Merging Mindfulness with Technology*

August 8, 2017

The Bay Area is home to both the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and the world’s largest concentration of tech companies. At the intersection is Brandon Rennels, SIYLI’s teacher development manager, whose practice has evolved to leverage mindfulness-related technology. As many of us know all too well, technology is often more of a distraction than anything else, so balancing the tech world with mindfulness requires a judicious approach. From the selection of apps to how they’re used, Brandon offers suggestions and a reminder: Mindfulness-related technology is only helpful if it deepens our awareness of the present moment.

How did you discover mindfulness?
I discovered mindfulness practice though a class at the University of Michigan. It was taught by a lovely professor who encouraged us to experiment with different meditations and see what resonated. We then created our own customized eight-week program of practice, and each week we sat together and discussed what was coming up for us. It was amazing.

What kind of technology do you incorporate into your practice?
There are a few simple technologies that I use to support my practice. But before I get into that, it’s important to state from the beginning that technology is helpful to me only to the degree it deepens my awareness of the present moment and how I am relating to that moment. Technology can be a massive distraction, and many apps, even meditation apps, can function in ways that actually bring my attention away from my direct experience.

That said, I’ve found certain technologies can be helpful. Wendy Palmer’s Leadership Embodiment app helps remind me to periodically take 20 seconds to pause and center. Lumo Lift supports awareness of my body and posture throughout the day, especially when I’m at the computer. I’ve taken a number of Alexander Technique lessons, which I experience as a form of mindfulness, and the Lumo Lift helps me remember basics of the technique.

There are a growing number of guided meditation apps out there. While I don’t have a specific catch-all recommendation, if people want to use an app while meditating I would advise they find one they really like and commit to using it for a while.

While working, I sometimes use timed mindfulness bells at set intervals. I have a pretty strict rule of not sitting at the computer for longer than 90 minutes without taking a break. I often listen to instrumental music while working on projects and answering emails, so to make this rule easy for myself I create playlists that are roughly 90 minutes. When the music stops, I get up.

How does tech improve your experience?
Two essential components of my mindfulness practice are Stopping and Looking Deeply. If I can’t stop, can’t rest in this moment and sense what’s truly alive, I have no hope of transforming suffering in myself or the world.

The technologies I use are essentially automated reminders for me to stop. To take a breath. And to then inquire: What’s alive for me right now? How is my body in this moment? How is my mind in this moment? Is it time for a break? Or is there something I’m distracting myself from, something that I’m feeling or sensing that part of me doesn’t want to see? Perhaps most importantly: Am I being kind to myself in this moment?

Would you recommend a tech-based approach to others?
As I mentioned, I’d recommend people engage with mindfulness-related technology only to the extent it helps them deepen their mindfulness practice. Nothing more, nothing less.

I think a common path—or, perhaps more accurately, pitfall—that people have in relation to technology is to download a bunch of meditation apps or get fancy wearable gadgets and never use them.

It’s great to experiment, just as I did in that meditation class in college, to find what personally resonates. But once you’ve found something, I recommend going for it wholeheartedly for, say, at least a year before adding on another app. In this case, the old adage applies: “Less is more.”

*This is the third blog in a series that shares the stories of SIYLI staff and their mindfulness practices. Read the other blogs: “Loving Kindness: Two Years and Going Strong” and “Unexpected Rewards.”