Pro: Small enough to forget you're wearing the device, recordings are short but effective in helping you relax, easy to launch, clever and pleasing design
Con: Clip can be hard to attach to clothes, device sometimes recorded calming moments as stressed, and can disconnect if it doesn't sense you
Who doesn't want a way to reduce stress in their lives? We buy bath salts, drink herbal teas and chant ourselves silly in yoga class to keep the monster at bay. Yet most of us have some amount of stress in our daily lives. Some, ahem, more than others.
I certainly do my part to reduce its presence: Exercise? Check. Have a (ridiculously large) dog? Check. Try to get enough sleep (emphasis on try)? Check.
But stress, the little monster, is like a frenemy—way too enmeshed in my life to just disappear easily. So when Spire sent over its device to test, I volunteered quickly.
Spire is a small palm sized object made to look like a river stone. The weight is lighter, but the look is right on the nose: gray, oddly shaped. I felt like I could toss Spire across a pond and watch it skip. (Just the thought of that was oddly calming too.) On the front is a metal clip—which attaches to the waistband of your pants, or the center of your bra. The key is the stone side is always in contact with your skin to read the expansion of your chest and belly as you breathe.
You charge Spire on a rounded disc, metal in the center, wood-colored cork around the edges, which is included in the $99.95 package. Spire charges by just laying in the disc, which itself is plugged into the wall. An added bonus is a USB plug built into the charger so you can also use the disc to power your smartphone. (Yes, I liked that.) And yes, Spire works with both iOS and Android devices.
Once you download the app and install on your smartphone, you need to link Spire to your phone via Bluetooth. Then clip the device to your body and you're good to go. Spire will ping you through the smartphone if the device can't read your breath. That was maybe my one negative—I went an entire day not knowing Spire was reading me because I must have missed the notification. (I miss a number of them.)
But when connected, Spire is a like having a yogi on your shoulder all day. No, it won't coach you through Downward Facing Dog. But Spire will vibrate gently when you haven't taken a deep breathe in maybe three to five minutes, and are about to have a shoulder hunch that will irritate you the rest of your day. Getting a device to remind me to chill? A resounding yes.
Breathe in, breathe out
When you launch the app, once Spire is in place, the app starts to read your breaths per minute, noting your average. You can actually watch the visualization of your breathing on your smart phone screen—the rising and falling of your body, and even movement. This tracks your average breath—and from there, and from deviations, Spire can read your state of mine.
For example, Spire would buzz when I'd had a particularly long streak of calm or focus to almost nudge me into awareness. I would pause then to think about what I'd been doing during that time. What had caused my breathing to even, so, truthfully, I could repeat it. The device also nudged me when I'd been sitting too long as there's also an activity tracker built into the app which records steps and when you're moving—and when you've watched too many episodes of Dr. Who back to back. But I particularly loved that Spire would ping me when I hadn't taken a deep breathe in awhile. I got that one a lot.
But Spire is of course much more than that. The device keeps track of what it calls moments—stretches of calm, tense and focused that you have during your day. Calm and tense are fairly simple to understand. With Spire, calm occurs when you're breathing more slowly than your average, and evenly. Tension? That's when my breathe was faster than average and often erratic, and changing often. Focus also registered when my breathe was faster than average, but with a regular, even pattern.
Focused is something to definitely aim for during your day. When a person is focused, they're often in a state of flow, losing themselves in a task at hand: work, cooking, time with a loved one. To be focused is to be in a state of concentration, and when you're in it, you usually know because when that time ends, you feel as if no time has passed—and are often refreshed. Spire tracks that time too.
There are also short, mostly two to three minute audio recordings you can play to help bring you back to stay of calm, focus or energy from guided breathings to exercises that are even designed to help students re-energize.
The science behind your breath
How does the device know what's going on with you? By your breath, or more specifically by how your chest and torso expands and contracts as you breathe. We all breathe—but did you know there is a better way to breathe? You probably do. But you probably don't do that very often. I found I didn't. Over the two weeks of testing, I occasionally forgot to put Spire on in the morning. But when I did, my numbers weren't always what I hoped.
I often had days where my tense periods outweighed my calm ones. These would show as red days, not green for calm or blue for focus. In my defense, I did find, though, that Spire didn't note my time in a yoga class as calming. Perhaps that was less a comment on its readings, and more on my state of mind—and my breathe and yoga technique.
You can also mine deeply into app to see when you were calm, tense or focused—literally the hour and minute of the day. This was intensely interesting to see in what parts of my day I tend to relax and when tension hits. My daughter getting home late from school? Red. Writing a story? Usually blue. Watching a movie with my family? Green. You can also notate in the app what you're doing at those moments to go back to remind you what activities produced which reaction.
But overall, what I liked about Spire was what Spire left me with when I stopped wearing it: I remembered throughout my day to breathe. I would suddenly notice when I hadn't taken a pause to breathe. And I would breathe. Slowly, deeply. I would notice my heart beating, my hands. I would be brought back to myself.
So much is written today about being present in our lives: detaching from our smartphones, our social media tweets, our multitasking. Spire isn't going to be your gateway to a digital detox—after all it's a digital device tethered to your smartphone. But if the wearable helps you weave some quiet moments into your day—even a few—that's already better than where many of us are right now.
That's progress—and the real promise of how the Internet of Things can change our lives for the better.