Healing Rhythms Review

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Publisher: The Wild Divine Project
Developer: The Wild Divine Project

Platforms: PC and Mac
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 800 MHz, Windows 2000 or more recent operating system

Mac System Requirements: G4 800 MHz, OS X v10.2.8 or more recent operating system

"Healing Rhythms is a biofeedback training program for a happy mind & healthy body including step-by-step techniques to manage stress and increase wellness; tips to help you integrate these exercises into your daily life; and tools to help you customize your own personal practice featuring Deepak Chopra, Dean Ornish and Andrew Weil."

Kyle Ackerman

Gamers may not realize it, but it's a fine line between games and self-help. The Wild Divine Project tried to prove that when it released The Journey to Wild Divine, an adventure game that used biofeedback to solve puzzles. If you aren't familiar with biofeedback, it holds that by giving a user feedback on biological processes like heart rate and blood pressure, that person can learn to positively influence his or her mental and physical health.

Biofeedback is still on the fringes of conventional medicine, but it is useful for developing your skills in meditation. And proper meditation is well documented to positively impact mental and physical health. To that end, the Project has produced its line of software (including The Journey to Wild Divine and Healing Rhythms) as well as biofeedback hardware. Biofeedback buffs will discover the perfect package in Healing Rhythms, but surprisingly, even skeptics may be surprised to learn how powerful an effect Healing Rhythms has on the mind and body. The problem for those with a casual or passing interest is that Healing Rhythms comes with a price tag just under $300. At a lower price, Healing Rhythms would merit a better rating. If taken as an alternative to a two-to-three-day retreat, then it might be $300 well spent. But you had better be dedicated to meditating for the purchase to be worthwhile.

What's the Sound of Steve Jobs Meditating?

The Wild Divine Project believes that Heart Rate Variability (HRV – changes in the amount of time between heartbeats) and Skin Conductance Levels (SCL – indicating the activity of the sweat glands on your fingertips) are the most useful measurements for biofeedback. To that end, the Project has developed the biofeedback monitor it calls the "iom" (actually, the "i" is designed to look like a happy person with a swoosh beneath the dot, but I can't replicate that in HTML). It's clearly meant to sound like an Apple device that achieves inner peace for you, at $0.99 per chant. Tiny and white, the iom is more sleek than the original USB biofeedback monitor from The Journey to Wild Divine that was one of the coolest controllers ever, but still felt like part of a cyborg warrior's Halloween costume. The iom plugs into a USB port and then clips on to three of the fingers of your hand.

The core of Healing Rhythms is the Guided Training mode that takes you through 15 lessons divided into three parts ("Self Discovery," "Creating Happiness," and "Develop Life Skills"). Each lesson starts with an inspirational message and takes you through two practice exercises guided by people like Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil and Dean Ornish. The lesson then concludes with a "Biofeedback Event" in which you (by way of the HRV and SCL measurements from the iom) complete mini-games like stacking rocks or sounding a horn with your "heart breath." Once you've had enough of the guided training, you can then create your own custom training regimen using the "Self Exploration" mode.

I Did That... With My Mind? (Or Was it My Breath?)

The mini-games are described as a "Biofeedback event in which you use the iom to do a simple activity that gives you visual feedback to relax you and confirm your success." Anyone who tried The Journey to Wild Divine will recognize many of the games from that effort. Healing Rhythms seems like less of a game than The Journey to Wild Divine, but more honest. Healing Rhythms gives you the context and philosophy behind the biorhythm exercises, encouraging peace and patience before tackling the mini-games/Biofeedback Events. It's not a game, it's training.

In both The Journey to Wild Divine and Healing Rhythms, the "play" consists of exercises that respond to your heartbeat and finger sweat in order to complete tasks. Whether you approach Healing Rhythms meditatively or as an achievement-oriented gamer, you'll learn to better control those characteristics. And isn't the point of this title to put you in better touch with your body and thus, your spirit?

What makes Healing Rhythms vastly superior to The Journey to Wild Divine is that the latter was set up as an adventure game, and (as any power gamer can tell you), there is that urge to hurry through the program, see everything there is to see and move on to the next game. It was easy to approach The Journey to Wild Divine seeking success and accomplishment, learning to manipulate the two inputs (HRV and SCL) to finish the exercises without bothering to try the meditation. Since the meditation is the real goal, not going up an elevator to another puzzle, it was easy to miss the point in The Journey to Wild Divine unless you were already attuned to meditative practices and biofeedback (in which case you could enjoy the game as a playground of exercises).



More Than One Soothing Voice

Healing Rhythms changes the emphasis from achievement to process. Through the lessons provided by famous gurus, users learn to breathe and concentrate on their mental and physical goals rather than only trying to manipulate the gauges or flashing bulbs.

The guidance from folks like Dean Ornish and the other big names in commercial meditation is very helpful, though most users will find that they connect more with some speakers than others. For example, you might be inspired by Deepak Chopra's "golden light" metaphor, or prefer Ornish's more matter-of-fact tone. Personally, I enjoyed the less-frequent speakers, like Nawang Khechog, most of all. His cadence, emphasis and quiet dignity were deeply relaxing.


A Charge for Enlightenment

The fundamental problem with Healing Rhythms is the cost, presumably driven by the cost of the iom interface. $300 would cover a lot of yoga classes, just as it would cover a brand-new Wii and a top-tier game. If you enjoy biofeedback and want to improve your meditation, I can recommend Healing Rhythms without hesitation. If you have a passing or casual interest in exploring biofeedback, $300 is a lot to drop on something that might shortly be gathering dust.

The software does offer a lot of different forms of visual feedback for the measured data. All the different biofeedback events are satisfying exercises, and there's a straightforward graphing screen for those passionate about biofeedback. Still, all of these speakers and QuickTime videos alone are almost as much help to the novice as the total package with the iom. If you have a casual interest, you might be better advised to take a class locally or purchase an audio CD, before diving in to Healing Rhythms. The Wild Divine Project offers a few free sound bites if you want to get the general flavor of the experience.

At the onset, Healing Rhythms tells you, "We're going to teach you how to effectively choose happiness." And it does help, even someone as profoundly skeptical as I am. But it's also a hefty chunk of change to drop on meditation if you aren't committed to an extended program. But really, can you put a price on happiness? If so, is it $300?

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 9, 2007 8:12 PM.

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