For Jason Tafler, the road to mindfulness began with a near-death experience, but the company he created afterwards, Unyte, is breathing new life into meditation practice with digital technology and even virtual reality experiences.
Using a biofeedback device known as the iom2 developed through the acquisition of a technology firm called Wild Divine, Unyte monitors an individual’s breathing and heart rate as they sit still, focus on their breathing and other activities that are typically part of meditation practices. Instead of merely closing their eyes, however, users can watch a tablet screen to see images or nature and other virtual worlds, or wear a VR headset for an even more immersive session.
For Tafler, the journey to create Unyte started when he was the chief digital officer of Rogers Communications, a Canadian telecommunications company, and found himself in a meeting where his skin turned yellow and he was rushed to the hospital with internal bleeding. As he recovered, he realized his illness was compounded by 20 years of working 80-hour weeks in various organizations over the course of his career.
“I thought I was invincible — an executive, who worked hard, always pushed myself to the limit,” he told B2B News Network. “That was a big shocker.”
After taking more than six months off work, Tafler began practicing meditation based on a book he had been given in the hospital. Like many struggling to learn mindfulness, it didn’t take right away.
“I had a very busy, active mind, probably like a lot of executives, and it was constantly about 80 per cent in the future and not in the present,” he said.
Around the same time, he got an e-mail from someone who knew Wild Divine was looking for a buyer, and realized its pioneering work in bio-feedback — the firm has been making products since 2000 — could be the foundation for a technology-assisted meditation and wellness platform. Though Unyte sells to consumers, Tafler said much of its initial clientele comes through B2B channels, such as clinics, schools and even some interest from insurance firms in the corporate sector. The company’s cloud-based dashboard means “You see the state of your nervous system reflected on the screen,” he said.
Of course, wearing a VR headset can be as polarizing as the idea of meditation itself to fidgety skeptics, but Tafler said it’s not required and users can opt for a more traditional screen instead.
“Your brain doesn’t realize if it’s in the past present or future,” using the iom2, he said. “You’re in this very relaxed parasympathetic nervous system state. It can be a very impactful piece of the puzzle.”
Though meditation might seem like a difficult area in which to determine return on investment (ROI), Tafler pointed out that Unyte customers can serve a considerable number of patients, students or other users for the cost of a single therapy session (the subscription rate for its SaaS service starts at $59.95). Other metrics can include a lower rate of drop-outs from health-care programs, he added, and of course the resonance score provides hard numbers on the results of individual sessions.
As more organizations begin paying attention to mental health issues in the workplace, Tafler said he hopes Unyte can help others avoid the kind of near-burnout he went through, or at least the kind of presence that leads to deeper gratitude and fulfillment.
“I think you’re seeing a groundswell (of interest among CEOs),” he said. “This is becoming a large-scale business all around the world.”