Healthy Mind

Apple Watch’s New ‘Reflect’ Feature Is Perfect for One-Minute Meditations On-the-Go

Erica Sloan

Courtesy of Apple/W+G Creative
Because you can physically feel Apple Watch's presence whenever you’re wearing it, the device was a natural fit for launching the brand’s Breathe app in 2015. Breathe prompts users to focus on their breath via gentle haptic (aka vibrational) cues for timeframes spanning 1 to 5 minutes. Now, in watchOS 8, Apple is broadening its emphasis on the power of a brief reset from the purely physical to the mental, too. Its revamp of "Breathe" is called "Mindfulness" and includes the addition of a new feature within the app called "Reflect," which serves up bite-sized meditations, in a similar way as "Breathe" offers breathwork.

Each session starts by simply asking you to take a moment to pause, with a slight haptic tap and a colorful animation that both act as gentle reminders to clear your mind and tune in. That action alone can give you some cognitive distance from any outside stressful forces at play (say, the demands of your dinging inbox or back-to-back Zoom meetings). Then, you’ll get offered up one of about 100 mindfulness prompts—simple thought-starters for shifting into a positive frame of mind—generated at random, so there’s no pressure or stress involved in selecting one.

"The mindfulness prompts are centered around themes that help us improve our ability to regulate our emotions." —Julz Arney, Director of Fitness and Health Technologies at Apple

“The mindfulness prompts are centered around themes that help us improve our ability to regulate our emotions, which is a key part of developing resilience,” says Julz Arney, Apple’s Director of Fitness and Health Technologies. In creating the prompts, which take the form of short phrases, the Apple team considered the broad concepts of renewal (refocusing and finding calm), connection (tapping into the kindness and gratitude you have for others), and growth (channeling moments of inspiration and creativity). For example, one prompt reads: “Think of a place that helps you feel calm. Imagine you’re there and bring that feeling into this moment.” And another asks: “Bring to mind someone you’re grateful for. Reflect on why you appreciate them so much.”

The guiding idea is that sprinkling these mini mindful moments throughout the day makes meditation accessible to all Apple Watch users in all locations, without the need for a special cushion or dedicated space to partake (though, more power to you, if that’s your thing). And the short session lengths of just one to five minutes also make refocusing and re-centering whenever you feel frazzled a bit simpler—whether you’re on a crowded subway train or trying to unwind in bed.

And just like with micro-workouts, the Apple Watch Mindfulness app's micro-doses of meditation can lead to real health benefits over time. “Science supports that if you were to move for one minute at a time at the level that supports your health every few hours, you would get healthier overall by stacking your activity in small increments," says Arney, "and meditation works the same way." Research backs up her assertion: A small 2018 study found that brief meditations helped improve success on attention-demanding tasks among 37 novice meditators, while a 2017 study concluded that just 10 minutes of meditation reduced signs of mind-wandering (which is a classic symptom of anxiety).

And while the Apple Watch mindfulness prompts cap out at five minutes, you could engage with the app more than once per day, incrementally increasing your total daily meditation time. “The power in these micro experiences is that they can be integrated easily into your life because they’re right there on your wrist, next to any of your other notifications—and you can either schedule them or take part on demand," says Arney.

By contrast to the original Breathe app, which delivers notifications whenever the watch senses that you’re sitting still, the Apple Watch Mindfulness app gives you full control over the reminders. “One of the basic tenets of the app is intention, so we felt it was important that you be able to set notifications to come in at either the start or end of your day, or bookend your day by choosing the specific times in the same way that you’d set alarms in the Clock app,” says Arney.

Each Reflect session wraps up with an invitation to rejoin the activities of your day with the same mindful attentiveness you’ve just achieved—as in, “Carry that sense of ease with you,” or “Bring this clarity to a challenge you are facing.” So, when you’re done (even if it’s just a minute after when you started), you’ve effectively shifted your frame of mind. “You’re looking at the world through a different lens, and that can influence your interactions with the next person or situation that you’re in,” says Arney. “So, by regularly incorporating moments like this into your everyday life, you really have the power to change the tenor and tone of your world.”

watchOS 8 will be available to Apple Watch users globally in the fall of 2021, and for those who would like to try out the new software sooner, you can sign up to participate in the watchOS public beta program here.

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