My knuckles turned ghost-white as I gripped the safety bar of the roller coaster. Here I was with our project coordinator, Alexis, ascending into the sky above the Santa Monica Pier for our latest emerging brands blog.
Astute readers may have picked up on the unsettling trend with these emerging brand blogs: first I was forced to lay down on a bed of spikes, then I had to get day-drunk on canned rosé, and now this fiasco. I’m not a fan of roller coasters, especially ones propped-up on a 100-year-old pier in the murky ocean. The image of the coaster flying off the tracks after failing to negotiate a sharp turn, and then plunging into the cold Pacific waters in which a Great White Shark happens to be swimming by, came all too easily as we crawled up the tracks into a vertical position.
“Herrrre we goooo…” Alexis enthused beside me.
Ca-KLUNK! The coaster made a jarring sound we could feel beneath our feet. The entire structure trembled. “That can’t be normal…” I muttered as I peered over the side and received instant vertigo.
Alexis took one look at my complexion, which now matched my knuckles, and suggested I use the device hanging around my neck, “I think now’s a good time…”
The Shift, by Komuso Design, is a simple, stylish metallic breathing device designed to control our exhales – which in turn hacks our nervous systems to alleviate anxiety. This was, after all, why we were tempting fate upon this primitive feat of engineering. What better way to test out a brand intended for promoting calm and peace of mind than to lock yourself into a bone-rattling mechanical death centipede?
But let’s pause here and go back a moment, and by “moment,” I mean approximately 400 years…
Blowing Zen Like Japanese Monks
Starting around the 1600’s, there were a group of Japanese monks of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism who were known for two things: 1.) wearing baskets over their heads to remain anonymous and 2.) playing solo pieces on the shakuhachi (a type of Japanese bamboo flute). These pieces, called honkyoku, were played during a meditative practice called suizen (“blowing Zen”) – as opposed to zazen (which is meditation through quiet sitting, as practiced by most Zen followers). Blowing zen involved precise breathing control as a function of achieving enlightenment.
In fact, The Shift is based on these flutes, but have been refined to focus exclusively on breathing and not music (no baskets required). But is there any science behind the simple art of the controlled breathing mastered by monks? Absolutely. Whether it’s undergoing childbirth, or running a marathon, or just trying to ward off a panic attack, controlled breathing is crucial for balancing our physical and emotional wellbeing.
The basic practice of prolonging our exhales into 8-10 second intervals has been proven to signal the parasympathetic nervous system and:
• Slow heart rate
• Reduce cortisol (stress hormone)
• Release toxins
• Promote the feeling of calm
• Decrease blood pressure
• Relax muscles
The Shift produces all of these benefits without any need for batteries, a prescription or yoga mat. So how did an analog antidote emerge within this age of digital anxiety? These days, we’re usually accustomed to downloading an app to solve our problems, but thanks to a married couple based out of Florida, we have a throwback to this ancient technique. The Shift was created by the husband and wife team in 2017 as a means of dealing with their own anxiety issues at the time. They wanted something organic, simple and elegant that could be worn like jewelry: peace of mind you can wear around your neck.
What a lovely story, right? Weird basket monks, a wholesome couple, Zen enlightenment. But while controlled breathing works scientifically, does the same hold true for The Shift?
A Relaxing Stroll Past Gandhi’s Ashes
Before we braved the circus-like terrors of the Santa Monica Pier, Alexis and I decided to first get acclimated with our Shifts somewhere a little more peaceful. A moderately well-kept secret in the Pacific Palisades is the Self-Realization Fellowship at Lake Shrine. Founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1950, it was envisioned as a spiritual environment where people from all over the world – and from any religion – could come and “experience peace of heart and mind.” Today, Lake Shrine offers a lakeside Meditation Garden with shrines and waterfalls, a hilltop temple with weekly inspirational services and meditations, and a retreat for silent renewal. What better way to get Zen than to pose awkwardly before a man-made waterfall?
As we strolled the soft, cedar chip path around the lake, Alexis opened up about her struggles with anxiety – panic attacks started young, and often involved being trapped in crowds. She recounted traumatic events from her youth in which she witnessed a car-full of people perish from a landslide on Tiger Mountain in her home state of Washington, as well as an incident on a Seattle train she was riding that hit and killed a pedestrian.
“Weird, tragic things have a tendency of happening around me,” Alexis admitted with some casual resignation.
“You could’ve told me this after we rode the roller coaster together.”
Adamant about holistic approaches to mitigating her anxiety, Alexis has tried everything from meditation, gratitude journals, and running. “They help, but you can’t always write in a journal or go running randomly during the workday.” LA commutes alone trap us for huge chunks of time with little options for relaxation, which is where a handy little device like The Shift can be most effective. My issues with anxiety have already been documented within this series, so suffice it to say, I’m as much of a target customer for this brand as Alexis.
We came across the Gandhi World Peace Memorial, where a portion of Gandhi’s ashes is enshrined in a thousand-year-old stone sarcophagus from China. This seemed like as good a place as any to start getting Zen. We pursed our lips around the Shifts and tried not to look like we were getting stoned next to Gandhi as we carefully exhaled. Unlike the Komuso monks, the easiest way to know if you’re doing it right is if it remains silent – if The Shift makes a whistling sound, you’re exhaling too hard.
At first, it seems kind of silly to be honest. But The Shift is not a cure-all for anxiety. It’s simply meant as a tool we can use to aide our mindfulness and help slow things down. After a while, among the waterfalls and the shimmering lake populated by graceful swans, massive koi fish and lazy turtles, it becomes very easy to feel the stress and worry melt away. We continued to navigate the rest of the property, taking in the sights, sitting around various sunken gardens and whatnot, and eventually achieved something close to Zen enlightenment, or as Alexis called it, “Zen-adjacent.”
So was it the soothing environment, or the product itself that helped alleviate our anxious thoughts? There was only one way to find out…
The Mechanical Death Centipede of Santa Monica
Back to our nerve-wracking ascent up the tracks of the roller coaster. As Alexis suggested, we began to use our Shifts, prolonging our exhales in 8-10 second intervals. I pictured the swans, the koi fish, the turtles, and envied their lack of consciousness, or at least, one that doesn’t involve taxes and global warming. I imagined the waterfall showering me with only positive vibes and then… we PLUNGED and CAREENED around the tracks at what intuitively felt like unnecessary speeds and angles. We made two jarring laps – during the first one, my lips remained clamped tight on The Shift, my fingers gripping the safety bar to steady myself in the event of an “accidental discharge.”
Maybe it was the fact we survived a full lap and I knew what to expect the second time around, but my anxiety turned to something akin to a good mood. I could feel the early stages of fun being had, and before I knew it, I threw my arms up in defiance. It wasn’t until we screeched to a stomach-churning stop that I realized my Shift was no longer in my mouth, but hanging around my neck. I forgot all about it. And my heartbeat was racing, not out of distress, but from excitement.
“We survived!” Alexis exclaimed with a high-five. “Did it work?”
“I think it might have,” I replied as I staggered out of the car. “How about you?”
“Oh, I love roller coasters.” Alexis pointed to the surging crowd of tourists beneath us. “They, on the other hand, are my worst nightmare.”
I’m happy to report that as I survived the Mechanical Death Centipede of Santa Monica, Alexis survived the late-summer masses swarming the pier. We parted ways after taking an awkward victory selfie, each with a little peace of mind around our necks; The Komuso Shift.