Image source: Spire

Interview: Cut through the noise and discover calm with Spire

Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people may cope with stress more effectively, others may not find it as easy.

Not all stress is bad. When you face a dangerous situation, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions that are a byproduct of the fight-or-flight response. Because the body can not keep this state for long periods of time, the parasympathetic system returns the body’s physiological condition to normal soon after. However, with chronic stress, those same nerve chemicals that are life-saving in short bursts can contribute, either directly or indirectly, to a host of medical conditions.

Essential reading: Review – check in with your breath, boost your well-being with Spire

Over two-thirds of office visits to physicians are for stress related illnesses. The medical costs alone have been estimated in the United States at well over $1 billion dollars per year. Reducing your stress levels can not only make you feel better right now, but may also protect your health long-term.

In the world of wearable technology, tracking fitness activity is typically the main goal. However, a growing number of devices are trying to gauge your state of mind.

interview cut through the noise and discover calm with spire - Interview: Cut through the noise and discover calm with Spire
Image source: Spire

We spoke to Dr. Neema Moraveji, the creator of Spire  – a wearable that helps you discover a new path to calm. You wear the little device on your belt or bra, where it can measure your breathing. It then notifies you when your breathing reflects tension and helps you discover what makes you calm, focused, and active.

“The whole notion of technology devices influencing our daily health behaviours is one that is relatively new,” said Dr Moraveji.

“Five years ago, it was pretty rare for a technological device or an app to directly monitor and influence the way we move, the way we sleep, the way we eat. Now it is much more common.

At the time, I was doing research and observing that this trend was starting. Personally I don’t have trouble sleeping or moving, and I like to eat healthy. This meant I just couldn’t relate to some of these problems.

What I did struggle with is stress influencing my everyday life and ultimately my health and piece of mind. Like everyone, I deal with stress and I worry from time to time. I have also seen the effects of being in a calmer state of mind, which is kind of how the idea started.

The challenge became – how do you measure something as complex and potentially as vague as your state of mind? The same way that you can measure, for example, how many steps you are taking?”

interview cut through the noise and discover calm with spire - Interview: Cut through the noise and discover calm with Spire
Image source: Spire

The device itself is beautifully designed. It looks like a river stone on one side with a metal clip on the back. The Qi wireless charger is a stunner as well.

When we were working on the industrial design, we knew from the beginning that – head to toe, end to end – we wanted the experience to be consistent.

This is a product experience that has your state of mind at heart. Every element of it should therefore consistently reinforce the goal of calm and clarity. We wanted its shape and design to evoke the fact that this product is about helping you build skills to be healthier.

It is about you, it is not about the device itself. Breathing is something that you have control over and it is a natural part of life. It’s innate, so we wanted it to have a natural connotation. We looked at different things, like the natural elements (air, earth, fire, wood,…).

We used stone for the device itself, elements of wood for the charging pad, and air obviously comes into play because the Spire tracks your breathing. These natural elements instinctively come together and their fusion is inspired by Japanese design aesthetic. It is quite different compared to other connected devices, which are often very futuristic.

Our product is different and is more about you – and not about being a cyborg. It is about being more human.”

The latest Stress in America survey results show that adults continue to report high levels of stress. Some 75% report experiencing moderate to high levels of stress and nearly a half report that their stress is on the increase. Some four in five workers feel stress on the job and nearly a half say they need help in learning coping techniques. Over 40% say their co-workers need such help.

We designed the Spire for people who see health as more than just losing weight and building muscles.

It is for people who see their state of mind as an equally important part of their health.

This may sound like a pretty broad thing, because it can very easily be the 40-year-old mother of two, who wishes she had time for yoga but doesn’t. It can also be, but less so, the college student who is studying for exams, or the gym rat trying to build muscle mass.”

Spire is commonly used in conjunction with, therapy for anxiety or meditation classes says Dr. Moraveji.

Anywhere you see the word mindfulness, Spire is used.

Mindfulness as a clinical intervention includes anxiety, panic, PTSD, depression. But it can also help with physical concerns such as pain, chronic pain and hypertension.”

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Spire also provides some basic fitness tracking functionality such as keeping tabs on steps and calories burned. Its fair to say that these are more on the basic side at the moment, but the company is planning on bolstering the physical activity aspect of the product.

But just as Spire is moving into the fitness tracking arena, Fitbit and the likes are making tentative steps into stress management.

What we’ve seen is that we are leading the mind and body tracker space. However, we are seeing physical activity trackers trying to do more mind related things.

For example, Fitbit released a breathing feature, a relax feature. Apple Watch did as well. They obviously don’t do what we do – they can’t actually track your state of mind throughout the day, so we are continuing to educate the consumer on why Spire is different and what is so unique about it.

The mainstream companies are definitely inspired by us. I know this because I look at some of the messaging that they use and it is directly inspired by us, which is totally fine. There is no question that the mental aspect to health is becoming more and more important. Five years from now, ten years from now, that trend is only going to continue.

The importance of our attention to our mental state, especially when things become more uncertain, but also more interconnected, is what is going to determine success. Not just how much muscle you have or how much you weigh – it is going to be about how you work, how you communicate and how you think.

You cannot get bogged down and become too distracted by all the information that is being thrown at you. You need to be able to cut through that and focus on being balanced.

Spire is backed by world-class advisors, angels, and partner institutions. This includes the Stanford University, Mayo Clinic and University of California San Francisco.

I have been studying calming technologies for the last 9 years. I received my Ph.D. from Stanford University based on the design and study of technologies that promote healthy and high-performing states of mind.

I am also the founder and former director of Stanford University’s Calming Technology Lab, where my studies focused on how interactive products can mitigate the damaging and distracting effects of acute and chronic stress. In order to develop an idea from start to finish and test its efficacy, you need the support from the partners mentioned above.

They were really impressed with the idea we had and were happy to lend their cooperation!

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Spire Mindfulness and Activity Tracker
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When it comes to the future of Spire, it seems we can look forward to some innovative new features. Dr Moraveji was unable to share specifics, apart from saying “there will definitely be a new approach to the same idea”, and that he will be in a position to share some more details in the spring.

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