Peng Cheng: The man behind the mindfulness app

By Amie Henderson

If I’m not mistaken, we’re not supposed to be within 100 metres of our iPhone (other time and energy-sapping devices are available) when attempting to relax. But it’s a struggle; I’m not going to lie. Time spent exercising, practicing mindfulness, perhaps meditating, often sleeping… only to find 17 emails, 2 missed calls, 3 Facebook messages and 3 new Twitter followers on return. It’s not possible to truly switch off with your phone nearby. Fact.

It’s an assumption contested by Peng Cheng, founder of technology company PauseAble. Having suffered for years from depression and stress, Peng Cheng gave himself six months to recover using a combination of meditation and Tai Chi. Tai Chi inspired the globally successful app Pause, a collaboration between PauseAble and London-based digital product studio usTwo, which launched two years ago. Now we have Sway – an interactive meditation app for iOS that’s designed to help users practice mindfulness in everyday life.

Sway app

“Pause was inspired by the Chinese Tai Chi practice – the slow, continuous, gentle body movements that direct attention away from negative thoughts and anchoring attention to the present moment” Peng Cheng explains. Having left his native China for Denmark 15 years ago with studies in interaction design under his belt, Peng Cheng believed it possible to apply the slow, continuous and gentle movement principle onto your fingertip and therefore onto your smartphone screen.

“Pause is simple and effective, it worked so well it cured my depression. But with the finger movement, it began to feel quite limited” Peng Cheng explains. Sway works by encouraging movement rather than screen interaction. “With Sway we wanted to liberate the interaction, using a device’s motion sensitive technology to enable a full body experience”. Scientifically validated, Sway allows you to practice mindfulness using subtle wrist movements or expressive arm movements with your phone in your hand, or you can pop it in your pocket and simply sway. As it turns out, it is possible to achieve all the benefits of mindfulness using your iPhone.

“We look at technology as a new way to express ancient wisdom. It’s about how we design the interactive and digital experiences, not to compete for limited human attention, but to help restore and cultivate attention. That’s the message we want to send with Pause and Sway” Peng Cheng told me. Sway works using the gyroscope and accelerometer motion sensors that already exist in your device. They detect your slow, continuous, gently body movements and provide a digital visual and audio experience to help you sustain mindful movements for a longer period of time. The end result is a mindful state, tried and tested by yours truly.

Sway Pause app

Now I don’t want to sound like a skeptic, but guided meditation has never really worked for me before. I’m easily distracted and very likely to simply fall asleep if left in a quiet room for too long. How does the interactive meditation offered by Pause and Sway compare to a more guided approach? “Guided meditation is powerful, but it requires dedicated time and quiet places to practice and you must be in a passive state to follow instruction. Interactive meditation puts the user in the driving seat; it’s driven by your choice of body movements in a mindful way. The technology provides the feedback to support the process” Peng Cheng explains.

It’s clear that both Pause and its newer sibling Sway are laying the foundations of interactive meditation. But what does the future hold? “We look forward to introducing more unique benefits of interactive meditation to the world” Peng Cheng told me. “We’re going to create a more constructive relationship between design, technology and human wellbeing”.

Both Pause and Sway are available to download for iOS devices from your App Store, Pause is also available on Google Play.

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