Cloud Connected Meditation Apps Bring Peace of Mind

The backlash against the harmful impact of personal technologies is palpable, but a growing number of people are turning to cloud-powered services that bring calm and meditation into their lives anywhere, anytime.

By Jacob Gedetsis

By Jacob Gedetsis August 30 2019

These days, people are intricately tied to their smartphones and rarely disconnect. In a world buzzing with instant messages, mobile notifications and FOMO (fear of missing out), there’s a desperate need for calmness and internal peace that can be found away from connected devices. While many find ways to detox from the always-on lifestyle, a growing number of people are turning to technology to discover stillness and the wonders of meditation they crave.

A paper-thin device that rests under your sheets and monitors your sleep, smart home assistants that act as tech-driven therapists, and weight loss tips based on your breath are just a few examples of new WellTech that’s meeting people’s needs for peace of mind, according to Jeremiah Owyang, Industry Analyst, Kaleido Insights.

“We definitely think ‘WellTech’ is the next digital era,” said Owyang. “We’ve seen social media and the social economy, the digitization of the world around us. The next phase is the digitization of our bodies, augmenting us.”

The “wellness” industry is worth more than $4.2 billion, according to The Global Wellness Institute. And there have been $2.2 billion in investment into 97 modern wellness startups as of March 2019, according to Kaleido Insights. It’s a crowded field, but those at the top are reaping huge financial benefits. One of the largest players in the wellness app business, Headspace, has more than 36 million users and is valued at over $250 million dollars. This year, seven-year-old meditation application Calm reached a $1 Billion valuation.

Most of these companies bring meditation and mental wellness to people via smartphones, and many rely on cloud technology to run their services, according to Owyang.

“In almost every case, we are seeing this tech collecting data from a mobile phone,” he said. “And that is being paired with the cloud, which is how many startups quickly scale without having on-premises infrastructure, and they can grow as their usage base grows.”

Growing Desire for Peace of Mind

Owyang said these companies will need to meet growing demand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14.2% of American adults surveyed in 2017 said they had practiced meditation at least once in the last year. That’s a huge shift from 2012, when only 4.1% of adults said they practiced meditation.

Journey Meditation is one of those companies rushing to meet the growing desire for services that offer peace of mind. Four years ago, Stephen Sokoler launched the company to bring mental clarity and emotional calm to large groups through in-person presentations. The work of stillness soon became big business as the company expanded to 20 branches in the nation’s biggest cities with clients like Nike, Disney and Facebook.

But Sokoler saw the physical limitations of that in-person experience. So, he built Journey Live, a mobile app, powered by cloud technology. It allows anyone in the world to meditate with a live instructor. Journey Live has 15-minute classes that are available nearly every hour. They also include on-demand sessions.

The wellness bug struck Sokoler several years ago, when he was among the masses of hard charging entrepreneurs feeling stressed and overwhelmed. That frazzle came from running his own startup company, Altrum Honors, while living amidst the bustle of New York City.

“Meditation was very misunderstood as religious, difficult, spiritual and confusing...I thought we could do much better by meeting people where they were physically, financially and emotionally.”

Stephen Sokoler

Then he found meditation.

“Life is stressful no matter who you are, and meditation really helped me,” Sokoler said.

“After I sold my company in September 2014, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but quickly realized I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.”

So, he began to share what enlightened his life.

Sokoler found meditation through Buddhism and realized that the health-related benefits of the practice could reach a much wider audience.

“Meditation was very misunderstood as religious, difficult, spiritual and confusing,” Sokoler said. “I thought we could do much better by meeting people where they were physically, financially and emotionally.

”These ideas match what Oywang sees as drivers of the WellTech era. Oywang said that we are turning toward technology as a reasonable way to address issues within four major wellness categories: our minds, bodies, communities and spaces.

Community Engagement, Grow with Cloud

Journey Meditation works to incorporate all these major areas and Sokoler believes that their focus on community is critical to success.

“Live video has the ability for people to ask questions, interact and meditate with a friend, parent, colleague or a partner in real-time to share that experience,” Sokoler said. 

When crafting the app, he noticed that other major players lacked the community that group meditation creates. He wanted to recreate what he saw as the driving force of his in-person sessions through technology. Each of Journey’s classes bring meditators and teachers together in real-time via video or audio forming a shared experience.

As they continue to grow, the Journey team has tinkered with its interface and is actively making changes based on user data. Julien Veneziano, head of engineering at Journey and his team, rely heavily on data-driven analytics. Using a public cloud, they connect compatible technologies that crunch data like screen time and user movement into actionable changes.

They also empower AB testing, where a few users are given different interfaces, as they continue to change the app to maximize a user’s experience and time spent meditating.

The public cloud lets the team easily scale up and down as needed, and all trends point that they will need to scale up. Since the launch, they have had users from around the world join sessions and meditate together.

“This helps to democratize the practice,” Sokoler said. “We see people tuning in from Australia, Colombia, and even India. It's really beautiful to have this worldwide community of people that are meditating together.”

Given the power of the cloud and the popularity of the WellTech movement, digital meditation entities like Journey are ready for growth. If and when they add in 5G and more sophisticated AI that gives users real-time health updates and information, Oywang said the wellness boom will expand even further.

Jacob Gedetsis is a contributing writer. His work has appeared in The Kansas City Star, The Post Standard and The Plain Dealer, among others. Find him on Twitter @JacobGedetsis.

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