Mindfulness as a commodity has gotten a little out of control. Don’t get me wrong, I pay for a subscription to Headspace, a meditation app co-founded by a former Buddhist monk. And I credit cultivating awareness with relieving my depression and helping me give up booze. But when a company reached out to me asking if I’d like to try their “unique mindfulness hardware product,” I was dubious.
They claimed that if I simply listened to the N.O.W. Tone Therapy System twice a day — three minutes at a time — my life would change. Research gets behind the benefits of sound therapy for reducing stress, but I was doubtful that six minutes of intentional listening would do anything for my mental well-being.
But sometimes it’s hard to sit for 20 minutes to focus on my breath. So the idea of a short, effective meditation experience intrigued me.
What is N.O.W.?
These New Origin Waveforms are audio sequences that remind me of something that would start off a yoga session. The sounds were created and recorded by Michael Joly, an audio product designer who studies meditation and focuses on the metaphysical aspects of sound. His co-founder, Alene Sibley, is an intuitive coach (which is like a psychic life coach, she tells me).
The tones — as I call them — play out of two speakers to create a new combination of sounds each session. This presents the user with something novel each time. “Because it’s always different, it’s hard to compare one moment to a previous moment,” says Joly. “When you can pull back from judgment, what’s left is a pure awareness of the moment. And that’s deeply peaceful.”
What did I think?
I opened the box to find two small, circular speakers designed to do one thing — play the tones. My first thoughts: why isn’t this an app, and why would anyone pay $149 for speakers that can’t do anything else?
The founders acknowledge it seems old-fashioned to design a physical product without multiple uses, but they want to reduce the number of choices a user has in a given moment. Since phones offer a plethora of distractions, Sibley said she hopes having the speakers out in the real world might encourage people to take more mindfulness breaks.
With my first three minute session, I was impressed by how quickly my mind and body relaxed. Not having to reach for my phone resulted in a more focused experience. The sounds were really pleasant and definitely interrupted the chatter in my head without any effort on my part. I’ve meditated for a few years, but immediate calm is not something that happens when I’m sitting quietly with my thoughts.
And when I turned the speakers on, there was a three-second delay. This pause “tricks the user into creating an intentional silent space, to begin to bring focus” says Joly. After, it played for three minutes — and no more — it turned itself off.
Why only three minutes?
I admit that the tones are so calming that I want them to go on for longer, but the short duration is by design. “With people’s busy lives, almost anyone can give three minutes of attention and not have to schedule a block of time to work at their ‘meditation’,” says Joly. “If it required more time, people wouldn’t use it,” added Sibley.
Are they worth it?
My non-scientific conclusion is that the tones are definitely a meditation-like experience — and one that I look forward to. After using them for several months, I have a daily sense of calm I didn’t have before. It could be that since it’s only a few minutes at a time — instead of a 20-minute meditation sit down — I’m less likely to skip a session. And I love the fact that they’re portable and not on my phone.
If you’re looking for a mindfulness aid, the cost of the N.O.W. ($149) is comparable to the that of a two-year subscription to Headspace ($192) or Calm ($120). Listening to the tones won’t replace my meditation practice, but they do provide me with a mental break when I don’t have the energy to sit down for almost a half-hour.
And if you try N.O.W. and don’t like it, just send it back. Users can use the product for 90 days and get a full refund if they’re unsatisfied.
“We’re asking people to trust the product,” says Sibley. “But in the end, there is no risk. It has to be a life changer.”