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Creating a hands-on meditation experience

with Sarah McDevitt, Founder & CEO at Core Wellness

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Meditation has been proven to improve our well-being, but it’s not unusual to sometimes wonder if it’s actually making a difference.

This self-doubt can sometimes throw people off the practice, especially beginners, and lead them to believe that meditation isn’t right for them. Based in San Francisco, Core Wellness is hoping to give people more confidence around meditating and see the physical connection between meditation and their health.

They’ve created a personal meditation device, Core, that people can hold in their hands while meditating. It uses physical biosensors and a digital app to encourage people to build a habit of meditating and easily track their progress.

Joining us on HealthRedesigned is Sarah McDevitt, Founder and CEO of Core Wellness.

Personalising meditation

What is Core Wellness helping to solve?

We set out to build a personalised path to mental wellbeing for each person. To me personally, that means helping people build up this inner foundation of confidence, strength and clarity that helps people go out and live their best version of themselves every day.

And the idea for Core Wellness came to you while you were studying at Stanford?

Yes, I was doing a masters in education. I was actually working on stress, meditation and mindfulness programs and designs for high schools, working with teenagers, instructors and teachers and the idea came through all of that research.

What made you start this research which eventually led you to create Core Wellness?

It came right before grad school. I was moving industries, states and moving away from my family. I started to feel this anxiety over all these life transitions for the first time and someone introduced me to meditation through a book and it really clicked for me. At the same time, I went on a work trip to South Africa and witnessed a research being done with meditation in schools—that kind of came together with the personal experience.

“I needed concrete science to convince me that what I'm feeling is real—that put me on the path to studying meditation and its effect on our brains and physical health.”

One of them is using a physical object to help people focus better—that was one of the first sparks for having a physical device that people hold during meditation. We tested that idea and found that it really did give people a much easier and more tangible thing to focus on during meditation.

Can you describe how the product works?

Core is a device that you cup in two hands. It’s made half out of wood, so it feels really nice in the hands and gives you something to focus on during meditation. It also has haptic vibrations that guide you through meditation exercises.

It guides you through breathing exercises and when the vibration ramps up, you inhale with it, when the vibration ramps down, you exhale with that. You can also use it as a reminder for when your mind wanders during meditation. You feel this soothing pulse in your hands and it’s a reminder to bring that attention back to the physical object in your hands.

The device also has biosensors in it that are used with the app afterwards to give people confidence that the meditation they’re doing is having a healthy effect on their bodies.

Staying disconnected but tracking results

When people are using the Core device, do they also have to use the app at the same time?

They do not have to touch the app at all. We offer audio guidance through the app as an option. But the cool thing about Core is you can leave your phone and that screen with notifications. You can leave that in another room, pick up Core and use the vibrations to guide you through these different exercises.

“It's a way to still have a guide for meditation but feel disconnected from the distractions that we all have on our phones.”

What information do the biosensors detect and display on the app?

We actually get a full electrocardiogram reading through our biosensor and that’s how we can take a good detailed look at your nervous system during meditation.

The main metric we’re looking at is heart rate variability which is a granular measurement of the time between each heartbeat. It’s a good representation of your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and how they’re balanced. What’s interesting is it’s almost counterintuitive—the higher rate your heart rate variability is, the more your heartbeat is able to react to changing circumstances.

Designing with various stakeholders

Did you design both the hardware and software in parallel?

We started with the hardware first to validate that it was really an essential part of the experience. Producing hardware is costly and challenging and we wanted to make sure that it was absolutely solving the problem and really helping people learn and stick with meditation first.

Once we validated that, we released it to a group of alpha testers so they could use it at home over a long period of time. We worked with them as a focus group to help us build out the supporting experiences in the app and that included representing the biofeedback data in the app.

Who did you work with to design the Core experience?

A lot of people. We’re a small team and so we definitely have a belief around design that the more minds you can bring in when you’re flaring on ideation and brainstorming, the better.

We brought in some advisors from Stanford that I met when I was there, a few clinical psychologists, a Zen monk and a few experienced meditation instructors around the Bay Area so that we make sure we’re really staying true to both mental health and mental wellbeing guidelines and then also meditation practices themselves.

You mentioned your personal motivations earlier. How else has your experience with either engineering or meditation influenced this project?

Being able to have this tool in my pocket with meditation, that I always know I can rely on for resilience and for coming back to clarity about why I’m doing what I’m doing and what’s important to me—that has been so valuable over the last four or five years. That’s a huge motivation to help other people have that tool in their pocket.

It’s really exciting when I get to talk to our users and customers about that and people who have been meditating for years to people who are brand new to it and everyone feels the benefits in different ways. It’s just really powerful what people do with that newfound strength, confidence and inner clarity.

From an engineering perspective, it’s been really exciting to be part of the hardware community. I started my career in software and it’s a different vibe, it’s a community of makers and people are incredibly collaborative and fun. Everyone’s making different devices and hardware and people are really helpful. It’s been a really fun journey going from software to hardware.

What can we expect in Core Wellness’ roadmap?

We’re launching an exclusive public beta in two months. It’s a chance to work with us to finalise our experience and get your hands on the product early. And then we’ll be launching for Christmas this year. You can track all of this by going on our website and signing up.

Our long-term plan is really around, first, just helping as many people as possible develop this really valuable meditation habit. What we can do with our biofeedback is also really exciting from the perspective of personalized recommendations around meditation, but also about general health and wellbeing. So that’s something that we will definitely build on in the future.

Core Wellness is looking to connect with designers or anyone who’s interested in making change in health and wellness, especially in mental wellbeing. They’re also looking for additional meditation instructors and meditation advisors. Reach Sarah directly at sarah@corewellnes.io or sign up on their website to receive latest updates.

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