Stress is a significant factor in many people’s lives these days, yet stress is often called “the silent killer.” It is linked to a range of psychological and physiological conditions that can lead to significant impairment. People can turn to a variety of prescription and non-prescription pills and other substances that may help reduce stress, and there are also devices that are designed to physically reduce stress through muscle massage or electrical stimulation. However, our own bodies are often capable of reducing stress on their own, simply through conscious effort.

That’s the concept behind RELAX, a wearable device intended to help people learn to relax. The headgear includes special electrodes that are able to read brain waves without having to attach sensors directly to the person’s scalp. Using electroencephalography (EEG) technology, the system measures the brain’s alpha wave activity. A companion application records the data on a smartphone or tablet, and is able to show a graph of the wearer’s relaxation state throughout a session. By reviewing these results, you can see how effective you can be at willing your body and brain to relax.

I had the opportunity to have a hands-on (head-on?) experience with the RELAX system at CES 2017. In the middle of a crowded and noisy exhibit hall, I sat in a comfortable chair as one of the developers helped me but on the headgear. He then instructed me to close my eyes and relax for a minute or two, the open my eyes. We repeated this process twice more. As it turned out, I was able to reach an alpha state almost immediately during the first round, and was mostly in an alpha state for the second. During the third round, however, two people were holding a conversation behind me, and they were close enough that I could make out their words. I found it difficult not to pay attention to their voices, and this showed up in my third round results. It appeared that the RELAX was effective at accurately measuring my mental state, and I can see how it could be an effective tool to help people learn to relax as an alternative to or aid for meditation.

The RELAX system is a project of Leti, a technology research institute in France. The organization works with manufacturing partners to develop projects into consumer products. Leti representatives point out that the technology in the RELAX device could have other applications, such as a brain-computer interface that would let physically impaired users control devices using thoughts.