counting slowly down from 10. Also, it doesn't involve turning your body into a pretzel.