Maybe hacking your meditation practice with high-tech programs and devices also is the ultimate irony, but can they really be time savers? A brain-trainer?
I tested three systems that promised to deliver more quickly the effects of meditation.
As they say about traditional meditation, you don't feel the benefits while you're sitting but throughout your day. Was I calmer, more present, focused? Perhaps. Each device allowed me the freedom and lack of interruptions to reach a peaceful, altered state of awareness.
Here's what I found:
A sci-fi recliner
The Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village houses a Somadome, a device that looks like a sci-fi super recliner. The 5-by-6-foot pod with a hinged, illuminated dome lid bathes users in color immersion light therapy while they don headphones and select one of eight themed sessions, including Love, Relax, Recharge and Succeed.
When I pick Manifest, the dome glows lavender and a guided track utters phrases such as, "I am one with the universal mind…the great subconscious mind. " My consciousness doesn't register that beats are surging through the headphones, the better to help me access brain wave states normally reached through meditation. My eyelids grow verrrrry heavy as I slip into relaxed, refreshing semiconsciousness that seems to end too soon.
The makers say using the device two or three times weekly can develop healthier mental and physical patterns and help liberate users from the constant distraction of modern society. The device is now at six resorts, including the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. At the Westlake Village Four Seasons, a session is $85, or $45 with an additional spa service.
Building on the concept of lucid dreaming, the Dream Reality Cinema program uses a film series to train the unconscious to bring improvements to the conscious life and with practice, control them. The process, developed by Hungarian philosopher and human cybernetics researcher Sandor Lengyel, is said to offer "pure uninterrupted access to the subconscious."
Eager to reach that state, I enter the darkened back room of a Beverly Hills storefront, recline in one of two zero-gravity chairs and don noise-cancelling headphones and video glasses. After a short introduction, the glasses display a 40-minute, surrealistic movie filled with colorful, abstract images. Throughout, a voice exhorts in various ways that I'm successful, in control, powerful. I struggle to stay awake.
The website details many of the expected physiological benefits, but I had none, apparently; just a vivid, nightmarish dream that night. The best progress is achieved, according to the website, by two to three weekly visits continuously; each session is $80, or eight for $240. Info: www.dreamrealitycinema.com
A headband for the mind
Fun fact: When your brain neurons are active, they release electricity. Muse, a brain-wave-sensing headband, connects via Bluetooth to a mobile app that measures and rewards your meditation-training progress by the consistency of your focus. The app also instructs you on how to correctly position the headband and interpret the wearable tech's real-time biofeedback.
Using the app, fitting the headband and focusing my thoughts to calibrate the device is easy. Not so easy? Maintaining the steadiness. When my mind wanders, the headband measures the activity and translates it in real time to the app's soundscape. With the beach soundtrack, lapping waves and wind intensify when I lose focus. When my brain settles into calm, I hear chirping birds (a distraction I disabled). The sounds act like road signs to keep my meditation on track and learn new meditation methods.
Muse creators meant to gamify meditation for "an achievement-oriented demographic that likes devices and measurable feedback," according to Jackie Cooper, a company marketing executive. After sessions, users receive an email that elaborates on the techniques employed — such as counting breaths — or helpful reminders that using Muse may be simple, but sticking to a practice isn't always easy. The device retails for $249. Wanderlust Hollywood offers Wednesday training sessions. Info: www.choosemuse.com