Reinvigorating the Art of Mindfulness
Long commutes are uniquely associated with stress, especially when coupled with the increasing levels of noise and light pollution that plagues our cities
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We are all busy as bees. Or so we think. A tweet here. A skimmed news article there. An email drafted only halfway through, until ding, some new distraction appears on our screen. On an average, we check our phones every 12 minutes. That is around 80 times a day. Our sense of busyness might be an illusion, after all. It might even be overwhelming us, causing us stress and minds that are too distracted to really enjoy both work and play.
But it is not just our phones that overwhelm us. Cities are far more crowded. Commutes are longer than ever, with the average in the largest cities in India being around 50 minutes. Long commutes are uniquely associated with stress, especially when coupled with the increasing levels of noise and light pollution that plagues our cities. Levels of isolation are also increasing, with people reporting higher feelings of loneliness and resulting anxiety.
Addressing the Issue
There are many ways to approach such problems. Encouraging people to socialize more might help. Turning our devices off for at least an hour during the day might also dramatically increase well-being. But these must be coupled with something more radical, something that addresses such problems at their root, and prevents a lot of the damage from occurring in the first place. We can find such a solution in an unlikely place: ancient India, in the teachings of the Buddha.
What we call mindfulness is a distillation of some of the Buddha's teachings. Mindfulness is, simply, the process of bringing one's attention back to the present moment. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but one important way of learning it is meditating on breathing. Since the 1970s, clinical psychology and psychiatry have found great applications based on the idea of mindfulness, and a thriving industry has grown, in the West and in India more recently, to apply these ideas to help alleviate the stresses that modern life brings with it.
There are several advantages in coupling modern technology with the idea of mindfulness. Smartphones are being used to deliver mindfulness exercises in short, convenient packages that people can employ when needed. They usually deliver guided sessions that help the user through a meditation session. These mindfulness programs have become easily customizable as well, helping people with stress-reduction, weight-maintenance, sleep enhancement and various other needs. The convenience of having our phones deliver to us these packages means that we need not strictly schedule them. A quiet five minutes after a lunch break is enough to get a quick, mindful boost. The commute is another occasion for such an exercise.
In answer to growing demand for such programs, the mindfulness industry has grown quite a lot in recent years. It is now pegged at USD 1.1. Billion in the US alone. Most of the important players in this field are smartphone apps. Headspace, Aware, Calm are the important ones, available on every major platform. These and other similar apps have become quite popular and are expected to continue to grow.
Answers to the problem of stress and anxiety in the modern world cannot be simplistic. They must come from various areas and must involve innovative admixtures of technologies, old and new. The smartphone-mindfulness combination is one such solution. The industry is a lively space, and one can expect even more innovation from it.