Pause Is A Super Simple Mindfulness App From ustwo

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If you’re tired of all the digital demands on your time and attention, take note: there’s a (new) iOS app for that. Pause — the latest release from digital design studio ustwo (aka the maker of Monument Valley) — is billed as a “relaxation and meditation experience” aimed at combating stress and the kind of scatterbrained thinking our multi-tasking, multi-device always-on existences risks encouraging.

How does an app counter too much multi-tasking? By getting the user to follow instructions aimed at calming them down. What this means in practice is encouraging them to put their finger on the screen to touch a small, amorphous blob, and move it around very gently. As the user moves their finger they are schooled to slow down (if they go too fast), or keep going (if they stop entirely — when, presumably, they get distracted by thoughts of all those unanswered emails).

As they move the undulating blob it swells in size, satisfyingly so, until — if you’re patient enough — it grows large enough to fill the screen. At which point the app suggests you might want to close your eyes, and — hopefully — experience that elusive moment of calm.

A bell will chime once your (customizable) time-out is over.

As well as lava-lamp-ish blobs and calming colors, there’s a soothing soundtrack of suitably ambient sounds (birds chirping, water washing) to soak the ear, delivered via earbuds-only for a more immersive experience. (And talking of immersive, expect a deluge of similar relaxation ‘experiences’ coming down the virtual reality pipe next year.)

Pause is a pretty simple app, which is entirely the point. For people who tie their stomach into stressed-out-knots flying from notification to notification, it might be just the ticket to a brief period of calm amid notification hell. (Albeit, the app can’t actually stop your phone’s notifications pinging in on its mindful bubble.)

That said, the team is looking to do an update that will make use of the new 3D Touch screen on Apple’s latest iPhones — so they are thinking about what more they can do with Pause. Presumably iPhone 6s/6s Plus users could also be schooled to reduce stress by moderating how hard they press, as well as how smoothly they move.

Trying Pause out ahead of release I found the app pretty relaxing. But was also reminded slightly of this…

It’s the second such mobile health release from ustwo, following the launch of a health journal app called Moodnotes this summer — that app in partnership with Thriveport.

Pause is billed as drawing on “ancient Tai Chi and mindfulness practice”, and is a collaboration between ustwo’s Malmo studio and Danish mental wellness company PauseAble.

Is there any hard science behind the app? Not in terms of placebo controlled trials involving statistically significant numbers of research subjects, no. But as they were iterating various concepts and doing real-time prototyping the team used electroencephalogram brain-scanning tech to attempt to validate their approach.

“Data from the testing sessions has been analysed and confirmed in collaboration with Dr. Chi Thanh Vi, Human-Computer Interaction Researcher at the University of Sussex,” ustwo notes.

They also point to scientific research as underpinning their approach — such as a psychology theory called “attention restoration process” — which involves avoiding calling on “tired cognitive patterns”, as well as being away from the everyday environment (although you are still on your phone).

And the relaxation response in physiology, which is triggered through repetitive, deliberate muscular movements — hence requiring users first focus on finger movements.

Pause is a paid app, with a $1.99 price-point. Others in the digital mindfulness space include meditation startup Headspace, which last month raised $30 million, and offers a subscription based model for guided meditations. There’s also meditation app is Calm,  which offers both a free app and different subscription models for those with more demanding relaxation needs.