When I was approached by the PR guys at tech group Spire, who got in touch to pitch an article about a digital health device designed to support mindfulness, I said “send me one to try – please!”
As a keen student of mindfulness techniques, I absorb anything and everything that promises to enhance the benefits.
One of the core practices in mindfulness and meditation is breathing. And that’s what Spire is – a digital health device that reminds you to breathe.
Sound a bit silly? Well, it might be time to take it more seriously. According to Men’s Journal magazine, in Western society most of us haven’t been breathing properly for some time. Quoted in the magazine is Dr. Louis Libby, a pulmonary physician at the Oregon Clinic, in Portland. He said: “Up until the past 100 or 150 years, our daily activities – farm chores, hunting animals, hard manual labor – required that we use our diaphragms as our main breathing muscle. In the past century we’ve become sedentary. We can go days without using our diaphragms. We’ve become lazy, sitting in front of computers and using the weaker intercostal breathing muscles in the rib cage for breaths that are incomplete but adequate for living.
Spire is a wearable to track both movement and “state of mind” throughout the day. Aesthetically it’s proven quite the conversation piece in the office, too. Also known as the ‘Spire stone’ it looks exactly like a little pebble. And the wireless charging dock, which is made in part from reclaimed cork, also draws the eye. While I’ve been using Spire, I get numerous enquiries from visitors to my desk – indeed, in terms of looks it’s not your typical fitness tracker. And personally, I really like it!
Spire alerts you when you’re stressed, so you can track what you were doing at the time – with the end goal of increasing mindfulness, which in turn increases productivity.
I wore this on my belt, though it can be worn elsewhere – women can wear it attached to a bra, according to the instruction booklet. I did think that it would feel a little lumpy and uncomfortable, especially when sat down, but you completely forget about it.
Well… you forget about it until you have a ‘tense moment’. That’s when the vibrations begin. It can be quite surprising, but that’s the point. In mindfulness terms, a ‘tense moment’ is the equivalent of your brain walking out into a busy road. You need that reminder to breathe and find focus – so for me, this genuinely has done what it says on the tin!
So how does the Spire stone work?
State of mind affects how you breathe, but how you breathe can also change your state of mind, according to the team behind Spire. Studies have shown that slow, deep and consistent breathing can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and increase the flow of endorphins in the blood stream. Working with experts on the respiratory system, digital health and medical/wellness devices, Spire says its device was designed to “increase mindfulness and productivity by tracking breathing patterns reflecting our state of mind”.
It features patented ‘breathwave’ technology, which senses the expansion and contraction in your torso and diaphragm as you inhale and exhale.
From there, advanced algorithms in the Spire app classify your breathing patterns based on dozens of laboratory studies correlating respiration patterns with cognitive and emotional state. Spire’s custom activity and force sensors combine to identify periods where your breathing reflects a tense, focused, or calm state of mind. The guidance in the app is based on protocols from clinical studies to alleviate anxiety and pain, increase heart rate variability, reduce blood pressure, and more.
As you can see from my screenshots, I have fairly short (and perfectly normal) bursts of focus and concentration, as well as intermittent bursts of tension, during which my focus will wane, and, potentially my blood pressure could be rising – not something I want to happen on a regular basis.
The app lets you link your photostream, location and calendar events so that you can attempt to draw correlations between ‘calm’ and ‘tense’ streaks. I have to confess that I don’t take as many photos as some of my peers, however the location function gave me some insights into the source of some of my tense moments.
It turns out my breathing is tense when during the time I’ve set aside for clearing emails. Once I knew this, I was able to reflect on my state of mind during this particular task. It is, as you know, quite a laborious and mindless task sometimes, and my mind wanders easily. I find it difficult and frustrating to focus on the emails, they take longer to clear and then – bam! Just like that, I am tense.
Mindfulness is in part about recognising when and why the mind starts to wander. For me, clearing emails is just one of the tasks that I find hard to focus on. The majority of my work involves using the creative parts of my brain – not something which is really required for responding to emails. So it makes sense to me that this would be a time when my mind is prone to distraction and maybe some tension.
I have observed, in the few weeks I’ve been using the Spire stone, that the frequency of my tense moments is reducing.
To summarise, mindfulness, calm and tension are all things that are pretty difficult to quantify. Using a little simple logic, based on you breathing, Spire gives you all the data you need to make some informed changes.