What Many Wellbeing and Mindfulness Apps Get Wrong
Resilience and adaptability are more important than calm and relaxation.
Think about wellbeing and mindfulness and some of the first words that probably come to mind are calm and relaxation.
Yes, we are all stressed and busy, so calm and relaxation seem like the antidotes that we need. And almost all wellbeing and mindfulness apps place a huge focus on their ability to help us relax and de-stress. But could this be missing the point?
In everyday life we simply can’t — nor should we aspire to — eliminate all forms of stress.
In the right doses, the right types, and with the right response, we know stress under a different name: stimulation. It’s the key to growth and a fulfilling life.
So rather than trying to avoid stress altogether, we should become more resilient to it and increase our adaptability in the face of stress and changing circumstances.
If we look at elite performers in almost any discipline — athletic or mental — what stands out is their ability to quickly switch on when it counts and equally quickly switch off when the challenge is over. This is very similar to an animal instantly heightening its tension as it senses danger or spots prey, just to rapidly relax again once the threat or opportunity are over.
However, unlike the elite performer or the animal, most of us are constantly stuck somewhere in the middle, never fully engaged yet never fully relaxed — tired but wired. We lack the proper adaptability.
Resonance breathing and HRV biofeedback training have this adaptability and resilience training baked into their very nature.
During the inhale phase, our heart rate increases and we stimulate our sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system, whereas on the exhale our heart rate slows down and we engage the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system.
Rather than simply inducing relaxation, it teaches our body to smoothly switch between excited and relaxed states as necessary, adapting to the situation instead of getting stuck in an overstimulated state.
If we combine the cyclical effect from the breath with additional stimuli we can further increase the training effect.
A common modality for this is visualization: during the inhale, bring something to mind that acts as a stressor for you (personally I often use the image of a completely cluttered calendar full of back-to-back meetings) and really feel the stress in your body, and then let it go on the exhale.
Another great but so far underutilized modality is music.
One of my core goals with Yudemon was to bring sound and music to the practice of resonance breathing.
Just like with mindfulness and wellbeing tools and practices in general, the music that is usually employed in them also tends to be very soothing and calming, often ranging anywhere from elevator music to East Asian temple sounds.
And again I think this is taking too limited a view.
Yes, we can use relaxing and soothing sounds to good effect, but we shouldn’t ignore music and soundscapes that are more energetic, stimulating, or even challenging. They can often provide a much greater impact in terms of adaptability training and growth.
The Yudemon HRV app on iOS is already using custom-designed soundscapes that do not fall into the traditional “functional music” stereotype.
And with the latest addition to the soundscape catalogue, I wanted to push this idea even further.
Personally, I love the genre of Drum & Bass, which often uses fast breakbeats and heavy basslines — in many ways the polar opposite of calming spa music. I also produce Drum & Bass myself, under the name Taktile. So I decided to take one of my tracks, Happily Ever After, and use it as the basis for a new soundscape, to show that functional music can take many different forms.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Would you like to see more “typical” relaxing soundscapes, or should I keep pushing in different directions?
I also want to explore the cyclic nature of resonance breathing more, creating some soundscapes that, similar to the visualization example, switch from stimulating or challenging during the inhale phase, to calming during the exhale phase.
And finally, I hope to collaborate with other artists and hear what interpreting their unique musical style as a soundscape for resonance breathing could sound like. If you’re an artist yourself and interest in this, I would love to hear from you.
Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with calm and relaxation, and in some cases that is indeed what we need.
But much more frequently we could benefit from a more varied approach, cycling between stimulation and relaxation, teaching our body to become more stress-resilient and adaptable.
I hope you’ll give the latter approach a try for yourself.