Tech is the enemy of a peaceful mind, they say. The blue-light glow of your phone wrecks your sleep. The perfect lives you see on Instagram leave you riddled with anxiety. The bite-sized nature of Twitter shatters your concentration. None of these are falsehoods, but is technology really the enemy here? Or could we harness it to help quieten the mind?
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Meditation is all about letting go. Taking the time out of your day to be still and focus on the breath or a mantra to offer precious relief from the thoughts, anxieties and pesky to-do lists that chase around our brains. But it’s incredibly difficult to do, and takes years of practise to perfect.
On the few occasions I’ve attempted it, I manage about 30 seconds of focus before my thoughts have domino-rallied from this morning’s meeting to tonight’s dinner without me really noticing.
Listening to a guided meditation, like that from The Reset Button can help you stay on track, and they often have a dreamy ASMR quality about them that are perfect if you are looking to sleep easier.
Of course, tech has already been harnessed to help us quieten those busy minds, with apps like the incredibly popular Headspace turning your phone from a stressor into a relaxation aid via bite-sized guided meditations.
But it still takes a little time, and a little discipline. So what if you could skip all that and harness the latest tech to pretty much guarantee a deep, effective meditation session on your lunch break?
Enter the PandoraStar, just one of the new hi-tech wellness machines installed at the new Nimaya MindStation, London’s first dedicated ‘brain gym’.
It’s the brainchild of former City lawyer Nima Zahed-Khorassani, who left the legal profession to focus on helping others achieve long-term mental health and wellbeing. No stranger to mental health issues himself, Nima had exhausted all conventional treatment options, and on exploring alternatives, discovered a surprising wealth of scientific research backing them.
At Nimaya, ‘alternative’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘spiritual’, although ancient wisdom is certainly not pooh-poohed, rather it is cleverly combined with the latest – and very expensive looking – tech.
I stepped into Nimaya in January to try out the intriguing-sounding PandoraStar. One of the most advanced light machines of its kind, the ‘star’ offers an immersive light-based therapy with 12 stroboscopic LEDs programmed into a 20-minute session to guide the brain into a hypnogogic state – that blissful transitional state between wakefulness and sleep – within minutes.
‘It’s pretty trippy, very Strawberry Fields Forever – a ‘digital acid trip’ if you will – as the light patterns fill your field of vision’
A friendly therapist guided me into a private room, where you settle yourself into a super-comfy zero-gravity chair. You’ll be handed a pair of headphones, which pipes gentle classical music into your grateful ears, then you simply close your eyes let the kaleidoscope of colours and psychedelic patterns wash over your eyelids.
It’s pretty trippy, very Strawberry Fields Forever – a ‘digital acid trip’ if you will – as the light patterns fill your field of vision, despite the fact your eyes are closed. It’s a little like lying in the bright sun, when you’ve closed your eyes but can still see its orange-yellow glow. Or, if you’ve foolishly stared straight at the sun, you get that yellow dot seemingly seared onto your eyelids, and you can’t help but look at it, right? Well, it turns out that there is a method of meditation that follows this principle, called candle meditation, or Fire Kasina.
With candle meditation, you stare at a candle until the imprint of the flame stays with you when you close your eyes. Then you focus all your attention on it, narrowing your field of attention to just that flame, which eventually morphs into a red dot, then a black dot, and then… well, I’ve never made it further than that. But those who practice it regularly say they experience profound insight and focus.
The PandoraStar, it seems to me, mimics and enhances this meditation technique. Rather than the fleeting impression of a candle flame, that constantly shifting kaleidoscope of colour plays across your eyelids, demanding your attention but not requiring any thought processes to understand it, allowing you to just ‘be’. Thoughts do bubble up, but they soon slip away as the lights slide from one pattern to the next.
Some say they start to see things in the lights – birds in flight, mountains, trees. I didn’t see anything like that, but I could feel images forming around the edges – memories, perhaps – but they never fully formed, slipping away as soon as I tried to focus on them.
The intensity of the experience is, I believe, the key to its success, and afterwards I felt super chilled, reluctant to peel myself off the zero gravity chair (you really can’t feel the weight of your own body – at times I was aware of my hands clasped over my belly, and weirdly my ankles, but it felt like the rest of my body has dissolved into the chair). When I finally did stand up, I felt like I’d just had a power nap – a bit fuzzy round the edges, my legs a bit unsteady, but also light and free, like nothing else could faze me for the rest of the day.
I can see this machine being hugely beneficial to those with demanding jobs. A stressful morning in the office evaporated in just 20-minutes of your lunch break. If you think you don’t have the time or the discipline to meditate, well, you do now. Reported benefits include an increase in brain function, intuition, memory and mental clarity, as well as enhanced inner peace, improved sleep quality and even recovery from muscle and joint pain.
‘A stressful morning in the office evaporated in just 20-minutes of your lunch break’
It’s worth noting that the PandoraStar can also be programmed to stimulate the brain into an energised state. Speaking of which, while at Nimaya, I also tried cryotherapy. I hate the cold, so was reluctant to step into what is effectively a giant freezer set to -85ºC, but a therapist coaxed me in with reassurances of it being quick and painless. And it was. I did find myself dancing around a bit in an effort to thwart the chill for the three-minute session, but it’s not uncomfortable, and nowhere near as shocking as lowering yourself into freezing water.
In fact, cryotherapy is a great mood booster. The intense cold triggers the release of endorphins and induces the body’s natural pain relief system, so it can be beneficial for those with chronic pain as well as stress, anxiety or depression. Fortunately, I suffer none of these, a bit of anxiety, sure, but nothing medical-grade, so I clambered out feeling almost hyperactive.
Most of that was probably the relief of getting out of the cold, some of it was probably down to the fact that the therapist happened to play Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love – one of my all time favourite feel-good tunes – while I was in there, but it certainly gets the blood flowing and makes you breath deeper, sending valuable oxygen around the body.
I left feeling pretty Eye of the Tiger, and wishing I had a huge presentation to make to the bosses straight after because I’d have nailed it for sure. This is definitely one for those in high pressured jobs – barristers, traders, the chief exec of Crossrail, perhaps. Nimaya Mindstation beckons…
69 Farringdon Road EC1M 3PL; nimaya.co.uk
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