Unyte CEO Jason Tafler was working as chief digital officer at Rogers Communications when he started suffering from severe internal bleeding. He had four blood transfusions and almost didn't make it.
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Tafler was diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease called Crones. As well as daily meditation and exercise, Tafler looked to meditation: and after 16 months, the doctors took him off the drugs.
"But the doctor's were kind of baffled because fast forward to a year plus later, they took me off drugs and I'm doing really well, I have great energy and they're not really sure what to make of it. I think a lot of factors went into that. I think meditation was one of them, and an important one."
Thus came Unyte iom2. It's a small rectangular device with a connected earpiece that measures your heart rate variability by clipping onto your ear. It connects to your laptop or smartphone via Bluetooth and uses HRV to check the state of your nervous system. It also has optional galvanic skin response sensing powers, to add information about your emotional state.
The iom2 hardware is ultimately a vessel for Unyte's software, which is aimed at delivering interactive meditation to people. "For us, basically what that means is much like myself and others who might've tried meditation over the years but found it hard to learn, or boring or frustrating, or you get started on it and don't want to continue. We wanted to do something that was more interactive and engaging and fun and more quantitative in terms of measurables."
The iom2 uses your heart rate variability to measure your emotional state, giving you what Unyte calls a 'Resonance' score. It compares your breathing rate to your heart rate variability. The closer those are in the sync, the more likely the emotional state is tranquil. If they're wildly different, the more likely you're nervous, or anxious, or stressed. Speaking of breathing rate, the company is also working on implementing recommended breathing rates since optimal breathing rate changes depending on person, age and meditation experience.
The Resonance score is a one to a hundred scale, with one meaning that you're in a "severe fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system state. Basically, things are real bad. On the other hand, "100 is you're meditating like a Buddhist monk."
Unyte combined data from Wild Divine with a user survey it conducted to put together over 50 games, quests and meditation sessions that can utilize the Resonance score (five of them for VR). Some experiences are tied to the Resonance score, adapting to it in real time and customizing its experience to match how you're doing.
For instance, in one experience the user is standing in front of a broken bridge that leads across a gap high on top of a mountain. To fix the bridge, the user has to get their Resonance score up by meditating. The higher the score goes, the better the bridge gets. Once the score is high enough, the bridge completes and they can walk across the gap. Similarly, there was an experience with a violent storm. The user then has to meditate the storm away, upping their Resonance score to make way for a peaceful and tranquil setting.
The experiences aren't just games and quests, however. There are also guided meditations from well known meditation teachers like Shinzen Young and Adyashanti. They include combinations of teachings and mini-games, a program called "Relaxing Rhythms," and 15-part courses "through the world's wisdom traditions."
Over the past couple of years, companies have been nudging into the world of mindfulness. Apple added the Breathe app to Apple Watch and both Fitbit and Garmin have added Guided Breathing to their latest fitness trackers. Tafler says while its great that mindfulness is growing in the marketplace, Unyte is offering a more enhanced version of what those companies are trying to do.
"Oftentimes they don't track what you're doing or they do so in a very basic way, like just with basic heart rate." he says. "Which we don't think is as directly correlated to the nervous system state." Unyte's professional customers, like doctors, have also told it that compliance with their mindfulness recommendations "falls off a cliff" after a week because people get bored. Its more interactive approach, however, has found better results.
Unyte sees the mindfulness trend rising to the levels like the yoga trend has. Where instead of being a fad that rises and goes away, it's an activity that grows and more and more people start to take part in actively. The company is also working with physicians and psychology or psychiatry clinics that specialize in things like ADHD, anxiety and other conditions to teach relaxation. They're also looking to spread to universities, working with guidance counsellors to combat what Tafler refers to as a mental health epidemic on college campuses.
At the end of the day, Tafler says Unyte's mission is to be able to help people escape a little during their hectic days with a quick vacation for their mind. "Even if you're in a stressful spot at work or at home, take 10, 15 minutes, transport yourself to this world where you're in a beautiful nature scene."