Why Your State of Mind Is Critical to Your Health

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Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think. — Benjamin Disraeli

If you’re already on the path to a fit and healthy lifestyle, you know the importance of proper nutrition. You know the effects that eating clean and whole foods can have on your appearance, energy levels, endurance, and overall feeling of well-being. You do a good job of nurturing your body, but are you aware of the importance of nurturing your mind, too? Your mind isn’t just critical to your mood. What you think and how you respond to different situations can affect your health more than you may know.

It all goes back to the 3 Bs: Body, brain, and breath. Your state of mind affects your body and breathing. But breathing changes your mind and body. That’s why it is so important to learn how to get your breath under control. Let’s take a look.

Your Thoughts and Your Health

Your internal dialog affects so much more than your mood. While someone with a cantankerous demeanor isn’t usually top choice for company, negative attitudes can affect more than just your social interactions. They also impact your health.

Ever Heard of Neuropeptides?

If you’re new to the world of neuropeptides, fear not! We will cover a brief overview here and then revisit their importance in more detail in future articles. These signaling, protein-like molecules help neurons communicate with each other while sending signals to your brain. Sounds complicated, and it is. These little guys do so much and are so important, they even have entire journals dedicated to them!

Let’s not get overwhelmed by the details. What is important to know, for the purposes of this article, is that your neuropeptides are the means by which your thoughts, desires, and emotions get transmitted to your nervous system. The receptors in your nervous system and immune system then receive these messages. Feelings of stress, nervousness, anxiety, and sadness can cause your body to release hormones that, over time, can wreck havoc on your immune system, causing it to break down.

Excessive negative emotions, like calories, build up over time. You may be able to burn some of them off, but after awhile, they build up to a point where you’re feeling sluggish, low energy, and disconnected. Conversely, training your mind to think positively, focusing on the good in situations, and reacting calmly can result in improved health and overall well-being.

Break Up With Stress

We talked briefly about stress above, but let’s take a deeper look. What happens in our bodies when we become stressed out? To protect from potential threats (think wild animals chasing you through the night), our bodies come equipped with a stress response that gives you a boost of energy to handle urgent situations. This boost of energy, however, is accompanied by an elevation in your heart rate, rising blood pressure, and a release of hormones to top it off. One of these hormones, cortisol, alters immune system responses while suppressing your digestive and reproductive systems.

While this is beneficial in a fight-or-flight scenario, chronic releases of these hormones, especially cortisol, can be dangerous. Prolonged increase in stress levels are linked to arrhythmias, anxiety, digestive problems, weight gain, and more!

 With excessive stress, performance falls off — we do things less well. — Dr. Adam Perlman, Executive Director of Duke Integrative Medicine

Just reading about all of those things can be stressful! Time to take some deep breaths.

So what does all of this talk about stress have to do with your state of mind? Whether you realize it yet or not, you have the power to control your responses, your stress levels, and your internal dialog – all leading to a more stress-free state of well-being. This is a process, however. You can’t roll out of bed one day and run a marathon without having trained, built endurance, and gained the needed strength. Likewise, you have to train your mind and how you respond. Over time you’ll win the race.

We All Have to Start Somewhere. Here’s How:

1. Shift your perspective – The way we interpret situations is critical to a healthy state of mind. Stress comes at us from every direction. When confronted with a difficult situation, try shifting your perspective. Let’s try it out…

Scenario: You’ve been working for weeks on a presentation only to find out your work will not be used in an upcoming pitch. All those hours wasted. Right? OR, find gratitude in the experience you’ve gained and be proud of your work ethic and perseverance to get the job done.

2. Find Gratitude – This was touched on above but we can’t emphasize enough the importance of being thankful. Finding something to be thankful for in every situation and focusing on that can bring any situation up a level or more.

Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice. — Harvard Medical School study, In Praise of Gratitude

3. Don’t React, Breathe – Instead of immediately acting in emotion and anger, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Then take another. And another. Finding the calm and taking a moment of reflection will help you get needed perspective.

Breathing does more than reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have shown it to enable focus and productivity, help reduce aches and pains, and even lower your blood pressure. When you’re feeling more productive, in less pain, and healthier overall, your state of mind naturally shifts into an improved state. See how cyclical the process is?

By learning how to manage your stress….

You’ll not only be more productive but able to think more clearly and work at a higher level. — Dr. Lloyd Sederer, medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health.

Remember, we have more control over our health and well-being than we may know. Nurturing your body is important, but taking care of your state of mind shouldn’t be neglected. Start incorporating the exercises above into your daily routines and see how your health and energy levels can improve.


CandaceCandace Honey Kennedy enjoys doing anything outdoors – hiking, running, kayaking, paddle boarding and horseback riding! Loves to travel! Studied Spanish, Mandarin, and some French!


Spire is the first wearable tracker for body, breath, and state of mind. Learn more at Spire.io.

Breath & Spire: A Few Key Questions

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a long time.  Heck, you could say I did my Ph.D. on this post.

When we started work on Spire, our goal was to give people feedback about something that influenced life as much as – if not more than – fitness: their state of mind. Yes, like other activity trackers, Spire accurately tracks physical activity and fitness. But unlike other trackers, Spire records an additional metric: breathing patterns. This is because your breathing patterns both reflect and influence your state of mind.

And, as it turns out, it’s this additional metric, breathing, that has really caught people’s attention… and curiosity.

Why consider breathing?

How does breathing relate to state of mind?

What’s the science behind this?

Why consider breathing?

Many of us don’t consider how important our breath is. Yet, when you think about it, you probably have some experiential understanding of the role breath plays in your daily life.

Perhaps you’ve felt short of breath. During a math test, or an asthma attack.

Perhaps you’ve noticed how tranquil your breath can be. While out fishing in the early morning, or sitting by a campfire.

Perhaps you’ve felt your chest constricted or find yourself sighing regularly. While writing email, or sitting in traffic.

These are all real experiences that show the diverse repertoire of the breath. Imagine what it’s doing when you’re not paying attention. Imagine if you could notice your breath in these situations, and how this might change your day, your dinner, or your life.

How does breathing relate to state of mind?

When you feel stressed, your body’s ancient defense mechanisms are activated and becomes prepared for “fight or flight” – to run, to attack, or to do something that requires high physical activity. One thing that happens during this response is that your breathing becomes rapid and shallow.

In short doses, this can be useful. But this is email, not a lion attack! Imagine how many times during your day you feel tense or overwhelmed. Then, consider what it does to your breath.

So, what can you do about this? For one, you can transform your perception of stress from ‘threatening’ to ‘challenging’ – challenging you to perform at your best. Simply re-framing stress can change the way your body deals with it, though we don’t understand exactly how that happens or how to do it consistently.

In addition to changing your perception of stress, you can literally control it. But how can you affect your brain like that? Funny you should ask…

Unlike other physiological functions, the breath is under both autonomic and conscious control. This means the breath is not just ‘happening’ in the background – it’s a lever. A way in. The gas pedal and the brakes for your brain and body.

It’s important to know there is no “correct” way to breathe. Just like there’s no “correct” state of mind. Stress isn’t bad! It’s part of life and, let’s be honest, we often enjoy it! To an extent. Chronic stress is a problem because we often don’t even realize it’s happening. That isn’t just sad, it compromises our immune system because the body is so frequently kept vigilant.

What’s the science behind this?

Why do we have the phrase “take a deep breath” in so many languages?  Why have scientists and poets been writing about the breath for thousands of years? Because the slow, calm, breath does three things:

Vagus_nervesFirst, it changes the carbon dioxide level in the bloodstream. This is important because the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions like fear) is very sensitive to carbon dioxide (detected as pH). When you take that deep breath, your blood becomes less acidic, assuring your amygdala that you are, indeed, not at threat of drowning and that all is well.

Second, it lengthens the exhale, lifting the gas pedal on the brain. During exhale, the gates blocking the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve, are lifted. This signifies to the brain that the coast is clear to “rest and digest.”

Finally, consciously taking a breath is the simplest action you can take to bring a wandering, anxious mind to the present moment. This is the key to understanding why concentration techniques start with focus on the breath.

We now see how the breath (1) reflects your state of mind and (2) influences it.

Now Is the Time

There is something even more valuable than our time, our attention. One minute of genuine, focused attention can be worth dozens of minutes of being distracted.

Today, more than ever, a healthy, focused, and balanced state of mind is paramount. It dictates how we work, the decisions we make, and even how we communicate. It helps us achieve goals in a world of distraction. Don’t let your life slip by. Get to know your breath, watch it change, then listen to what it brings up for you.

Stay Tuned for Updates

What would your life look like with less rushing, more space, and more balance? How would it change the way you eat, live, or love?

In future posts, I’ll be diving into the details about our breath and state of mind. Just a sampling of the topics I hope to cover, would be: the four components of each breath and what they tell us; why yoga refers to the breath so much; how breath relates to meditation… and to endurance and athletics, and even to communication and sex.

I look forward to discussing with you. Until next time!

Neema

P.S. The studies underlying the regulation of state of mind by respiration – summarized at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagal_tone and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvagal_Theory – were spear-headed by Spire’s scientific advisor, Dr. Stephen Porges.

References:
  • Crum, AJ, Salovey, P, Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013 Apr;104(4):716-33.
  • Porges, Stephen W., Doussard-Roosevelt, Jane A., Maiti, Ajit K. (1994). Vagal tone and the physiological regulation of emotion.
  • West, John B. (2008). Respiratory Physiology: The Essentials. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • Yasuma F et al. (Feb 2004). “Respiratory sinus arrhythmia: why does the heartbeat synchronize with respiratory rhythm?”. Chest 125 (2): 683–90.
  • Ziemann AE, Allen JE, Dahdaleh NS, Drebot II, Coryell MW, Wunsch AM, Lynch CM, Faraci FM, Howard MA, Welsh MJ, Wemmie JA. (2009). The amygdala is a chemosensor that detects carbon dioxide and acidosis to elicit fear behavior. Cell. 2009 Nov 25; 139(5):1012-21.
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Love, Breath, and a New Kind of Technology

I met her at a UC Berkeley social event. I saw her across the room, wearing all white. I told my buddy I saw the woman – and I was going to talk to her.

The next evening we were on a date, and we felt like we were reuniting instead of meeting for the first time. I knew she was the one and I told her I would marry her. I was not the type of person to be so brash. But her presence gave me confidence that true love existed in the world and that I was capable of it myself.

At the time, I was working towards my Ph.D. at Stanford, studying how technology can help people learn better. But I convinced this wonderful woman to go on a trip with me to Laos over winter break. And it was on this trip that I had the distance from the daily grind to … to really focus. It was in this moment that I had the clarity of mind and heart to ask (and answer) this question:

“If I could focus my work on one outcome, what would it be?”

My answer?

“For all people to have easy access to clarity of mind, focus, and balance.”

Clarity of mind has so many benefits. If technology could help us develop it – to help us be, not only do – that would have a major impact on helping people reach their personal goals. So my focus became to use personal technology to improve our state of mind.

Back at Stanford, I made this my Ph.D. topic and, as part of that, studied respiratory psychophysiology (breath-body-mind interaction). I learned that there was an entire field of Western science dedicated to it, including laboratory study of how breathing patterns change and are associated with different cognitive, emotional, and physiological states.

I came across so many papers, studies, and books discussing the intricacies of respiration and stress but they were fundamentally handicapped: they couldn’t take their lab results and translate them into impact in people’s lives. Why not? No sensor! That seemed like a good problem to solve.

So that became my goal: use the simplest, most concrete way to give people awareness and control of their state of mind using two things they already possess: their breath – and their phone.

Two years, an unforgettable wedding, a Ph.D. dissertation, and a Calming Technology Lab later, Jonathan and I started Spire. We first focused on inventing a respiration sensor that didn’t require people to wear straps around their body like was done in the lab. When we finally figured it out, we knew we had something special.

But wait! You have to hear how I met Jonathan! After my masters degree, I invented new products at Microsoft’s Beijing Research office and was experimenting with acting and improvisation in the evenings. A few of us got together and started BeijingImprov.com, with Jonathan as the player/coach. 🙂

I will never forget the first moment, sitting at Atlas Café in San Francisco, when our demo app buzzed to say I’d been tense and holding my breath while working. I realized it was right and relaxed, with it coming the realization that I was frantically writing emails instead of prioritizing my most important task. Or the moment Jonathan and I had a very productive brainstorm and I looked at the app and it said I was deeply focused. Finally, my technology was helping me be who I wanted to be: present, aware, and in control.

If you’ve ever really observed your breath – really given it the attention it deserves – you will be amazed. It is so exquisitely tied to the mind. Breathing is the definition of life!  It is the subject of soulful poetry and cutting-edge science.

Spire is a new kind of product. It’s rooted in bringing balance and presence to life. It can genuinely make you more productive. More creative. Lose weight. Have work/life balance. Be a better parent. A better listener. Anything that clarity of mind, balance, and focus can give you. These are bold claims, but the truth is that Spire doesn’t do these things to you – it helps create the conditions necessary for you to focus on achieving the things you value most in life.

Sincerely,
Neema


static.squarespace   Neema Moraveji is cofounder and Chief Product Officer of Spire. Follow Neema on Twitter @moraveji.

Spire’s Launch: The First 48hrs

static.squarespace-2 Spire launched a bit over 48 hours ago. We set out to sell 500 pre-orders within the first week. We hit 500 within the first few hours. So – with much excitement – we’ve re-calibrated to a stretch goal of 5k within the first two months. While friends, family, and our mailing list helped drive initial sales, there were two far larger drivers:

  • The fantastic media coverage we received (see our Press page)
  • Referrals from Spire customers

We’ve been fortunate to have great customers spreading the word about Spire – the team is blown by all of your support.  Thank you all! Along with the coverage and pre-orders came a few questions.  Let’s address them: 1) Why did we launch pre-orders on our own site, as opposed to a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter? 2) What’s next for Spire? 3) Will there be Android support? 😉

Self-starter vs. Kickstarter

We quickly learned that Spire’s perspective on tracking was completely novel.  In talking to users and influencers, we realized that if we spent enough time – say 20mins – explaining and demo’ing the product, people would fall in love with it. But 20 minutes is way too long in the internet age. We needed the freedom to experiment and iterate with how we tell our story. We also wanted to be able to add demonstrations of Spire in action.  By launching on our own website we gave ourselves this opportunity.

The Road Ahead

We’ve got lots of stories, lots of data, and lots of ways that Spire helps make our lives better. Over the coming months, we’ll be telling those stories – showing what Spire’s technology, and what the science of breathing that lies behind Spire, can do. We’ll also be documenting our amazing and diverse team as they bring a complex product to market. From email apnea to manufacturing cork – stay tuned for some exciting insights and learnings.

Oh, Android.

We love open, so we are launching an open API for Day 0. We love choice, so we are building a device that encourage you to choose what being “healthy” means to you.  And yes, many of us love Android.  But, as a young company we need to stay focused, and that means making one amazing app on one platform.  So, iOS it is.  For now.  When we’ve nailed iOS we will port it over to Android. Sincerely, Jonathan

Hello, World!

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For the last two years, our team has been building technology that puts the human experience – in all its randomness and unpredictability, its laughter and tears, its joy and sorrow – at its center. We have been building a company that brings us closer to ourselves, to each other, and to the earth, in ways unimaginable a few years ago.

It was in this mindset that we created Spire, a device that, for the first time, captures your breathing patterns – signals that reveal that same laughter and tears, that same joy and sorrow – throughout your day, and makes them meaningful and actionable.

How much focus did you have today? How balanced has your week been so far? More importantly, how aware are you of the changes your mind takes throughout the day? Most importantly, how capable are you of shifting your state of mind to reach your health and productivity goals?

What would this kind of shift mean for your health, your work, your communication, your creativity, and your experience of life?

These questions drive our team at Spire every day (and often night).  They drive us to ensure Spire delivers genuine value in your daily life. They drive us to get the details right – to make it simple to use Spire (and your breath) to have more focus and balance in your day.

We are excited to be bringing to life something we’ve been working on for a very long time. We have learned a great deal and are excited to share this journey with you – to hear from you, to discuss with you, and to use your feedback to improve Spire.

Stay tuned.

– The Spire Team