REVIEW – Breath training is a hot trend right now to help manage stress, to reduce anxiety, and to improve your sleep. But how do you get started? Enter the Moonbird Breathing Coach! This system combines a handheld device with an integrated app to teach you how to manage your breathing to reach all of your goals. How well does it work? Inhale. Exhale. To the review!
What is it?
The Moonbird Breathing Coach is a device and integrated app designed to help you with breathing exercises.
What’s in the box?
You’ll get the Moonbird Breathing Coach, a charging cable, and a carrying pouch.
Design and features
The heart of the Moonbird Breathing Coach is the handheld breathing trainer. It’s an ergonomically designed pod designed to rest comfortably in your hand with a light grip. The soft-touch rubberized surface feels good in your hand. Side view is shown below.
That scooped out spot on the front face of the Moonbird Breathing Coach is where your thumb rests when the Moonbird is in action. You give it a shake to wake it up. An LED light in the center of the thumb pad indicates that it’s turned on.
When active, the body of the Moonbird expands and contracts to serve as a physical guide to your breathing. You simply inhale while it is expanding, and exhale while it is contracting. Here’s a shot of the Moonbird in its contracted state…
… and here is that same shot in the expanded state.
You could just use the device as a basic breathing coach (it will start on its own), but you’ll want the proprietary Moonbird app to guide your breathing practice. Setting up your app and pairing the device is a simple affair. Once paired, you’ll shake the device when the app is opened to connect.
You’ll place your thumb on that sensor where the LED sits, and you’re ready to get to work.
Using the app is simple and straightforward. Your opening screen provides some basic info about the battery life on the Moonbird, and defaults to starting up a breathing exercise.
To get started you can go to the “Guide” section, which provides a set of tutorials to help you understand the concepts behind the Moonbird and breathing practice. There are also libraries of guided programs that address topics such as managing stress, insomnia, and anxiety.
Regardless of what topic area or exercise you choose, you’ll find that the program uses an audio track paired with the appropriate breathing patterns for the subject matter to establish the rhythm of the exercise. You’ll keep your thumb on that pad to collect biofeedback on your session.
Here’s an example of one of the exercises, specifically box breathing. The opening screen tells you the breathing program for that exercise, and allows you to specify the duration of your program. You can also set any program as the default option when you fire up the device if there’s a go-to that you like.
The app then does a default check on your emotional and physical state at the time of the session. This can be turned off if you don’t want to use it.
Now you’ll get into your exercise. The app plays the voiceover audio from the breathing coach that gently prompts you to help your focus on the activity throughout the exercise. She’ll remind you to relax your shoulders, for example, or to release tension in your jaw. It’s actually quite comforting. Just follow the voice while you match your breathing to the device.
Your thumb sitting on that pad now delivers real time data to the app throughout the exercise. There are three data points it is collecting. The first is general heart rate. Below is an example of my heart rate being collected during the “Breathing Break” exercise. It is a simple measurement of beats per minute.
Next, is a measurement called Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which is a measurement of your general ability to adapt to (and recover from) stress. This number ranges from 0-20, with a higher score being better. The actual ranges for “good” scores depend on the individual (the Moonbird will help you set your baselines in the tutorials).
Finally, you have the Heart Coherence measurement, which measures the balance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It’s basically looking for the synchronization between your breathing and your heart rate. The app tracks how much of your session maintains both systems in balance.
When you are done with an exercise, the app does a follow-up check on your emotional and physical state and saves all the session data.
You can then go back and look at your history of breathing exercises, and pull up old session reports as shown in the second screen below.
There are four preset breathing exercises:
- A general breathing break (5 second inhale & 5 second exhale cycle);
- A sleep relaxation program (4 second inhale & 6 second exhale cycle);
- Box breathing to calm stress (4 second inhale, 4 second hold, 4 second exhale, 4 second hold cycle); and
- Anxiety reduction (3.5 second inhale, 4.5 second exhale).
You also have the option to create your own breathing exercise by choosing the inhale time, exhale time, and pause times in between.
The overall usability of the Moonbird Breathing Coach is outstanding and may be one of the best designs I’ve seen in the category of well-being/meditation-type devices. You don’t need to know a thing about breathing exercises going in, but the design will get you going within minutes.
The form factor is excellent. The contoured shape and soft-touch materials are comfortable to handle. The expansion and contraction action has just enough range that you can get a good feel for matching the rhythm to your breathing and you don’t need a death grip on the device. It feels good, which encourages re-use.
I also really like the “instant on” nature of the device. There are no dials, buttons, or switches to mess with. Just position it in either hand and give a quick shake to get going.
The app itself is equally simple and intuitive to use. I actually didn’t engage the tutorials for the first week and found myself able to get productive with the device very quickly. You can go deeper if you want with the tutorial programs (which are excellent), but you can skip all of that and just get into the breathing exercises for a quick-hit experience.
I don’t know how the device actually calculates the HRV and Coherence measurements, but we did some experiments to test them. My wife volunteered to run the Curb Anxiety program while sitting in front of the television for this test. You’ll see that she started at a higher score, then it dropped for a bit at the 50-second mark when she was distracted by the TV before coming back in line again.
Here’s the interesting bit. The Heart Coherence monitor shows a similar distraction in focus (the darker the blue, the more synchronized you are).
I’ve been able to repeat the same results with different programs. If I get out of focus I feel it… and it shows up in the results. Which is kind of cool.
Unfortunately, I wish that the app had a better way to show you if you are getting better at building and maintaining the Heart Rate Variability and Heart Coherence measurements. You can access each of your previous sessions as shown below and pull your own data, but it lacks the ability to show comparisons from session-to-session. I’d like to see this in future updates to the app.
As far as overall performance goes… I find myself using the Moonbird Breathing Coach more often than some of the previous meditation/wellness devices I’ve tested. The simple usability makes it easy to grab and go for quick sessions that don’t require an extended time commitment to employ. The stress management techniques are pretty effective once you get some practice, as is the sleep exercise when you commit to it.
One last note about battery life: it’s excellent. I used it for three weeks solid before my first recharge. Just make sure you don’t lose that power cord, as the proprietary plug can’t be swapped out with a standard off-the-shelf power cable.
What I like
- Outstanding form factor
- Excellent integrated usability between the device and the app
- Wide variety of programs on the app
What I’d change
- Would love to see more comparative analytics over time to measure progress.
If you’re getting to breathing exercises, the Moonbird Breathing Coach looks like a great choice based on my experience. The comfortable design and dead-simple usability require almost no learning curve while encouraging experimentation and reuse. I’m really enjoying the simplicity of the app as well, which provides a good variety of programs without being overwhelming (or putting options behind a paywall). It’s a great overall package.