The three apps reviewed here represent some of the tools interactive technology offers to facilitate mindfulness. Spire, a wearable device and companion app, enables you to monitor your active, calm, and focused moods throughout the day. Pause uses a gamelike interface to facilitate focused attention. Finally, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard’s app, Imagine Clarity, combines video-based practice sessions with a meditation timer and inspirational teachings.
While most wearable tech products sense only activity, Spire provides a more holistic picture of your day. Its technology detects breathing, the only bodily function we have conscious control over that both reflects and impacts our state of mind. The idea behind Spire is that this bodily rhythm reflects the rhythm of the mind, and if we can be aware of and change our breathing, we can impact our mental state in turn. The beautifully designed and comfortable device resembles a rubbery stone that’s clipped to the waistband or to a bra; a suite of sensors inside detects the expansion and contraction of the abdomen, and other sensors, akin to those in a fitness tracker, detect steps, activity, and body position. The device funnels this data via Bluetooth to the companion mobile app, where algorithms translate it into three categories: calm, focus, and activity. You set daily goals for each category and view your progress in the app as the three leaves of a clover graphic gradually fill in with color. Spire can be set to “buzz” when it detects tension (erratic, elevated respiratory rate) or a streak in any of the three areas (focus is marked by fast but consistent breathing, calm by slower breathing). In addition, the app offers “boosts,” short recordings to inspire calm, focus, and energy, as well as guided meditations and a real-time graphic showing your breath wave.
Much as I wanted to like Spire and appreciated its emphasis on balance over activity, I found that it ultimately caused more stress than it alleviated. It was one more device to remember to charge and grab in the morning (though a charge does last seven days, and it’s washer-proof to boot). It didn’t always read my breathing accurately—or maybe it’s smarter than I am!—and I had to look at my phone for interpretation every time it buzzed, which defeated the purpose. Ultimately, I didn’t find Spire’s data all that insightful: I discovered that I already knew when I was tense, active, calm, and focused—though perhaps one benefit of wearing a blinking smart-stone was the reminder to trust my own intuition.
Available for iPhone
This elegant, lava lamp–like app emphasizes relaxation over formal meditation, yet manages to induce a surprising amount of present focus. You set a timer, then use your fingertip to continuously follow a colored, undulating blob as it drifts across the screen to the accompaniment of soothing music. Onscreen instructions, which can be turned off, provide feedback such as “Too fast” and “Go on” (if your finger stops). The blob swells, eventually filling the screen—the ostensible goal—at which point you are instructed to close your eyes. The app then loses its appeal: not only do you lack the meditative visual focus, but if you happen to peek, you notice that the onscreen instructions haven’t ceased, and the blob—since you can no longer track it accurately—is shrinking. Mild despair replaces calm! Nevertheless, if you keep your eyes open, Pause offers an active approach to mindfulness that can be done discreetly anywhere, anytime.
Available for iPhone and Android
(free to download; then $12.25 per month/$6.68 per month with a yearly subscription)
The Buddhist monk, humanitarian, and former molecular biologist Matthieu Ricard has channeled his vast knowledge of 21st-century neuroscience and mindfulness training into an app. Imagine Clarity opens to an inspirational thought of the day; from there you choose any or all of three paths. Watch a brief, down-to-earth practice lecture by Ricard, available in downloadable “modules” of four to seven sessions. Current modules focus on basic meditation instruction, using mindfulness to achieve genuine happiness, altruism, and gaining vipashyana, or deeper insight; other topics are forthcoming. Use the meditation timer, which allows you to set session length and features a simple chime, for your own silent practice. Or read inspirational blog posts by Ricard, currently in two categories: wisdom and altruism. Perhaps the most appealing and distinctive feature of Imagine Clarity is the presence of Ricard himself. He delivers his concise, sensible, and compassionate teachings in his charismatic French accent, clad in his monk’s robes, against a cavelike background. Though admittedly I found my mind wandering, those more accustomed to video-based teachings should find this app engaging and useful, if pricey.
As of February, 2018, Imagine Clarity expanded its offerings to include meditation courses with Buddhist teacher Alan Wallace as well as meditation instructions suitable for beginners and children.
Available for iPhone, Android, and web
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