Issue No. 123: Connected Mindfulness

Courtney Powell

Thanks to gamified meditation, mindfulness has gone mainstream.

But smartphone apps were just the beginning.

From stress trackers and brain trainers to VR experiences, a new wave of innovation promises to unlock awareness and improve productivity. Elsewhere, high-tech, evidence-based protocols could help curb the mental health crisis.

Is connected mindfulness a breakthrough, contradiction, or both? Let’s take a look.

Top of Mind

Mindfulness is a path to inner peace — and outsized profits.

  • The global mental wellness economy is worth $121B.
  • Funding for mental health startups topped $1.6B in 2020.
  • The number of Americans who meditate tripled between 2012 and 2017.

As brands like CorePower Yoga and lululemon celebrated the mind-body connection, mindfulness went from esoteric to essential.

Less philosophical and more practical, meditation made its way onto the Home Screen and into everyday life. Calm, the leading meditation app, has been downloaded more than 100M times, propelling the company to a $2B valuation.

Next up? The ancient art of consciousness is getting a high-tech makeover.

Following the connected fitness blueprint, connected mindfulness companies are combining hardware, software, and content to create integrated offerings. If it catches on, brain training will give rise to mental fitness, complete with an exercise regimen for the mind.

Brain + Body

Beyond sitting in silence or downloading a smartphone app, technology is being used to optimize the brain + body connection.

Manifesting “mind over matter,” biofeedback is a technique for assessing and manipulating “unconscious” bodily processes, like blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.

While meditating or performing breathwork, electrical sensors monitor physiological responses and provide real-time “feedback.” With practice, this kind of mental training can be used to combat stress and improve well-being.

A step further, neurofeedback aims to optimize brain function. Using electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor brain activity, personalized feedback can help improve cognitive capabilities.

  • Brain health disorders account for $3T of lost productivity every year.
  • The global brain-computer interface market could reach $3.7B by 2027.
  • The global neurotechnology market is expected to cross $19B by 2026.

For now, noninvasive methods like brain-training headbands are bringing neurofeedback to the masses. Looking ahead, this could move us closer to an embedded brain-computer interface (BCI), à la Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

Until then, as new, more affordable technology is introduced, the brain-body connection will play a larger role in the pursuit of high-performance.

Connected Mindfulness

Doing nothing should be easy. But meditating is hard.

On some level, the challenge is both the process and the reward. Still, the learning curve stifles newcomers. Plus, it’s hard to know if you’re doing it right. And it can be impossible to interpret what’s really going on during a session.

Enter connected mindfulness. Combining elements of meditation and biofeedback with a variety of high-tech gadgets, a growing number of companies are reimagining the art of awareness.

Taking an expansive view, innovators in this category are seeking to quantify and enhance meditation, sleep, focus, relaxation, and more.

Heart rate variability. Measuring and training the passage of time between each heartbeat isn’t new. It is, however, getting an upgrade. WHOOP and Oura popularized heart rate variability (HRV). Elite HRV and HeartMath make devices for HRV training. And Apollo is tracking HRV to improve well-being.

Meditation tracking. Using technology to track the brain and body during meditation, it’s now possible to control the experience. Muse uses a headband, Core is a handheld device, Melomind offers electrode-equipped headphones, and Zendo relies on sensors applied to the forehead.

Flow and focus. Moving away from meditation and toward a brain-control interface, this category is all about pushing the limits of mental performance. NextMind’s brain-sensing wearable “reduces time between thought and action.” Neurable is translating brain activity into actionable insights. And Crown by Neurosity helps users achieve and maintain a flow state.

Stress and sleep. Neurotech and wearables are being used to eliminate stress and enhance sleep. Cove’s vibrating headband stimulates the brain to alleviate stress. Emvio measures stress to help users manage their emotions. On the sleep front, Dreem’s headband uses electrodes to monitor and improve sleep. Meanwhile, Modius by Neurovalens stimulates neurons in the brain to induce sleep.

Spaces and senses. Outside of wearables and brain tech, physical spaces are being designed to promote mindfulness. Float tanks achieve this through sensory deprivation. But some new spaces seek to create an amplified sensory experience:

The Somadome is a $14,500 pod that uses light and color therapy to improve well-being. Still in stealth, Ancient Ritual uses multi-sensory experiences to enhance mental and physical recovery. Similarly, Florens is planning a smart sauna experience for the home.

Beyond Wellness

A product of the pandemic, we’ve reached peak burnout. But the mental health crisis is nothing new. While meditation helps bring awareness to mental wellness, it won’t end the mental health epidemic.

Beyond high-tech mindfulness, digital therapeutics have shown promise in mitigating the mental health crisis.

Video games and virtual reality. The field of digital therapeutics is expansive, but gaming and virtual reality are gaining traction as a treatment for ADHD, autism, depression, and Alzheimer’s.

EndeavorRx became the first prescription video game, winning FDA approval for its game-based digital therapeutic used to treat ADHD. And Boston Children’s Hospital spin-out Mightier has raised more than $10M for its biofeedback-based video games that help children regulate their emotions.

Leveraging virtual reality, Psious developed a platform that uses exposure therapy to treat anxiety disorders. And XR Health uses VR for stress relief, cognitive therapy, pain management, and more.

Of note, MindMaze has raised more than $100M for its neurotech platform, developing digital therapeutics to treat cognitive and motor impairment. And it’s still early days.

Looking ahead: Yes, high-tech mindfulness is a paradox. But if it helps us access a heightened sense of consciousness or cure a chronic illness, we might be willing to overlook the contradiction. Until speculation becomes science, marketers will try to sway our opinion while researchers temper our expectations.

[Research: Caitlin Sugar and the Michigan Ross FitX team | Illustration: Courtney Powell]


🎙 On the Podcast

On the latest Fitt Insider podcast, we’re joined by Robin Thurston — chairman and CEO of Outside.

Outside, formerly known as Pocket Outdoor Media, is a platform for active lifestyle content and experiences.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The acquisitions, rebrand, and $150M in funding behind the Outside deal
  • A recurring revenue bundle for all aspects of an active lifestyle
  • The challenges and opportunities brought on by the pandemic

Listen to the full episode here.

🤑 Peloton’s Shopping Spree

Peloton quietly acquired three companies in recent months, purchasing Atlas Wearables, Aiqudo, and Otari.

  • Atlas Wearables makes fitness/activity-tracking smartwatches.
  • Aiqudo created an AI-powered digital voice assistant.
  • Otari developed an interactive workout mat and display screen.

Terms were not disclosed, but Bloomberg describes the deals as being “small,” citing figures from Peloton’s regulatory filings.

Moving beyond the bike—or cardio equipment alone—these acquisitions help upgrade Peloton’s technology capabilities as the company builds out a comprehensive connected fitness ecosystem.

Adding expertise across wearables, artificial intelligence, voice tech, and computer vision, new features like form tracking, personalized instruction, and voice commands could be coming to the Peloton platform.

In the product pipeline, a rower and strength training equipment have been rumored. Now, the Atlas deal suggests Peloton has ambitions to create its very own health-tracking smartwatch.

M&A. If you’re keeping track at home, here’s a look at Peloton’s transaction history (that we know of):

  • 2018: Neurotic Media’s music platform
  • 2019: Tonic Fitness, Gossamer Engineering
  • 2020: Precor, Peerfit (IP and staff), Atlas Wearables, Otari
  • 2021: Aiqudo

Punchline: Aiming to prove its smart bike is not a fad, Peloton plans to build the connected fitness platform of the future, acquiring the requisite pieces along the way.

🔑 Open for Business?

At long last, New York City boutique fitness studios reopened this week, albeit at 33% capacity. Gyms, on the other hand, have been open since September.

In Los Angeles County, gyms and studios can now operate at 10% capacity. Elsewhere, in an effort to return to business as usual, some states have lifted fitness-related restrictions altogether.

Fingers crossed, the worst of the pandemic is behind us. But even if that’s the case, the fitness industry has an uphill battle ahead of it.

  • US gym and studio revenue fell 58% last year, from $35B in 2019 to $15B in 2020.
  • As of Dec. 31, 2020, 19% of boutique studios and 14% of gyms closed permanently.
  • 44% of the fitness industry workforce, or 1.4M people, lost their jobs in 2020.

Major brands were forced to declare bankruptcy, including Flywheel Sports, YogaWorks, 24 Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Town Sports International, Cyc Fitness, In-Shape Health Clubs, and Youfit.

Looking ahead: As the tide begins to turn, a few questions remain. Mainly, can the industry rebound? And assuming it does, how long will it take to reach pre-pandemic levels?

📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • Ro, a direct-to-consumer pharmacy and healthcare platform, raised $500M in Series D funding at a $5B valuation. General CatalystFirstMark Capital, and TQ Ventures co-led the round.
    More from Fitt Insider: The DTC Healthcare Report
  • Happify Health, a healthcare platform developing digital therapeutics for chronic conditions, secured $73M in Series D funding led by Deerfield Management Company.
  • Dairy-free milk maker NotCo is seeking new funding at a valuation north of $1B. The brand is backed by Amazon founder Jeff BezosL Catterton, and General Catalyst, among others.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Quest for Cow-Free Milk
  • Eat Just, makers of plant-based egg alternatives and cultured meat, raised $200M in new funding to accelerate growth.
    More from Fitt Insider: Plant-based Everything
  • Glooko, a provider of remote patient monitoring and chronic care management for diabetes and obesity, raised $30M in Series D funding.
  • Beijing-based electronics company Xiaomi invested $15M into I-Fitness to develop content for Xiaomi’s digital and connected fitness efforts.
  • Riva Health, a mobile cardiology app, landed $15.5M in funding led by Menlo Ventures.
  • Digbi Health, a provider of genetics and gut microbiome-based digital care programs, secured $5.4M in Series A funding led by Accel.
  • Minded, a telehealth startup that renews and delivers mental health medications, added $2.2M in funding.
    More from Fitt Insider: Peak Burnout
  • Even, a solution for medication-induced nutrient depletions (MIND), closed $1.5M in seed funding.
  • Pison Technology, a startup using neuromuscular sensors to help people interact with digital interfaces, landed $7M in Series A funding.
  • Belfast-based Kairos, a sports technology company helping teams maximize preparation and performance, added £1.5M ($2M) in seed funding.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Quantified Athlete
  • Mondelēz International paid $277M for a “significant majority interest” in Grenade, a UK-based sports nutrition brand known for its high protein bar Carb Killa.
  • RoadRunner Holdings LLC acquired JoJé Bar, adding the real-food ingredient bar to its portfolio of active nutrition brands.
  • Eat the Change, the organic mushroom jerky company from Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman, raised $4.1M in new funding.
  • The SMART Tire Company raised more than $530K (so far) on Wefunder for its airless bicycle tire.

💸  Raising funding for your fitness or wellness startup? Get in touch.

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