When you have 10 minutes to spare, what do you do? I find myself pulling out my iPhone all too often to obsessively check my messages, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever else I have unread at the time.
Smartphones have made it possible to stay more connected with each other than ever before, but they also give us endless reasons to be stressed.
Ustwo, the design studio behind the hit game Monument Valley, has a new app called Pause that uses basic meditation principles to reduce mental stress and make you feel more relaxed. Certain meditation techniques have been scientifically proven to work, and trying this one is just a $US2 download in the App Store.
Pause is one of the simplest apps you’ll ever use, and that’s by design. You press your finger and move it around the screen to collect lava-lamp-like orbs of colour. The goal is to fill the screen with orbs anchored to your finger. Move too quickly or suddenly, and the orbs start slowly falling away.
“It’s a digital expression of a core element of meditation, which is voluntarily sustaining attention on an object,” explains Peng Cheng, founder of the mental wellness company PauseAble, to Tech Insider. In normal meditation, the point of focus could be your breath or a physical object, but in this case it’s your finger on a screen.
The experience is just as much about sound as it is visuals. A peaceful, ambient soundtrack plays in the background and fades out whenever your finger movement becomes too jerky (it’s strongly recommended that you use Pause with headphones). You’re even recommended to close your eyes and let the sound guide your finger.
“The idea was inspired by the Chinese tai chi movement,” says Cheng. “That’s a kind of deliberate, slow, continual body movement. What if we could move that movement quality down to the fingertip, and the phone could sense that?”
Before approaching Ustwo to help him design an app, Cheng researched meditation techniques to help his personal fight with depression and stress. Inspired by the focused nature of tai chi meditation, Cheng discovered that “I have the ability to direct my attention away from my stressful thoughts.”
Marcus Woxneryd, who runs Ustwo’s Nordic studio in Malmo, Sweden, invited Cheng to share his research with Ustwo’s staff. He says they ended up “falling in love with the idea” of making an app together, and thus, Pause was born.
To validate the app’s effectiveness, Cheng and Ustwo used a couple of approaches. They strapped EEG brainwave-recording technology to 18 people during a 12-minute session with Pause and saw calmer brain activity from a majority of participants. In a post-interview, 90% of subjects expressed feeling more relaxed.
Their data was then independently analysed and validated by Chi Thanh Vi, an expert in human and computer interaction at the University of Sussex.
“There’s a really powerful exchange between this deliberate movement you do with your finger, and the audio and visual feedback you get based on that,” says Woxneryd.
Since the Pause study was very small and unpublished, it’s not enough to show how the app would work in the general population. But there is a large body of research confirming the benefits of meditation in general.
Pause isn’t the first app from Ustwo that’s focused on mental wellness. Back in August, the studio released Moodnotes, a journaling app for the iPhone that uses cognitive-behavioural therapy to help identify “thinking traps.”
“Technology and mobile phones are often blamed for causing a lot of stress in society today,” says Ustwo’s Woxneryd, referencing the studio’s interest in promoting mental health through software. “But I see a really interesting opportunity here where we can challenge that assumption.”
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