Life Tech Can a gadget help keep you calm?

Can a gadget help keep you calm?

deep breathing relaxed
A new gadget promises to alleviate stress and anxiety. Photo: Getty
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Buying a device that reminds you to breathe seems absurd. If I haven’t got breathing down I must be a) dead, b) a vampire or c) stupid.

Nevertheless, I decide to put my sense of the absurd to the test and trial Spire’s Mindfulness and Activity Tracker ($100).

I found out about Spire, a California-based company, through a friend who suffers from anxiety.

According to their website, Spire’s device is backed by seven years of research from Stanford’s Calming Technology Lab.

The smooth, stone-like device clips to a waistband or bra-strap, possesses “patented breath wave technology” and monitors the expansion and contraction in your torso and diaphragm as you inhale and exhale.

It identifies patterns in your breathing and the companion app provides guidance toward calmer breathing, which can “alleviate pain and anxiety, increase heart rate variability and reduce blood pressure”.

Using Spire

Spire's design allows it to clip onto your clothing and go unnoticed for an entire day. Photo: Spire
Spire’s design allows it to clip onto your clothing and go unnoticed for an entire day. Photo: Spire

I wore Spire on the waistband of my underwear and the design is clever, because I barely noticed it and the clip felt sturdy.

There was no flying off in the bathroom or when I wore a skirt.

The ritual of putting it on was powerful, because I immediately became more aware of my breathing.

Its vibrations combined with notifications sent to my phone and email were illuminating, but that conscious choice to wear the device made the most significant difference to my breath and the tension in my mind and body.

What I noticed

My commitment to the device varied day to day. I enjoyed receiving the “weekly roundup” of my breathing habits and was astonished to discover how tense I was so much of the time.

Experiencing shallow breath or “fight or flight” mode on a regular basis – without a masked assailant in pursuit of you – heightens stress levels and creates all kinds of chronic tension.

But it’s easy not to know that you’re in that state if it’s what you’re used to.

According to Harvard Health, being accustomed to this way of behaving, “gradually makes shallow ‘chest breathing’ seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety”.

You'd be surprised by how often your breathing shifts into the red zone each day. Photo: Spire
You’d be surprised by how often your breathing shifts into the red zone each day. Photo: Spire

In order to receive messages about your current “state” from Spire – whether it’s Calm, Focused, Tense or Neutral – you need to have your phone on you as well as the device. I don’t have my phone on me all the time and I don’t like to.

As a result, the days where I had both were numbered. But, when I managed, it was fascinating to learn exactly when my breathing was tense.

While doing an audition in front of 30 people made sense, picking music to listen to on the bus was more surprising.

The app stores all of this information and provides tailored meditations depending on what you need, which range in length from 30 seconds to 20 minutes.

Hearing Deepak Chopra’s velvety voice – which comes with the app –was a wonderful calming influence.

The verdict

deepak chopra
Allow the dulcet tones of Deepak Chopra’s voice to calm you down. Photo: Getty

Telling you to calm down is Spire’s job.

It’s like employing someone to tap you on the shoulder every time you’re tense, or come up to you at the end of a week and say that you’ve been stressed out most of the time – even when you weren’t aware of it.

You might be grateful for this in the long run but, in the moment, you’re natural response might be, well, tense. Calm down? Don’t tell me to calm down!

Inviting Spire into your life requires a certain level of commitment and perseverance. If you don’t feel ready for that, I wouldn’t recommend it.

But if you are, I can definitely see how working with Spire would reduce tension and stress levels over time.

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