Stress is killing us. Daily demands and pressures all too often preoccupy our thoughts, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Recent clinical data suggest that more than 70 percent of American adults regularly experience psychological and physical symptoms caused by stress, which include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, and irritability. Personally, I am surprised this number is not higher, as our fast-paced lifestyles and the pressure to always be connected and “plugged in” is a recipe for disaster.
Many of us have heard that meditation can be used to slow down our thoughts, improve our mind-body connection, and serve as an excellent way to de-stress. Numerous studies have confirmed that meditation can help individuals control anxiety and depression and that it may offer other health-related benefits. Despite these benefits, meditation is not a common practice for many of us. Perhaps this is because many of us do not know where to start or feel like we lack the time, funds, and/or effort to learn how to do it properly.
Fortunately, over the last few years, a growing number of innovative companies have introduced products designed to make meditation easier and more affordable. One such company is Merlin Digital, an electronics and digital technology company based in Dubai, who in 2016 launched IntelliSense, a meditation gadget that utilizes virtual reality (VR) and heart rate variability (HRV) to help people achieve a more relaxed and coherent state. HRV closely reflects the activity of the autonomic nervous system and the body’s stress response. Using this biomarker to provide meditators with real-time biofeedback is somewhat unique in that we only know of a few other companies, such as Unyte and HeartMath, that currently use this same approach.
We at Medgadget were given the chance to trial IntelliSense and our product review follows below.
Out of the Box
IntelliSense is a small, rectangular device that connects to an ear-clip heart rate sensor. It arrives in a basic cardboard box that varies from the sleek, modern approach that many of today’s startups are adopting.
Comfort and Fit
The heart rate sensor fits comfortably, as it clips securely to the user’s earlobe without applying too much pressure. It was not clear in the user manual, but the heart rate sensor will automatically turn on and begin tracking your heart rate once you clip it to your earlobe. Another downside is that I still have not figured out how to check the battery level of IntelliSense, as there does not appear to be a charge indicator on the device or in the app.
Usability and Smartphone App
It is worth mentioning that IntelliSense doesn’t come with a VR headset, therefore you need to purchase one off the shelf yourself. Before your initial use, you download the IntelliSense HRV free app on your Android or iOS device, plug in your personal information, and select your desired settings, such as your background music – 8 choices in all – as well as your breathing type and difficulty level.
The IntelliSense HRV app is simple and easy to use. The home screen includes an icon to check the heart sensor connectivity at to select from three VR scenes – Serene Oasis, Sea of Tranquility, or Valley of Flowers. You can also track your personal history and progress from the home screen, as well as compare your scores to other IntelliSense users around the world, if you’re the competitive type. A cool feature is that this heart rate monitor is also compatible with other fitness apps like MapMyRun and Strava, to name a few.
To start a meditation session, you simply connect the heart rate sensor to your ear, select your VR scene, slip your smartphone into a 3D VR headset and put it on. Once your session begins, a faint, unobtrusive circular breathing indicator appears in the center of your VR scene. The goal is to inhale as the circle expands and exhale as it collapses, to help control and optimally pace your breathing. By focusing on breathing with the circle, I found that my thoughts did not seem to wander as much as they have in the past whenever I have tried to meditate. I think that staring at a peaceful VR scene versus the back of my eyelids also helped minimize distracting thoughts.
IntelliSense uses HRV to provide users with real-time feedback on performance via intermittent written cues and through the accrual of color-coded blocks around the rim of the breath circle as time elapses, which helps users refine their mental state. As users become calmer, so do the visual and auditory aspects of the VR environment – i.e. the wind dies down, birds may begin flying and chirping, or shooting stars will start appearing, etc. Overall, the graphics are pleasant and relaxing but appear rudimentary and unrealistic. Given the advancement in VR over the last few years, I was expecting the graphics to be of higher quality. Another drawback is the lack of voice-guided instruction if users would like to close their eyes while meditating.
We believe IntelliSense achieves what it set out to do – it definitely helps users learn how to attain a more relaxed and focused meditative state. We find the idea of using 3D VR and real-time biofeedback to help users reap the benefits of meditation very exciting. However, we believe both the quality of the app design and graphics have room for improvement, as those would make IntelliSense more competitive in this novel market.
IntelliSense retails for AED 295 ~ $80 on Merlin Digital’s official website. Medgadget readers can receive 25% off by using this coupon: MERLIN25