Sometimes when you are on the go, stressed and all caught up in thoughts and worries, it is easy to forget that you can use mindfulness to relax yourself. Like when you are on the subway, or the bus, thinking about the next meeting, or something else that has got stuck in your mind.
In such moments, it can help to have a mindfulness device at hand. Something that reminds you to take that pause you need. Something that helps you get in touch with your presence, here and now.
Ataraxia is a mindfulness device developed by a team of interaction designers at Stockholm University. It incorporates a number of interesting ideas. I got the chance to meet with the team and test a prototype of the device. Read on to find out more.
Looking at the physical appearance of the device, it has the shape of an egg that fits comfortably in your hand.
What struck me when I first picked it up, is its weight. It is notably heavier than you would expect. The weight makes it feel very solid and grounding. Holding it becomes a calming experience in itself.
The surface of the device is made of a rubber material. This further adds to the solid feeling when holding it. It is the opposite of slippery.
The combination of the soft egg shape, the solid weight, and the grip-friendly surface, makes just holding the device a mindful experience.
There is also a hand warmer built into the device. This part of the prototype was a bit unfinished. The temperature was not adjustable and not evenly distributed across the surface. But I can relate to the idea of the device having a comfortable temperature when you pick it up. This should be especially nice on a wintery day, if you live in a cold climate.
In addition to the actual device, there is an mobile app that allows you to interact with the device and play sound and voice as you use it. The audio used with the prototype are sounds of nature, and guided mindfulness meditations.
The team combined several design and evaluation methodologies when developing the device. They tested four different prototypes (including the use of light and vibration, and a table top design). To test the different sensory aspects of the device, a blind-folded test was used. Testers were also invited to shape their own devices using clay materials.
In my view, the physical appearance of the device is one of the most interesting aspects of the project. I very clearly remember the sensation when I first picked up the device. A very solid and grounding feeling, that was calming and relaxing in itself. Something solid to hold on to when your head spins.
When doing mindfulness myself, I go into my the awareness of my body and my contact with the physical surroundings. Feeling the contact between my feet and the ground. Touching reality with my hands. The table, the chair, the wall, a rock, or a tree. Whatever is there. This takes me into the present.
I have not been too enthusiastic about mindfulness apps and digital mindfulness devices, since I believe they distract from the physical reality. In the way I do mindfulness, the contact with the physical world is essential.
However, when picking up the Ataraxia, I felt the device has something to it. I was in a noisy cafe, I held the egg in my hand, closed my eyes and imagined being in the forest. It worked. I almost instantly felt a bit calmer. Then I tested holding the device with headphones playing sounds of the forest. It was a relaxing experience.
The word "Ataraxia" means "a state of serene calmness", or "a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety".