Does a little electrical head stimulation make meditation easier? The folks at Bodhi NeuroTech say yes; the South Carolina-based tech startup is planning the launch of a headset that delivers gentle electrical currents designed to activate areas of the brain that are associated with meditation. According to Bodhi, stimulating the brain’s frontopolar and insula regions — close to the forehead and temples — helps to ease the brain into a state of calm and bliss. So does the forthcoming Zendo device work? Much like the brain itself, it’s complicated.

The practice of delivering low intensity electrical stimulation to the brain, called cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES), has been around since the 18th century, mostly lingering on the edge of accepted medical practices. CES saw a surge in the 2000s with a wave of new devices aimed at treating issues including insomnia, anxiety, and depression. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) downgraded the classification of CES devices, finding that in clinical trials they weren’t effective in treating patients with depression. Trials of CES devices with healthy, neurotypical participants are scant. And while the few of these such studies that exist do show CES can reduce feelings of anxiety, there’s little evidence that these effects are purely physiological and not — in full or in part — psychological.

Zendo gives us some hints of evidence without delving into many details. In a press release, the company says double-blind studies have “scientifically proven the technology to be 2.5 times more effective than guided meditation in a single 20-minute session.” Dr. Bashar Badran, a neuroscientist and co-founder of Zendo, says, “Zendo reduces that meditation learning curve, making it easier and helps people rapidly experience a deep sense of calm with little effort.” Fellow co-founder Dr. Baron Short says, “As a meditator with a 29-year practice, Zendo has enabled me to access deeper states of mind that were previously inaccessible without intense effort and practice.” 

While we’d be wise to take these claims with a healthy dose of skepticism, one thing is surely true: the device looks kind of cool. And the same could be said for the accompanying app, which the company describes as a “wellness and training portal,” offering meditation training with content and goals, as well as health trackers to offer feedback and insights. Zendo says, “Research has proven that Zendo reduces stress by 75% in a single 20-minute session.” Is it true? Guess we’ll find out when Zendo rolls out next year.