For a lot of people, technology can feel like the root of all stress. A constant torrent of emails, social media notifications, text messages and chats can be overwhelming and unforgiving. At the same time, gadgets, apps and even that pesky smartphone can be used as tools for improving your capacity for mindfulness.
Mindfulness, or the practice of staying attentive to the present moment, has been shown to scientifically change the neuro pathways in our brains making it possible for humans to focus better and regulate emotional responses. It’s powerful, but it’s not easy.
That’s why human beings use tools to train their brain to be more mindful. Yoga, for example, is an age-old physical meditation practice that serves as a gateway to mindful thinking. In theory, by thinking about the physical postures of yoga, the race track in your brain slows down from the spazzy 25-tabs-open-at-a-time way we tend to live each harried, stressful minute of each day to thinking only about the physical body.
If yoga isn’t your jam, there are some pretty tech-savvy entrepreneurs who are using science and your smartphone to teach the basics of mindfulness. Ironic as it may sound, these companies say that you can use technology to bliss out. And we don’t mean binge-watching the latest drama on Netflix.
With over 3 million users worldwide, Headspace bills itself as a “gym membership for the mind.” Users are guided through daily meditations with the app. Sessions, which start at 10 minutes each, are available for beginners and more experienced meditation practitioners alike.
The Headspace app was the brainchild (pardon the pun) of Andy Puddicombe, a once-upon-a-time sports science student who picked up and traveled to Asia to become a Buddhist monk. He traveled to Nepal, India, Burma, Thailand, Australia and Russia studying meditation before returning to the United Kingdom, where he attended circus school and learned to be an expert juggler. Puddicombe partnered with advertising executive Rich Pierson to launch Headspace in 2010. What started as a mindfulness-skills events company in the U.K. transitioned to an app company with headquarters in Venice Beach, Calif., in April 2013.
Price: $12.95 a month, or $7.99 per month if you agree to a yearly commitment
Meditation often starts with an effort to focus your thoughts on your breathing, which helps you relax and brings your anxieties to the background. Spire is meant to help you do that throughout your day. The activity tracker with component smartphone app measures the pace of your breath and alerts you when you are tense and would do well to stop and take a few deep breaths.
3. Meditation Made Simple
Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is best known for co-founding the music label Def Jam and the apparel fashion brand Phat Farm. And while it might seem a bit out of step with the rest of his career, he has also launched a free meditation app called Meditation Made Simple in follow-up to his book, Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple (Penguin 2014).
“Yoga and meditation have had such a positive impact on my life and I wanted to share my learnings with the masses – for anyone to practice from your grandmother to your 5-year old nephew and niece,” said Simmons in a statement about the app’s release. “I can promise that with regular practice, you will see improvements in your lifestyle, body and mind toward positivity.”
This piece of wearable technology affixes to your forehead and neck and delivers pulsating waves of energy to trigger feelings of energy or calm within minutes. The various frequencies of vibes trigger different neural receptors in the brain, according to the Thync team. Thync was founded in 2011 by a team of brainiacs (the puns! they are so tempting!) in the fields of neurobiology, neuroscience and consumer electronics from the likes of MIT, Harvard, and Stanford Universities.
Buddhify offers guided meditations for specific times of day. Made by Rohan Gunatillake of Mindfulness Everywhere in the U.K., the app has meditations for when you are waking up, eating, traveling, dealing with pain or illness, trying to fall asleep and a dozen or so other situations.
Gunatillake has also just finished raising money on Kickstarter for Cards For Mindfulness. The deck of cards include mindfulness inspiring phrases, like, “Where is my mind now?” on one side with exercises relating to that phrase on the back of the card.
Price: iOS $4.99, Android $2.99
This headband measures your brain’s activity in real time during meditation and collects data on each session. Muse tracks five different kinds of brain waves, ranging from those associated with sleep to those associated with intense thinking or consolidation of information. The app then plots that session data for you in charts letting you know whether you were active, calm or neutral during the meditation session. The goal is that by making it easy to map and monitor your progress you will be better able to improve and more motivated to continue a regular practice.
Being mindful means being present -- it means paying attention to one thing at a time and staying focused on that one activity. That’s incredibly hard to do, especially in our smarphone-obsessed culture, which is where Checky comes in. The app, from the same team that created the meditation app Calm, tells you how many times you check your phone each day and, thanks to geolocation tracking, where you are when you check your phone. The goal is to increase awareness and help you go longer stretches without breaking away from the present moment into your phone. Fair warning: You are probably going to be appalled at your total phone-check count at the end of each day.
While it’s no replacement for the full yoga-class experience, SmartMat is a great way to up-level your solo practice. The responsive, pressure-sensitive yoga mat and companion app guides you through a yoga practice and tells you when you are, for example, not distributing your body weight accurately to achieve maximum benefit of the pose. The SmartMat can also tell when the placement of your limbs is off kilter and instruct you on how to adjust. It’s available for pre-order now and is expected to ship at the end of 2015.
Price: Pre-order for $297; regular retail price of $447
Just like any other muscle, your brain is a needs to be used and worked out to strengthen and improve. That’s where Luminosity comes in. The “brain game” software and app, developed in collaboration with neuroscientists, provides daily exercises to strengthen and improve core capabilities of your brain, including memory, attention, speed, flexibility, problem solving and ignoring distractions.
Melomind is a headset and app that aims to help people manage stress by monitoring their brain waves and delivering music that will relax them. The success of each relaxation session, which can last anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes, is recorded in the app for a user to review. The idea is that with access to a performance review of your ability to relax, users will be able to better rid themselves of stress.
"Learning how to relax is not more complicated than learning how to practice sport or music. This process is based on neuroplasticity, and what is important is to have the correct and efficient ‘feedback’. That’s personal empowerment,” said Thibaud Dumas, co-founder of myBrain Technologies, the Parisian company that makes the Melomind device, in a statement.
The wearable debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and is set to be available for early adopters at the end of 2015.
Price: Preorder for $299, regular retail price of $399