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Big Idea 2015: Mindful Technology

Big Idea 2015: Mindful Technology

Mindfulness Coach, Yoga Instructor and Entrepreneur Mary Clare Bland shares her vision for how health, mindfulness practices and technology will converge and expand in 2015 and beyond.

In 2014 people embraced technologies that tracked health related metrics. I first noticed it when people arrived to appointments in NYC flushed and slightly out of breath. IPhone in hand, they invariably said something to the effect of, "The other day I found this app on my phone that says I walk, on average, 3 miles per day. I've decided to get it up to 4.5. It's a little competition I have with myself." It started with one client, then two, then five, and then I began seeing people wearing Fitbit bracelets and consulting iPhones before they ordered lunch.

At first I thought they were taking things way too far. Then I (a long-term Blackberry user, dating back to my former life as a Wall Street analyst), purchased an iphone 6. Two short days later I was "drinking the Kool-Aid." It was early evening and the subway was, as typical in NYC, backed up due to a nebulous maintenance problem. Confronted with a platform filled with irritable New Yorkers and their over-sized packages I decided to walk across the 59th Street bridge, and then back to my apartment. What's the first thing I did when I got home? Checked my iphone: 5.2 miles. Score! Truth is, if I hadn't wanted to rack up miles on that app, I probably would have endured the wait, the crowds and even the rats (for those of you that don't live here- yes, it's true- the NYC subway is filled with rats).

A few weeks after this experience, I walked by a Fitbit exhibit. Curious, I stopped to investigate. It turns out they not only track calories consumed and stairs climbed, they also track sleep patterns. I had to have one. As a mindfulness coach and yoga instructor, I was curious if I could use the Fitbit sleep tracking function to demonstrate the efficacy of mindfulness techniques in improving sleep. A specific type of yoga class I teach called Nidra is purported to increase the brain's melatonin production, and improve overall sleep quality. I started with myself. I tracked my sleep for a few nights with the Fitbit and recorded the results. Then, I started practicing Nidra an hour before my bedtime and again tracked my sleep quality. Although I am typically a sound sleeper, I did see an improvement! I tended to have 1-2 less instances of "restless sleep" when I practiced Nidra in the evening. I recruited a friend of mine (not a good sleeper) to try the same experiment, with much more dramatic results: on average an extra three hours of sleep per night, and 5 fewer instances of restless sleep.

Obviously, this is a very small sample size. Although I did attempt to control for basic things like caffeine intake, ambient light, bedtime differentials, etc, my methodology was far from rigorous. But it's a beginning, and it neatly illustrates my point. I think one of the #BigIdeas2015 will be a fusion of two trends: technology that improves fitness (Denise Morrison wrote an excellent piece about this in her #BigIdeas2015 post: How Digital and Health Will Converge for a Better You), and scientific research proving the efficacy of mindfulness exercises. Over the past several years, the Dalai Lama has helped recruit a number of Tibetan Buddhist monks to participate in brain research. The results have been significant, and clearly demonstrate that mindfulness exercises can produce quantifiable changes in cognitive functioning (for further insight on this, you can find a summary here: Train Your Brain).

I envision a world in which mindfulness becomes mainstream and quantifiable. People will not only use mindfulness techniques to enhance their mood, improve their sleep, and counter-act the effects of jet lag, but improve their interactions with others. The Dalai Lama sanctioned research demonstrates that mindfulness helps regulate strong emotional behaviors. In the not so distant future, I see personal devices that monitor the number of times you lose patience with your employees, or over-react to a client's seemingly trivial requests. From there it's a short step to alerting you of impending self-destructive behavior, and even imposing "time outs" to prevent you from engaging in career hindering behavior. I see future devices that tell you how to alter your mindfulness practice to flood your body with specific neurotransmitters (more dopamine, anyone?), and measure the output. Once the output is measured, it could be optimized to help people lose weight, perform better, sleep deeper, and relate more easily with others.

But back to the immediate future: 2015. This year will see the launch of new business concepts that merge technology, mindfulness and health. I call it Mindful Technology. One of my favorites is a new, portable yoga school called The Flying Carpet. It's a physical yoga sanctuary you can visit from anywhere via a mobile app. Geared towards frequent travelers, it offers yoga classes and mindfulness techniques to help people counteract the effects of jet lag, clear their minds and exercise their bodies wherever they are, whenever they have time. It's the forerunner to the world's first fully immersive yoga studio, and operationally quantifiable mindfulness practices.

For those of you that are interested in learning more about The Flying Carpet Project, click here. The company #flyingcarpet will begin raising capital on January 5, 2015- those that wish to participate in this early round of funding can receive discounted early access to the app. If you currently practice yoga and/or mindfulness, or wish to begin, you can have your personal preferences incorporated into the project by taking this short survey.