Our ESE 519 team was approached by Dr. Nalaka Gooneratne with a research problem to explore mindfulness states, the physiologic variables associated with them, and the possibility of developing a methodology for recording and associating links between these variables in real-time. The obvious problem is the inherent black-box nature of a such a system, given the uniqueness of human physiologic factors and their response to external stimuli. Furthermore, could we use such a system beyond its inherent diagnostic usefulness and develop it into a closed-loop monitoring-process-feedback system? That is, could we analyze a person’s key physiologic factors, within a loose framework that compared relative changes in these factors and the changes in their coupling among one another, and produce a stimulus or stimuli that guides the wearer to a desired state of mindfulness? (see the diagram below).
What is Mindfulness?
According to mindfulness.org, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain. More information on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation can be found here.
Primary physiologic characteristics include relative changes in:
- Heart rate (ECG)
- Respiratory rate
- Hand and head movement
- Core body temperature
- Extraocular eye movement
- Galvanic skin response
- Brain wave activity (EEG)
How can we develop a system to identify progressively deeper levels of mindfulness (the relative shift in mindfulness/relaxation of a patient), indicated by a series of physiological signals, compared to their baseline; produce a stimulus/stimuli to notify the user/wearer; and introduce negative feedback to elicit a controlled response?
Currently, there doesn’t exist a reliable method for distinguishing, in real-time, various states of mindfulness unique to a particular person. Research has suggested that the real-time variability of certain physiological factors, including respiratory and heart rates, can be indicators of these states. However, given the inherently black-box system presented by the unique physiologic responses a person has, there is a need for a device to test how reliable these physiological factors are in indicating these states especially with the addition of a stimulus.
The next few posts will detail our methodology, baseline and reach goals, and preliminary results.