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Your iPhone says you should breathe now

A Stanford researcher builds a Fitbit for the mind that records how often and how deeply you breathe, in an effort to teach self-awareness.

Max Taves Staff Reporter
Max writes about venture capitalism and startups while seeking out the new new thing to come out of Silicon Valley. He joined CNET News from The Wall Street Journal, where he contributed stories on commercial real estate, architecture, big data and more. He's also written for LA Weekly, Slate and American Lawyer Media's The Recorder, where he covered legal battles in Silicon Valley. Max holds degrees from Georgetown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Max Taves
3 min read

Spire, a wearable that purports to know your mind, is on display at CES in Las Vegas.

Max Taves/CNET

Neema Moraveji wants to measure your life.

Moraveji has spent the last two years creating and building the Spire Stone. About the size of an egg and shaped a bit like a stone, it clips to your belt or bra and records how deeply and often you breathe. Rather than quantify mere physiological functions, however, the Spire Stone is designed to evaluate the most ethereal part of your being: the psyche.

"It's tracking your state of mind," the 30-something co-creator told me as he cradled the $149 device at this week's CES 2016 conference in Las Vegas. "Your state of mind is reflected in the way that you breathe. That's the key."

The Spire Stone is the latest example of the technology industry's seemingly boundless conceit to study, track and fix everything in your life. You can record how deeply you sleep with a bed-mounted monitor, how well you eat with a digital food journal and how far you walk with a high-tech pedometer.

The other day as I was walking around the tech confab in Las Vegas, I saw a pair of "smart" shorts that compare the tilt and rotation of your pelvis to an Olympian's. No joke.

The industry's fixation on quantifying even the most pedestrian parts of life -- you can track your dog's activity to see if Fido burned off the Alpo -- reflects growing demand. Consumers seem obsessed with measuring everything about their lives. They're expected to drop $53 billion annually on wearable technology by 2019, according to Juniper Research.

Moraveji said the Spire Stone, which looks like a chrome belt clip, is more than a respiratory Fitbit or Garmin, both of which measure your heart rate and calories burned. The stone uses your breathing data to gauge your sense of well-being and then shares its evaluation through an iPhone app notification, or vibrations if you prefer.

"You haven't had a deep breath in 20 minutes. You seem tense now," Spire's app might read.

Another message could be more positive: "You just a had 20-minute calm streak. Great job!"

Spire, which calls itself "your personal mindfulness coach," also records the last week or month of your mind's state of being. It displays the information in colored bar charts. Red is bad; green, good.

Is the Spire Stone more than a high-tech mood ring? I don't know. I'm a journalist, not a scientist. This dude is a researcher. Plus he's pretty calm. Maybe really calm.

Moraveji, tall, lanky and unshaven, studied the relationship between health and breathing during his doctoral program at Stanford, where he says he founded the Calming Technology Lab.

Your state of mind, Moraveji assured me, is a function of your breathing patterns.

"In the entire nervous system, breathing is the thing that's under your conscious control," he said. "You can change the way you breathe immediately. That's why yoga uses it. That's why meditation uses it."

For what it's worth, more than 200 customer reviews on Amazon are pretty positive.

"Being able to track through my day when I was calm, when I was in focus, when I was tense, it's really helpful information," wrote one happy customer.

'It's hot!'

The Spire Stone isn't without issues.

A woman next to me at Spire's booth clipped a stone to her pants. "It's hot!" she yelped.

Moraveji recommended she move the stone to her bra. Um, OK. Not necessarily where I'd want a hot rock, but all right.

"So how many of these have you sold so far?" I asked.

"I can't disclose that," he said, after taking a long, deep breath.