Warp factor Zen: Meditation machines

Monks spend years learning how to meditate. So can a machine induce similar levels of healthy calm in just 20 minutes?

Think of meditation and images of robed monks or hippies sitting in a pall of incense smoke spring to mind. But finding your inner peace doesn't have to involve contorting your legs into the lotus position. If you're a bit busy to spend years at a mountaintop monastery, there's help at hand.

"With only 15 or 20 minutes use of a meditation machine, you can start to achieve the same deep mental state as a Zen monk." Really? That's the claim made by Meditation UK, which sells an American machine called the MindSpa. The company's website claims the MindSpa can improve memory, creativity, sleep patterns and emotional stability, lower blood pressure and increase brain function. I decide to put it to the test.

My £175 MindSpa Deluxe Package arrives the next day. After a quick flick through the manual, I don the sci-fi glasses and theadphones, and switch on the console. The first of the MindSpa's 12 programmes, called alpha recharge, lasts just 10 minutes. "Try it in place of caffeine for a quick boost," says the manual. I should come out of this feeling "calmer, more focused, and mentally recharged". On a grey Thursday morning after a night on the wine, that sounds appealing.

The programme starts with a 10-second countdown that's supposed to give me time to get comfortable, but instead makes me nervous. Three... two... one... suddenly 12 white LEDs in the glasses start flashing maniacally, while at the same time my ears are bombarded with a rhythmic electronic drone. I feel like I've been locked inside the engine room of the Starship Enterprise. Never mind Zen-like calmness – I fear the MindSpa is going to induce an epileptic fit. I try to relax and focus on my breathing but five minutes in I start feeling queasy. It's time for a break.

According to Dr Ruth Olmstead, a psychologist and expert in "Auditory and Visual Stimulation" (AVS), I've experienced a "guardian response". Olmstead, who developed the MindSpa programs for Californian firm A/V Stim, says: "The first time people try it they're often too busy thinking about it to relax." But she claims a 100 per cent success rate.

Source - Independent