When's the last time you took a deep breath at your computer? It's been awhile, we bet.

It's the kind of thing most of us don't pay much attention to, which is exactly why a tiny new wearable device called Spire is useful.

By tracking your breathing, Spire can figure out how stressed out you are, and help you adapt to better focus or relax.

2014-07-23

Co.Exist

This New Wearable Device Says It Helps Lower Stress At Work--We Put It To The Test

A wearable device that tracks us where we actually are most of the time: In front of the computer and forgetting to breathe correctly.

You're at work, and you've been glued to your computer for the last three hours, jumping between chat and email and tabs on your browser. When was the last time you took a deep breath?

It's the kind of thing most of us don't pay much attention to, which is exactly why a tiny new wearable device called Spire is useful. By tracking your breathing, Spire can figure out how stressed out you are, and help you adapt to better focus or relax.

As I write this, I'm sitting in Spire's San Francisco office with a prototype of the small device clipped to the waistband of my skirt. The device, which can also be worn on a bra strap, contains sensors that detect my body position, activity, and the "respiratory movement" of my body.

The app displays what's happening visually: A cloud-like circle grows and shrinks along with each breath, and as I focus more on the story, a tiny mountain grows to represent my concentration. After 15 minutes, the mountain is huge. "You're getting in the zone," the app tells me.

"I wanted to give people power and awareness over their state of mind," says founder Neema Moraveji, who began developing the product as a PhD student at Stanford University. "The most tangible way to do that, to give people feedback and awareness, as well as a way to influence it, is the breath."

When someone is distracted or anxious, it shows up in how they breathe. But the effects go both ways: By adjusting breathing, it's possible to quickly improve concentration and performance.

"When we're tense, we get into a reactive state," Moraveji explains. "There's tension, everything clenches up, and the body goes into a fight or flight response. It's the opposite of having a clear mind with a priority and keeping that goal in mind in spite of distractions."

Spire aims to calm you by reminding you to breathe. If the device detects that you've gone half an hour without a deep breath, it pings you to let you know and asks if you want to go through a short breathing exercise to bring you back to a focused state.

In a test of the prototype with employees at the headquarters of LinkedIn, the design team saw quick results. "About 70% of the participants were talking about feeling less tired at the end of the day, and more able to be productive and focus at work," Moraveji says.

Like many other wearable devices, Spire also measures activity, like how many steps you take or how much time you spend sitting down. But it's designed to go beyond movement--for most of us, a small part of the day--and track your health the rest of the time.

"If you're wearing something, you want it to provide value all of the time you're wearing it, not just the 10% of the time that you're walking," says Moraveji. "The business emerged as a wearable that would provide value when you're at the computer, which is a lot of the day, or when you're commuting, or in the car, or all these other places in our lives."

It also provides feedback in real time, unlike other devices. Each breath is tracked on the screen, and every step you take shows up as you take it. When you're focusing, the small "mountains" showing concentration grow as your focus grows.

"It's like a video game," Moraveji says. "You look down and you have this very intuitive and visual understanding of, oh, that's what I've been doing today. It's focusing on a different part of health--health doesn't just happen when you're at the gym."

Spire will be coming out this fall, and the company is taking preorders now.

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6 Comments

  • Justine Espersen

    This is really interesting/odd. Who would've thought a device that tells you your breathing habits could be so helpful/intuitive. Thanks for taking the time to write this!

  • Sara Stoddard

    Great concept, but It seems a little off base. I'm surprised the device doesn't track and visually display heart rate variability. If the goal is to manage stress response, that's what you really need to be aware of, not simply the rise and fall of you abdomen.

  • popa.forum

    Ok, the title says: "we put it to the test", where is that test? Apart the fact, that you are wearing it in the office, what was your opinion, are you less stressed, would you recommend it?

  • Since the prototype they have now couldn't leave their office, I didn't get to see what it was like to use for a whole day. But in my short experiment, I'd say yes, it did work. It was helpful to get positive feedback when I was trying to focus on work--knowing that the device was tracking me, I was motivated to keep on working on one thing rather than jumping into my email and other distractions. It accurately noticed when I got distracted. I also was impressed with how it responded just as a movement tracker--I thought it was helpful to see real-time feedback.

    And though it might be obvious that taking some deep breaths helps focus and calm the mind, for me, breathing is the kind of thing I don't really think about when I'm not in a yoga class. I did find it helpful to get feedback on that.

    It seems like it might help train better focus and breathing over time, so eventually you might not need to wear it. After trying it out, I'm actually planning to get one.