Today’s 20 Minute Fitness episode is all about mindfulness. After Charlie discusses the basics of mindfulness and its benefits, he’ll dive into the innovations that were built to help you practice mindfulness. We’ll touch upon everything from apps to wearables and even a very unique and exclusive device.
Listen to this weeks episode to discover ways of how technology can introduce you to mindfulness that you have never heard before!
Three Things You Will Learn
1) The Not-So-Mainstream Mindfulness Apps
We all know Calm and Headspace, which might be the most dominant apps on the App Store, but not necessarily the best ones. If you’re bored with the mainstream apps, try Aura. Aura is an app that focuses on reducing anxiety and improving focus and sleep. It uses Machine Learning to provide you with highly personalized daily meditation sessions and a lot more.
If you’re looking for something more exciting, Provata VR is the one for you. As the name suggests, this app uses VR to virtually transport you to magical and relaxed locations, such as beautiful beaches. Additionally, with their Apple Health integration, Provata VR also allows you to visualize the effects of meditation. It shows how your heart rate is affected and lets you optimize your sessions based on the feedback.
Press play to learn more about these less known, but very interesting mindfulness apps!
2) Wearables That Will Help You Calm Down
Even though mindfulness is a relatively new industry, there’re already a couple of impressive wearables out there. These wearables focus on reaching your inner peace. Muse, for instance, is an EEG headset that senses your brain waves and renders your brain activity into natural sounds. This way you get real-time feedback on your state of mind.
The Spire wearable stress tracker takes a different approach of breath analysis. Spire however, is a multi-functional wearable. It also tracks things like activity and sleep and correlates these for improving your overall wellbeing.
3) An Exclusive Way Of Meditation
Finally, a unique meditation experience that most of us have probably not heard of before, the Somadome. The Somadome is an illuminated dome, which creates a private escape pod only available in 15 locations worldwide. It lets you drift away using a combination of color therapy and binaural beats.
Tune in to learn more about the experience and the various guided meditation programs the Somadome offers!
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00:05: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of 20 Minute Fitness. To any new listeners to the show, thank you very much for stopping by. I really hope you enjoy. And if you do, make sure to hit that subscribe button on whichever podcast player you listen to your podcast on. And to those who listen week in, week out, thank you very much for your commitment and for your support for the show. As usual, don’t forget to keep in touch. We’d love to hear which episode has been your favorite, which bits of tech you really enjoyed, which founder’s story you really enjoyed as well. So, make sure your contact us as well.
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01:00: Today, we’re going to look at how technology can introduce you to mindfulness. So, before we begin to look at the tech, what is mindfulness? What do we mean by this?
01:09: Well, according to the NHS, mindfulness is paying more attention to the present. It’s being aware of your thoughts and your feelings and the world around you. We actually have already done a episode really early on in 20 Minute Fitness’ history on how mindful eating can help you keep in shape. So, definitely check that out as well because it was a really interesting episode. And in that, we talk about changing your relationship and mentality towards and with food. So, if you’re interested in that, head over to the blog and go and find the relevant episode.
01:38: So, according to Professor Mark Williams, who’s the former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Center, he says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves moment by moment. So, how can you practice mindfulness? You can meditate. You can sit in silence. You can relax your body and start to pay attention to your breathing patterns, pay attention to your thoughts, sounds around you.
02:03: Practicing mindful behavior has been known to help us identify different sources of stress and anxiety in our lives. And then, obviously, we can deal with these issues at an early stage before they become too problematic. And this enables us to improve our emotion regulation and our ability to handle stress in the future, hopefully improving our mood for the better in the long term.
02:21: There’s been a recent boom in the number of products or technology that is designed to help introduce us to mindfulness. However, it is still quite a young industry, and the scientific evidence behind meditation is still quite inconclusive. Some studies are citing various benefits of meditation and mindfulness, but some other studies also say that the proposed benefits of mindfulness aren’t actually realised scientifically. So, there are mixed opinions on the subject at the moment.
02:50: For example, in a study entitled Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, 47 trials were conducted with 3,515 participants. And it was found that mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improving anxiety after eight weeks. And also after eight weeks improving the amount of pain you’re feeling and depression. However, there was low or no evidence found for any effect of the meditation programs improving sleep or helping people to lose weight or whether or not your mood is made more positive due to practicing mindful behavior.
03:25: So, as you can see there, it’s citing various benefits from mindful behavior, but again, perhaps not the full extent of benefits that some people claim you can achieve via meditation. Nevertheless, though, there are a massive number of people that swear by mindfulness and by meditation, and this alone really should warrant you wanting to try it and see if it works for you. In Tim Ferriss’ book, Tribe of Mentors, where he interviews many of the world’s most successful people in different fields, a large majority of these people that are interviewed practice meditation and they declare that it’s been the biggest change in their life that has helped them grow as a person.
04:01: So, with the definition of mindfulness out of the way, let’s start to look at the tech that can help us practice this behavior, starting as usual at the low end of the scale. And in this category, we’re going to look at a few apps. The mindfulness category is dominated currently by two apps, Calm, which we’ve previously covered in one of the earlier episodes of how technology can help, and Headspace. And, in fact, together, they actually account for about 90% of the market’s revenue generated by the top 10 apps in this category. So, we can see that these are definitely two of the most popular apps. And Calm even won the iPhone App of the Year Award in 2017.
04:37: But in this episode, I’m not going to cover them because I think, A, you probably have already heard of them, and, B, I wanted to show you some alternate options apart from the two fan favourites. So, the first app we’re going to look at is Aura, calm anxiety and sleep. That’s the title of the app. Aura claims to reduce stress and anxiety and improve focus and improve your quality of sleep. But how does it do this? Obviously, we do have to keep in mind the science behind this. I said it’s not conclusive at the start. But with an app store rating of 4.8 out of five with over 10,000 reviews, we can assume that it’s providing a lot of functional benefits for a lot of different people.
05:15: So, within the Aura app, there’s a plethora of different options including daily mindfulness meditation sessions, there’s life coaching, stories, and music. Aura also has a premium and a free model. So, the free model offers three-minute meditations designed to obviously increase your positivity and your outlook on life and to try and help you reduce stress. And the premium version of the app allows you to select from a range of sessions lasting from three to seven to over 10 minutes. The premium version of the app also unlocks features such as be able to access all the sessions 24/7 whenever you need them most and you can also save an unlimited amount of meditations and it even allows you to listen offline. The premium version will set you back a monthly subscription at $11.99 a month, or you can buy a lifetime one-off fee which is $399, or you can pay annually which would cost you $59.99 every 12 months.
06:10: What’s really cool about Aura is that the sessions are personalised to you. It actually uses machine learning to acquire feedback on your current mood. So, it does this by asking a short question about how you’re feeling today, and this is done before and after meditation sessions. And then the suggestive meditation session will aim to complement your emotional state. So, for example, if you’re feeling quite anxious, you’ll get a meditation session that’s designed to make you feel more calm and et cetera, like that.
06:37: And if you’re unsure how you currently feel, if you can’t place your finger on it, you can actually just listen to an unguided meditation with the sounds of nature playing. Aura allows you to keep track of your data just as you would track your fitness progress, so you can actually see the patterns behind your mental states and see when they fluctuate throughout the day; this should help you to recognize when you might need to practice a meditation session in advance, for example. If you recognize that your mood may soon be dropping according to your historic data, you could try and do the session before you start to flump later in that day. You can also use the data to see yourself visually improving, and this should obviously help you stay motivated and stick to the program. If you turn on notifications, you’ll receive messages that remind you to take a break during the day and focus on, obviously, being present.
07:22: Due to the flexibility and length of time of the sessions, you could really do this anywhere, you could do this at work, if you’re undertaking a really stressful project; you could just take three, seven minutes out of your day to focus on your breathing, your body and just really being calm, and this should help you try and avoid a stress overload. What’s also really cool is you’re able to connect with the Aura community and share experiences and tips and learn what others are finding difficulties, and you can help them overcome this by immersing yourself into the community. So not only can you you secure accountability partners who you make sure that you’re going through your meditation programs, but you can also build relationships as well, so that’s a really cool feature of the Aura app.
08:01: The next app we’re going to look at is Provata VR. So this is something a bit different. Obviously, it incorporates virtual reality. This one got me quite excited. Just think, wouldn’t it be quite nice to get the feeling that you’ve transported somewhere completely different, somewhere completely tranquil, like a desolate beach or a waterfall or the Northern Lights, and you can actually practice your meditation programs whilst feeling like you’re in one of these serene, idyllic locations? Naturally, for the best experience with Provata, you’ll need to get yourself a VR headset, and then you select the location you wish to be transported to and which guided meditation program you would like to follow. This can be a session that’s designed to increase your focus, or it could be one… If you wanted to feel more calm, or if you want to zone in on your breathing. I personally haven’t tried meditation before; it’s something I’ve always said I need to get into because I’ve read so many books and so many… I talk to so many different people who’ve said they have such benefits from meditation and mindfulness behaviour. So I think, if I was to practice it, this might be the app for me because I think I quite like the feeling of transporting myself elsewhere.
09:04: I’m someone who likes to be abroad, and I think that would really work for me. However, obviously, some people like to meditate with their eyes closed, and therefore, I think it’s gonna come down to personal preference, in this instance. Provata VR also lets you integrate with wearable devices like the Apple Watch to visualize the impact of your meditations on heart rate, and then through this visual feedback, you’ll be able to see which exercises, or which programs, which location, which time of day works best for you, has the greatest impact on your heart rate. So obviously, you’re optimizing, therefore, your meditation practice; that’s really cool as well.
09:35: You’ll also be able to see if you’ve slept better on days that you’ve meditated, for example, so that, again, can be a really interesting stat to see if it works for you. Maybe if you do it just before bed, you can see, as well, if you can optimize your bedtime routine by incorporating a meditation practice, and then you can obviously track this data and see the impact. And the meditations are kept purposely short because we don’t want to have people spending too much time using virtual reality, because this can have it’s own negative effects, including dizziness and loss of spatial awareness as well. So the sessions are kept quite short; they are two minutes, five minutes, or 10 minutes long. And the app, I believe, is very reasonable at $3.99 a month or $39.99 a year.
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11:41: We’re now going to jump into the middle-range category, and we’re looking at quite a popular device, the Muse, and in particular, Muse 2. The Muse 2 retails at $249, and so obviously, it is quite a significant investment, but it does have a range of different features when compared to the previous apps. The Muse is a headset with EEG electrodes, that stands for electroencephalogram electrodes. I’m hoping I’ve said that right, and these electrodes are placed on the forehead and behind the ears and give you feedback on when your brain was noisy with activity and unclear and when it’s at rest. The Muse 2 senses your brain waves and renders your brain activity into natural sounds. And these sounds, which include things like waves, intensify when your mind starts to wander. So when you’re doing your meditation practice, and you hear the waves increase in volume, you know that your mind has started to wander, so you then need to focus on trying to get the waves to reduce in volume, and that means you’re now thinking again with clarity and being present.
12:41: This practice should help you improve your ability of getting yourself into a peaceful state. So you have different options for the meditations that you can choose from, so it can be mind, it can be heart, it can be body and also breath. And, obviously, these differ. So if you choose the mind meditation practice, then you’re going to be taught the art of focus. If you choose heart, the company behind Muse says that you should aim to tune into your heart rate to optimize performance. If you choose body, you should look at how you can discover how your meditation posture helps you find physical relaxation. And, obviously, if you select breath, you’re going to look at how you can use your breath to find calmness.
13:20: The sounds also vary. So, obviously, we gave the example of the waves before. But you can also choose from heavy rain. So when your mind starts to wander you might get some heavy rain. And when you’re calmer and more focused again the rain will ease off. The heart meditation uses a drum soundscape, which replicates your heartbeat. So when you listen to the audio, it informs you that when your heart is beating fast, and the drum beat gets faster and when your heart rate slows down, the drum is slower as well. So you can learn to focus on trying to control your heart rate variability.
13:48: The Muse 2 provides you with guided sessions ranging from being aware of your body, to trying to control the sounds. That’s something that really helps you as well, get into these different states. And you can download different lessons from third party apps, and these can be run by personalities, such as the Deepak Chopra. The app’s main dashboard allows you to see your meditation history and your goals for the week. And setting these goals will, again, give you that extra sense of accountability and motivation to complete them. You then get that sense of achievement by completing your goals, and seeing the milestones you’ve hit because you receive badges for the different goals. By selecting your meditation history, you can click on a particular session and see the data that was collected. You can also see a point system with metrics such as Muse points, which are awarded for every minute you meditate. You also get recoveries which are given when you move from an active to a relaxed state throughout the session. So, again, that’s the points awarded for you trying to move from a focused state to when your mind is wandering.
14:39: Some reviews have said that it would be nice if you could have better understanding of what points you should be aiming for, how many recoveries should you be aiming for in a session. They also said it would be nice to have more interaction for the graphs when you click into the meditation history. At the moment you get quite detailed interactions with the mind data, but not for the other types of meditative practice. But the reason the Muse 2 is quite popular is because the advocates say that it’s a step up from other mindfulness apps as it provides quantifiable data on meditation sessions, so you can better learn from them going forward.
15:12: Studies posted on Muse’s website reveal a host of benefits associated with using the Muse. One such study conducted by Professor Balconi revealed that Muse users show significantly larger reduction in stress, at 16% reduction, in just four weeks when compared to a control group of those not using the Muse. And Professor Balconi also found the group using Muse showed an improvement in response times, and their reactions for the task, and they got faster at a cognitive task as well. So a whole host of different benefits as well. So if you think that sounds like you… Obviously, it is a significant investment, but there are a lot of good reviews out there for the Muse 2. So it might be worth your while checking it out.
15:50: The second device in the mid-range category we’re looking at is the Spire Mindfulness and Activity Tracker. So the Spire Mindfulness and Activity Tracker markets itself as a wearable stress tracker. Spire says that your state of mind affects how you breathe. This also works vice versa, how you breathe also affects your state of mind. For example, studies have shown that when you breathe more slowly, deeply and consistently this can actually lower your blood pressure and increase the flow of endorphins into your bloodstream. Again, this is study. This is not conclusive, but it’s just some of the results that one study has found. So Spire uses your breath to analyze how tense, focused, or calm you are.
16:29: The device also counts your steps and calories burnt during the day. So if you’re someone that likes to have multi-functionality one of your wearables, Spire could definitely be the one for you. It’s unobtrusive, so you can clip on to your waistband or under your shirt, and that’s where it tracks your breathing. When you’re calm your breath will be more slow and consistent. When you’re tense, your breath will be halting and uneven. And breathing that’s fast and consistent is rewarded as it says you’re more focused. And you can check these insights by looking at the app that comes with the Spire. Upon calibrating the app, you can set yourself goals. For example, you can set a 10,000 steps goal, and a 30 minute calm state of mind goal, and a 30 minute focus goal. If you’re struggling to fulfil one of your goals as well, you can take a guided breathing session, that’s led by a Siri type voice. So for example, if you recognize that you’re not hitting your goal by looking at your data for calmness, you can then opt for a two minute breathing exercise, which will take you through a session whereby they say, “Let’s inhale for three counts. And then pause for a moment and exhale.” So you can follow a almost guided session to help you recognize how you can improve your chances of fulfilling your calm goal.
17:41: You can also visualize your breathing pattern via the app. So as you exhale, the line which illustrates your breath goes up, and inhaling, the line comes back down. So this will help you understand how to better control your breath while listening to guided exercises from recognised experts on breathing, and being calm and being present. You could also set the app up to make your phone vibrate with notifications when you’ve been inactive for too long, or your breathing’s not in check, if it’s not deep and consistent enough. And this will make sure you’re always consciously focusing on this more throughout the day. The reviews in the accuracy of Spire’s stress or calm readings are mixed. Some swear by it. “I love the fact that Spire makes you focus more on your movement and your breathing during the day.” However, others are unconvinced by its accuracy.
18:25: And this is what I found, actually, from a lot of the different tech out there associated with mindfulness and meditation practice. As I said, it’s in the early stages of the industry really, and therefore the reviews are quite mixed. A lot of the different products out there have a few that really swear by the products and say, “It’s gonna be the next big thing.” But a lot of people aren’t convinced by the scientific evidence behind it. Or they say, the readings and benefits they get from it aren’t what they expected. Though it will be interesting to see how this industry and the products within it are developed in future years.
18:56: And our final piece of tech, which sits in the high-end category, is the Somadome. And this is something a bit different. The Somadomes are very exclusive, I think they’re only in around 15 locations, globally. That’s really why they are in the high-end category, because as I said, only 15 locations globally where you can go and try out a Somadome. But also, the price to buy one, outright, is $35,000. So again, another reason for it sitting within this price range. So, according to David Hochman, a Forbes editor, “The Somadome is an illuminated dome that lowers over a reclining chair, and it creates a sort of private escape pod that lets you drift away, using a combination of color therapy and binaural beat meditation. Somadome uses binaural beats because they believe that these assist in achieving a state where altering your mood is more likely. The claim is that the beats may actually entrain your brain towards the preferred state of mind that you choose.”
19:50: But if you are lucky enough to live in a location where Somadome exists, a 20-minute session will cost you around $45 to $50. The experience goes like this. So when you’re closed within the dome it lights up with different colors and the audio track inside the headphones begins playing different tones in each ear in various frequencies. And this is the binaural beats, that’s intended to affect your brain waves and, obviously, help improve your mood. The accompanying guided meditation echoes above the beat… Hochman says it’s hard to describe. He describes it as an almost echoey voice of a female ex-terrestrial who wants you to be really, really relaxed. So the different programs you can choose from include relax, smooth, recharge, heal and also fit. And Hochman describes the experience as wonderfully weird for about 10 minutes. And then he fell asleep. So you can argue, therefore, that he was pretty relaxed when he went into the Somadome.
20:43: So it will be interesting to see whether Somadome penetrates more markets and whether more people begin to love this experience, really, of enclosing themselves in this serene capsule that’s meant to obviously help you focus on being more present. And obviously if any of our listeners have tried out a Somadome, we’d be really interested in hearing from you what your experience was like. If you’ve tried out any of the tech we’ve already mentioned in this episode, again, please do get in contact, because we’d love to hear your experience with it. As I said, it’s a young industry. The reviews about these different products are mixed. And it will be interesting to see how it matures.
21:13: That’s all we have time for this week. I hope you enjoyed. I hope you, like me, will try and focus on mindfulness in the future. I think it will be something I start to incorporate into my routine and actually see how I find it, to be honest. I think it’ll be exciting. And do let us know if this episode has enticed you, also, to try it out for the first time, and your first experience with trying to be more present. So thank you very much again for stopping by and listening. We look forward to the very next episode with you. See you soon.