Mindfulness in the workplace has become as common as flexible vacation days, from CEOs meditating daily to companies offering yoga classes for their staff. With wellness initiatives proliferating into the mainstream, leaders, employees and parents are gaining powerful tools to better maneuver through the day. Before adulthood, cultivating this type of awareness is equally important — if not more so. That’s where entrepreneur Dumeetha Luthra comes in.
Rules of Impact // Dumeetha LuthraMute/unmute
As the founder of Take-Pause, Dumeetha is expanding wellness beyond the workplace — in fact, beyond the world of adults: she’s bringing it to kids, virtual reality experiences that teach mindfulness to the next generation of leaders.
“The Dalai Lama said if we taught every 8-year-old to meditate, we would eradicate conflict in a generation.”
Developed by a dynamic team of neuroscientists, animators, storytellers and mindfulness experts, the game-like experience uses animated characters, music and stories to help kids visualize a meditation practice in a way that feels both intuitive and natural.
“1 in 5 teenagers suffer from anxiety of some sort,” Dumeetha says. “The Dalai Lama said if we taught every 8-year-old to meditate, we would eradicate conflict in a generation,” Dumeetha explains of her motivation for starting the company.
At its most basic, meditation helps adolescents understand and experience the power of quiet and sitting with oneself. But beyond simple awareness, the implications are wide-ranging both psychologically and physiologically: mindfulness lowers aggression, social anxiety, and stress, and helps to improve math, cognitive ability, memory, attention and impulse control.
“Stories are the way to learn empathy, to empathize, to create community. Stories take you to a world where you might recognize the characters” tweet
Currently beta-testing, with plans to expand and crowdfund development, Take-Pause’s prototype draws upon a format many kids are all too familiar with first-person video games, making “mindfulness” fun and engaging for the user, typically between 3-8 years old. After putting on the VR headset, the user enters an immersive environment of guided meditation lasting 5-15 minutes, with specific content designed to emphasize ‘focus’ or ‘calm.’ Each experience is a story unto itself.
“Stories are the way to learn empathy, to empathize, to create community. Stories take you to a world where you might recognize the characters,” says Dumeetha. “The good, the bad, and everything in between.”
“What I realized as I fell in love with New York is I was tired of the reactive nature of news.”
Dumeetha knows a great deal about storytelling. She dedicated years of her life to reporting about war and conflict, traveling to the darkest corners of Afghanistan and Iraq as a correspondent for the BBC.
In our everyday lives it can be rare to experience something new, but as a war correspondent, “hearing someone’s story and being able to tell it to the rest of the world is different. The emotion, the intensity, the importance of the story didn’t change. It always felt like waking up and doing something for the first time.”
Being a war correspondent in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 became what Dumeetha describes as “an extreme form of presence. It makes me feel incredibly lucky and grateful. I always had a ticket out. I was going by choice because I thought it was important to tell the story of the people who couldn’t leave, who didn’t have a choice. That’s their lives.” The rawness of her war experiences cut through attachments to the mundane aspects of existence, serving as a reminder that, “actually very little in life matters beyond life and death.”
Eventually, Dumeetha reached a point where she was ready to leave journalism. She returned to London to work from the BBC office before moving to New York City. But the trauma of war stayed with her. “What I realized as I fell in love with New York is I was tired of the reactive nature of news. It no longer felt like something I could do, and I felt further away from being able to tell people’s stories.”
“In a war zone, the facade of certainty is ripped away. You know at any given point something could happen.”
In this context of personal transformation, Dumeetha began to practice mindfulness. “It was just mind blowing. It was this moment of ‘Oh, this is nice, I’m being kind to myself.’ And because of that it’s so much easier to be kind to everyone else.” She started working at the UN and then at UNICEF, drawn to new opportunities to work with children. At the same time, she missed documentary storytelling and discovered the power of virtual reality. As these strands converged, she thought, “Let’s put this all together and create something.” The result is Take-Pause.
Dumeetha’s personal story of encountering the depths of suffering in war is reminiscent of the story of the Buddha, whose spiritual path began when he first encountered sickness, old age, and death. “The only difference between the lives we lead and the lives that are led in a war zone is the degree of the illusion of certainty,” she says. “In a war zone, the facade of certainty is ripped away. You know at any given point something could happen.”
For Dumeetha, a mindful practice can prepare us for the unexpected by teaching us not to be attached to the illusion of certainty
Sitting in New York City, you can make certain assumptions about the way things operate: buildings are stable; food is safe to eat; medical treatment is nearby. But accidents happen and things break. “Everything is actually uncertain. Things we thought were enshrined in the Constitution, untouchable, certainly they are touchable. That’s an illusion stripped away.” For Dumeetha, a mindful practice can prepare us for the unexpected by teaching us not to be attached to the illusion of certainty.
The challenge in teaching such a practice to children is perhaps obvious. “They aren’t known for being good at sitting still,” Dumeetha laughs. But combining the novelty of VR with ancient teachings is where technology has great potential. “What virtual reality does is give a full, immersive environment where the tools kids these days are used to — high-end graphics, a cool story — takes them on this quiet, guided experience which actually helps them learn mindfulness.” Instead of being a practice where they have to sit on a meditation cushion and struggle to focus, Take-Pause is designed to integrate into the child’s daily life.
Feedback to beta-testing has been enthusiastic, from kids and parents alike, Dumeetha says. “Every time we’ve put it on a teen’s head they’ve been just like, ‘Wow, I found that really relaxing and lovely.’” Schools and hospitals are immediately drawn to the possibilities for children, providing environments that can help with issues like behavior, grades, and attendance.
One can imagine a future where kids access these virtual experiences as easily as they might other forms of education, such as music or literature. But with Take-Pause, the ultimate aim is to teach kids the skills to access these experiences without the need for technology.
For anyone considering trying to teach their kids (or themselves) to meditate, Dumeetha offers some simple advice: “Take a moment, take a breath, practice breathing, even if it’s just five minutes. Create a ritual around it and be kind to yourself.”