Fitness, Mind & Body

watchOS 8 includes redesigned Breathe and new Reflect apps


The tech brand has announced a slew of new mindfulness features as a part of watchOS 8.

Whether you’re a total meditation buff or literally hate the idea of being alone with your own thoughts for more than 30 seconds – we can probably all agree that making time to take stock and re-centre is probably an important thing to do in today’s chaotic world (and in the last year in particular).

If you already are the proud owner of an Apple watch, you’ll be familiar with their existing ‘Breathe’ technology. It’s the bomb.com.

However, if you’re not yet on the bandwagon – Breathe is a 1-5 minute relaxation session of guided breaths to help you take a short time out from the day-to-day.

We like to think of this as a ‘snackable’ meditation. It’s quick, easy to do – and you can do it anywhere – on the train, after a long day WFH, and even when your parents/sibling/in laws/children are being a bit of a nightmare.

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In its just-announced watchOS 8 (the latest software for Apple watch that is currently in testing and will be available for public use in Spring), Apple is expanding Breathe to include a new ‘Reflect’ feature, and the app will now be called Mindfulness.

Body+Soul recently had the opportunity to sit down with Julz Arney, the Director of Fitness and Health Technologies at Apple, about how these new developments on the Apple watch can help us recalibrate and relax, in such a small, approachable space of time.

“We talk about them as being bite sized,” Arney explains about Apple’s ‘Breathe’ and ‘Reflect’ experiences. “We thought that it was a really great place for people to start because it had instant results and it didn’t feel like you needed to know anything before you got started.”

“Small moments of mindfulness can be just as impactful, the science says, as doing longer sessions like sitting in a meditation, which is also great,” she says. “If you want to build a habit, you have to start small, you have to start frequent, and it’s got to be available to you and it’s got to be approachable.”

So, what does ‘Reflect’ add to the mindfulness offering?

Arney explains that Reflect is an opportunity for mindful intention. The user is prompted with a thoughtful notion, which invites a more positive frame of mind. Prompt examples include: ‘Reflect on one thing you’re grateful for and think about why you appreciate it so much’ and ‘Recall a time recently when you felt a sense of calm. Bring that feeling into this moment.’

“The themes and prompts in Reflect have been well demonstrated in scientific research to improve our ability to regulate our emotions, and that is a key part of training for resilience,” Arney explains.

“Such an important skill. And those two things together, regulating our emotions and working on our ability to be more resilient – they create just a general, more positive mindset and sense of wellbeing.”

There’s also a lot of variation in the type of prompts. They can help you to destress (calm, focus and resilience), to help you feel more in touch with yourself and those around you (purpose, kindness and gratitude) and help you understand your thoughts and experiences better (awareness, creativity, wisdom).

As a part of the mindfulness update, the Breathe function has also been redesigned, with an updated visual and prompts such as:

  • Focus: Pay attention to the coolness of your breath on the inhale and the warmth of your breath on the exhale to promote greater focus.
  • Centre: Lightly touch your belly to instil a sense of grounding or centeredness as you breathe.
  • Connect: Softly touch your chest and connect with your heart as you inhale and exhale.

As big fans of meditation here at Body+Soul, there’s no doubt that longer sessions also have their place and importance. However, Apple’s 1-5 minute exercises are a perfect opportunity to create clear ‘junctions’ in your day: to turn away from a negative headspace, quell your anxiety and check in with how you’re feeling. Goodbye spiralling thoughts!

We tend to also find that when you’ve done one minute, you’re probably inclined to do more. Just like exercising, the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more you love it.

The best way to use these new features? Arney says it’s about perfecting the alerts, which will remind you to complete the Breathe or Reflect session.

“One of the settings that you can just kind of ‘set it and forget it’ is at the start of your day and end of your day…If you ask mindfulness experts how to best to build your practice it’s to bookend your day,” she explains.

The Apple watch will intelligently make sense of your daily routine and automatically suggest a session at the optimum time for you. If you know you’re going to need a time out at a certain time of day (i.e. just before picking up the kids from school) – you can also set timers in the app for specific moments.

“You have complete control over how to create that habit,” Arney adds.

Now, you may be wondering. Isn’t technology one of the reasons we don’t have enough time in our day to begin with? The double edge sword isn’t lost on us – or Apple. It’s all about balance, and Arney says technology can add to our lives if it’s designed in the right way.

“More positive human connection is always ideal, right? Technology can help us do that, whether it’s connecting with a loved one on FaceTime when you can’t be with them in person or just connecting with your own thoughts and feelings in a moment of quiet, which can bring more focus and awareness to your day and a greater sense of calm,” she says.

“And speaking about mindfulness practice…Generally, isolation and inattention can make you feel lonely and unsatisfied. We’re hearing this right, left and centre right now. Feeling more connected is a remedy for isolation. And bringing more focus to your mind melts away those moments of distraction. So these are some of the benefits of mindfulness…in as little as a minute in your day.”

Alongside Mindfulness there will be two new mentally-stimulating exercises you can track (Pilates and Tai Chi), and new respiratory rate tracking in the sleep app. Apple also announced ‘Focus’, a feature to help drown out unwanted notifications during specific activities, such as working out. It is clear Apple is committed to contributing in the wellness space long-term.

“If you if you look at the history of how far we’ve come in health and fitness in the last six years with the launch of the Apple Watch, you can tell that we are wholeheartedly invested in the space and that we really feel strongly that this is a place that we can make a difference for our customers. So I think that commitment is probably pretty self-evident,” Arney says.

Apple Watch wearers can try out the new features in the Australian spring once watchOS 8 software becomes available.

Tips for Breathe and Reflect:

Breathe

  • Strengthen your focus by noticing the cool breath as you inhale and the warmth as you exhale.
  • Feel more connected by softly touching your heart during your session.
  • Ground yourself by touching your abdomen and noticing the rising and falling as you breathe.

Reflect

  • Sit in a comfortable position that’s relaxing. Close your eyes if that’s comfortable.
  • Or you can choose to move while paying attention to the sensations of your body.
  • Begin your session with one or two slow breaths to ease your mind.