I really enjoyed this conversation with Jay Vidyarthi.
Jay Vidyarthi is an entrepreneur, mindfulness coach, and father who founded the world’s first design studio that focuses on mindfulness, compassion, and wellbeing.
After initially becoming interested in mindfulness through his parents and experiences playing music, Jay further solidified his interest after watching a documentary about how meditation can transform even high security prisons.
Jay and I discussed different types of meditation styles and approaches, comparing meditation to sports and emphasizing that there are many different types and ways to practice.
Jay described the feeling of emotional stability being reliant on cornerstones like family and friends, and a place in the world. He also discussed mental health tips, such as meditation, yoga, and running, to alleviate anxiety and finding the right combination and starting with breath is essential.
You can learn more about Jay at his website, https://www.jayvidyarthi.com/
BwDw Interview #7 - Jay Vidyarthi[:
Amin Ahmed: Hello and welcome back to the Be Well, Do Well podcast. I'm excited to have a conversation today with another remarkable entrepreneur who's a self-proclaimed attention activist, and I absolutely love that title.
Jay Vidyarthi is the founder of Still Ape, the world's first design studio that focuses on mindfulness, compassion, and wellbeing.
Jay is also a mindfulness coach, helping everyday people improve their relationship with technology. I'm excited to get started and it's really good to see you Jay.
Jay Vidyarthi: Good to see you too. Thanks for having me on.[:
Amin Ahmed: Absolutely. So you have multiple identities, and I love that you're a father, you're a mindfulness coach and also an entrepreneur.
And we're gonna get into the entrepreneurship part later. But I'm curious, how did you get started with mindfulness?
I think the first step would be that, my parents immigrated from India and the idea of like closing your eyes and meditating wasn't a foreign concept to me. It's something I saw my parents do a lot and also visited Hindu temples and saw many of the rights and rituals that can be intimidating for others was just sort of a non-issue.
Jay Vidyarthi: In fact, it more felt like a part of my heritage. I think that was one thing that, in some ways lay the foundation. I was always kinda curious about it and also very curious about mental health, with, struggle like all of us, people in the, in the family who struggle with mental health issues makes you curious at a pretty young age.
It wasn't until I started playing music that I started to kind of recognize, hey, like some of these feelings that I experience. When I play music for a long period of time, like experience intense concentration, two or three hour jam session with a few friends, and by the end of it, I'm excited, I'm buzzing. I'm super focused. I can see differently, I feel elated and I kind of recognize that as pure concentration. ,
Jay Vidyarthi: That started to get me curious about meditations with sound and I found things like not a yoga and other mindful listening type practices kind of lit the spark. . Then I started kind of looking into Hinduism and Buddhism in terms of their philosophy, and somewhere in that journey I found a called, Doing Time, doing the Pasana, which is a of a meditation teacher who brings, 10 days of silent meditation to a high security prison in New Delhi, India.
the documentary is mind blowing. I think since then they've made a similar documentary in Alabama, in a prison. I've seen that one as well. they are just unbelievable. you see people come to terms with horrible things they've done and hug each other in the prison as opposed to, people that they were enemies with.
I started to talk about it. I started to share it with some of my friends and band mates. I knew I wanted to go try that. I was aware that Vipassana retreats were around the world. , and in fact, one of my bandmates who was really struggling and had more like availability in his schedule at the time, he heard me talk about it and just took off. And he came back to band practice, a few weeks later and I was just like blown away with what a transformation I'd seen in this guy.
Jay Vidyarthi: He was smoking and drinking all the time and always riddled with anxiety and he just seemed so different. And I was I need to go try this now. I'm the one who told them about it.
that was the first retreat. I had a very profound experience in many ways, and I've been on many, many retreats of different styles and practiced many different styles since. But that's kind of the origin of it.[:
Amin Ahmed: That's amazing. I haven't yet experienced my first, Vipassana retreat, which I hope to, but they get booked up very quickly, which I was, I guess somewhat surprised, but not at the same time as there's such a need for this.
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah. Vipassana is one of many styles and I think one of the things that the Vipassana organization has done right is they've made it super accessible. They have centers everywhere. It's free by donation, they take care of incredible meals and room and board. And, I have some things to say about the different kinds of teaching styles, but it's a really easy branching off point.
if, someone looks into it and feels like it might be a fit, I highly recommend going for it. But if it doesn't feel like a fit, there's many, many other options.
Jay Vidyarthi: One of the people I work with is a world round neuroscientist, Dr. Richie Davidson. I involve with the Healthy Minds program. He likes to compare meditation to Sports
And he feels sad, and I do too when you hear someone who played baseball once, and then they're like, sports aren't for me. And they don't realize like there's so many different kinds of sports and so many different ways to play. You can play competitive. You can play casual, you can play athletic sports or you can, do archery.
there's so much out there. So, I think there's different paths for different people, but the Vipassana is certainly, they've done something pretty incredible with that organization.
Amin Ahmed: Yeah, I love that analogy with sports and meditation cuz we have a 10 year old son and he says he doesn't like sports, he doesn't like anything to do with a ball.
as a result, he's decided he doesn't like sports yet when we go outside and we play badminton or we Frisbee or anything like that, he just gets so into it and he is so excited and you can see that fire light up in him. And that's a great analogy that, there's not one type of meditation.
Amin Ahmed: There's many types of meditation and mindfulness practices.
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah. How does your son feel about rubber pucks ?
Amin Ahmed: Well, little bit off topic, but we just started, skating lessons. Oh, amazing. And, you know, I live in Northern Canada and Edmonton and skating and ice hockey is just a, it's an institution here.
So yeah. Every single child, growing up here plays some form of ice hockey or ball hockey or something like that. And we never did. We were more snowboarders and skiers. And so we decided, well, let's try skating lessons. And he got really excited about it. He said, okay, you know what, I can maybe do this.
And I said, okay, maybe next month or next year we'll add a stick to this and then the rubber puck . But I think it'll take some time for him to, get into that as a sport and realize that, hey, I'm actually playing a sport. Maybe it's just speed skating or whatever it might be.
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah. And, to bring it back to meditation, we can continue the analogy, right, because what you're doing with those skating lessons. It's kind of similar to what I experienced with my musical instruments, right? I didn't know I was practicing meditation or know that there was some relationship to a two hour jam session, but I felt the skills and I was like, actually, I kind of really like this.
it made me curious to learn more and to start reading some books, and eventually went on that first retreat through the path I shared earlier. And there was so much of the journey up until then that wasn't explicitly mindfulness or meditation, but I recognized them in retrospect as the ingredients that stocked the pantry that were waiting for me when I was ready to start cooking.
Jay Vidyarthi: Now I'm just mixing metaphors. I love metaphors. I'm sorry.[:
Amin Ahmed: Oh, no, I think it's perfect. I mean, cooking and sports. Now, some people think of meditation as being this really difficult thing.
I saw a video a few online, sitting on this platform, and there was a waterfall around you. I mean, that looks beautiful and it looks really calming and serene. And that feels unattainable to some people. , they think, well, it's too difficult, my space is too noisy or I've got young kids, we, you know, as parents, we know what it's like to have kids around us and they're tugging at us and pulling our attention.
is there a recommended, or can you suggest a path to mindfulness for those that are really distracted and busy? Could be from a parental side of it, or just a busy entrepreneur?
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah. Let me first say that I was really uncomfortable on that waterfall when we started, and I've written a little bit about this, I felt the same way too, but. I had to find my place there as well, I get it and I think the answer to your question is also related to that.I really believe that there are sort of different paths for different people
People are very diverse. They have different life histories, they have different experiences, they have different philosophical backgrounds, they have different histories, even generational histories, they have cultural backgrounds. So the idea that there would be some kind of one answer to that question is something I've abandoned a long time ago it's why I answered your question about the Vipassana the same way. well, there's lots of different ways, But I think that is my answer, which is, you've gotta try things.
You've gotta use the resources that you can find, to try to look at different paths, but don't get discouraged when one idea doesn't resonate with you because you kind of have to find your flavor and that flavor might change over time.
I have one teacher who I think my most cherished meditation teachers in terms of the progress that he helped me make, but his approach is kind of not really relevant for me anymore, but it doesn't make me negative to him or feel bad or not recommend his work.
It's just that I know personally he helped me get from one level to another. and now I'm simplifying down from that system.
it's difficult to find the starting point. I think it's one of the problems. But if you want something you can chew on as an actionable starting point. I think one thing to recognize is like, these apps are everywhere. There's like thousands of apps and I would encourage people to sort of dive into the app world. As a kind of taster, like don't download a meditation app. Download 12 meditation apps, and set an intention to kind of try all 12 of them over the next month.
be judicious about which one you're gonna continue with. There's no reason to force a fit. If it doesn't feel like it's a fit, get rid of it. Try something else. I think you'll probably find one of those 12 connects with you in a way that the others don't, and just follow that instinct.
Amin Ahmed: There are definitely a lot of apps, and I want to come back to the topic of apps and technology in a bit.[:
Amin Ahmed: But you said something here that reminded me of the fact that we all have seasons in our life, just as there's seasons throughout the year. when you said that teacher's method didn't resonate with you anymore, was that a change in your external circumstance?
Was it your evolution in your practice? What, was it? That made that not fit anymore with who you were as a person now?
that's very difficult to answer, I apologize if it starts to sound a little cryptic.
Amin Ahmed: I like cryptic.
I'm talking about Shinzen Young.
Jay Vidyarthi: He's an American Zen Buddhist teacher who has developed an incredible system called Unified Mindfulness, that sort of maps contemplative traditions in a sort of easy to use language and framework that allows you to really try different approaches in a quick and easy and understandable way. And I'm a big proponent of shinzhen's work.
It's a little heady though. as a starting point, I don't know if I would've resonated with it cuz it's quite complex. I mentioned, when I went to Vipassana, it was just pay attention to your breath. It was not easy, but it was simple. And eventually, when I found Shin Zen's work, it really exposed me to two things.
One, the complete landscape of practices like sports out there, all the different kinds of practices out there. And the second thing is he really taught me, that all paths are good. And it all depends on who's taking them and what season of life you're in. And you know, like not to be like, this is the right way and that's the wrong way. He's a big proponent of that, and it really is inspiring.
At some point I started to understand his system very deeply and apply it, and I was sort of getting lost in these head games of technique. he kind of led me to this cliff where I sort of had to make the decision to jump off it, which is to say, let go of conceptual mind.
it was almost like all of these concepts had become internalized. Now I didn't have to think about them so much anymore. I had to just practice them. And when I did that, it was actually a very difficult transition and I did this on retreat. I was with my wife at the Monastic Academy in Vermont on a two month retreat.
there was a lot of silent practice and at some point it was like there was a good 48 hours of like really dark places that came up because it was sort of like, if these concepts kind of revealed themselves as meaningless to me, all my other concepts started revealing themselves as meaningless. Which was actually kind of a grieving process.
on the other end, I came out with a lot of love and kindness and compassion, but it was a really hard transition. And as I came out of that, not too long after that, we had our first child. I became a dad and my life started to get really busy, and that really kind of calcified this idea of letting go and practicing in a more effortless way.
that's kind of where I am now. I still have a ton of understanding and respect. And in fact, when I guide meditation, I'm often thinking about that system among some others that I've trained in. But when I actually sit and practice this morning, it was a lot less conceptual, a lot more effortless in the here and now. But I know in my heart that I'm relying on the training that I did within these conceptual systems to be that comfortable and aware in an effortless state. So again, sorry if that got cryptic, but you asked.[:
I took away a few things from that is that what you learn initially may not work for you because you've outgrown that or you've internalized it, and it just becomes automatic, it becomes habit. The second thing I really got out of that was that whatever works for you at that moment is what's right.
a big takeaway I got from that is that you don't have to necessarily stay with it. You can change, you can go to a different thing. And if it feels difficult, well, there's other options. There's other paths to cross.
Amin Ahmed: the idea of the grieving process and letting go of that then being able to go further from that, that actually reminds me of Windows 3.1, where they had the defrag tool.
And you push the button and all of the dots are all mixed up colors, It represents your hard drive.
Then one at a time, the colors all get rearranged into a nice pattern and then the rest of it is left there. that's the first thing that came to mind when you said, the grieving process of just letting that go and then you came back a lot more mindful, a lot more kind and compassionate.
You defragged, and then you came back. Is that fair to say that that's how you felt? Is that your mind was just a little bit easier to manage?
I do remember the defrag tool. It was very satisfied. Whoever designed that graphic really helped, something that could feel very technical, I didn't know what was happening, but I was like, this feels like it's good. Anyway, that's my designer identity as you mentioned earlier. I actually like, if we wanna use Windows 3.1 as a metaphor, it's sort of like I turned on my computer that morning and Windows 3.1 had just been deleted. so that was where the grief comes from.
Jay Vidyarthi: Like defragged felt good. This didn't feel good.
Amin Ahmed: Okay.
Jay Vidyarthi: This felt like something that I had relied on. my identity, my emotional stability, my general wellbeing felt like it was relying on these cornerstones of who Jay is and who my friends are, and who my family is, and what the world is and what my place in the world is. all these fundamental concepts of the operating system.
Amin Ahmed: That's right.
Jay Vidyarthi: Continue the metaphor.
Amin Ahmed: Yeah.[:
Jay Vidyarthi: That I were totally, the way I was interacting with the world, I interacting with the computer. Mm-hmm. It just like gone. It was all error. It was all like, this isn't real, so what's left? And that was extremely painful.
But on the other end of it, I'm so grateful to have Windows 3.1, because otherwise I literally have no way to do anything with this mind and body and world, even though they are kind of elusory and not really there. it was a very difficult 48 hours.
I'm glad I got to the other side of it because those concepts started to come back and reify themselves as illusions, but meaningful, important and beautiful illusions that make up everything I enjoy about life.
Jay Vidyarthi: And I want to touch on one thing you said earlier, which is, I totally agree with your two takeaways there, but I'm gonna add a caveat to the second one about how there's many different approaches and if things get difficult you move on.
So this is actually like a really fine point that, like anything, a certain amount of struggle can be actually very productive. so you wanna be careful not just looking for the meditations that are the most fun and engaging. Otherwise you end up doing what most of our society has done, which is conflating happiness with pleasure inflating meditation with relaxation, but in fact, meditation and mindfulness is about piercing clarity.
And as the, the experience I had on that retreat, reapply like piercing clarity can sometimes be extremely painful and you don't wanna do that if it's gonna overwhelm you, but there is a certain amount of struggle and challenge if you're ready for it, where you can find that flow between your ability and the challenge you put in front of yourself and actually make significant progress.
Another one of my teachers has a really nice spatial metaphor for this, which is like, If you're, I don't know, for those who are watching the video can see my hands, but I'll describe it as well, which is if you're on the surface, and this meditation practice is moving you deeper and deeper into something kind of core and essential.
It's really easy when you're on that way to kind of get distracted and start moving horizontally. , right? So you're like, Ooh, like shiny object. Ooh, relaxation feels good. Oh, this feels really nice. I feel like I'm getting into some blissed out zone. And then you can spend years just chasing this bliss out zone, and you're not actually getting deeper to realize the bliss is an illusion too and you're getting to core something like the core energy or the core source of experience, which is where you can find this boundless calm despite the, waves on the surface.
I'm not trying to say I've found that , I would say that at this point in my practice, having practiced 10, 15 years, I've tasted it. I know it's there. And my practice is in this stage of continually trying to stay connected to what I know is there, and sometimes I can't. And I have to just accept that and sometimes I can, and that's all part of the up and down of the journey. So be careful about that idea of just staying away from any challenge.
Amin Ahmed: Right. No, I like that. No, thank you for clarifying that and, and articulating it. It, it is true that it's difficult. Meditation is difficult. Mindfulness is difficult because our minds are not designed for that and our environment doesn't enable it either.
I was on an AMA call and asked me anything called with, the founder of Muse, Chris. Mm-hmm. , Somebody asked a question about breathing and, and I think you and him have talked before because you guys share that headiness in your .
Jay Vidyarthi: I mean, I was on the Muse team for four years, so we, we've talked quite a, quite a like, yeah.
Amin Ahmed: That's amazing. And he said something about breathing and how when you're meditating, breath is one of the more basic methods in your breath, but if you're anticipating your next breath, you're not being mindful because now you're living in the future rather than just feeling your breath currently and I think this is where meditation, mindfulness can become quite complicated and it can become very difficult.[:
Amin Ahmed: Now I wanna move into a little bit more of the technology side. I love the fact that you live in that intersection between mindfulness and technology, but from two different sides. One is that we are inundated with technology around us that makes us less mindful. And the other is that you develop and design technology to make you more mindful.
Jay Vidyarthi: I saw a picture of you, I'm not sure where you were, but you were sitting and there was a lot of speakers around you, and you had some, I don't know what they were, but wires coming out of your forehead. , and I think this is, you mentioned Muse, but this is pre-muse days, Yes.
Amin Ahmed: Can you talk a little bit about how biofeedback can help you in meditating and why music and why sound?
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah. what's interesting about our body and our minds is that for whatever mysterious reason, we have conscious access to some elements of our experience, and we don't have conscious access to others.
in fact, attention is a key mediator of this. for example, if I point you right now to draw attention to your feet, all of a sudden you've sort of expanded your conscious awareness to this aspect of your experience. if you sit there for hours and pay attention to that, which I've done. you start to notice that you don't actually perceive your feet. You've just got a couple of sensations of pressure and they're in a sort of spatial location, like you probably have a mental image of your feet coming in, your kind of imagination, providing you're not actually looking at your feet right now.
And so you start to see that there's this kind of blurry line between what you actually have, what you're actually perceiving in any moment versus like what is actually happening in the physical world.
one way to think about biofeedback and neurofeedback is we're using these sensors to translate some element of who you are and who the world is and potentially other biological organisms or anything else, in to quote unquote, the visible or into other senses, ways that you can more directly perceive them. I think what's interesting about sound to the second part of your question is that, you know, if you look at, I, I'm a really, you know, I know Marshall McCluen isn't like, you know, he is sort of like a pop philosopher, but he was sort of the, origin of like media philosophy.
For those who don't know him, it's the guy who said, the media is the is the message. And one of the things that he wrote about is that, since the printing press and the written word in writing, we've kind of calibrated our visual sense to be highly foveal. I e serialized and focused like you read one word after another. You look from one thing to another. Your eyes are trained to operate in this conceptual realm.
Sound hasn't quite evolved in that way that you can hear me talking, you can hear the environment around you. You have full, simultaneous spatial awareness of multiple sounds at once, and there's a kind of non-conceptual element that sound can provide that's a little tougher to do in the visual realm.
And so when I was working on this from an academic perspective, I was looking for some kind of immersive mindfulness experience, and I eventually landed on sensory or visual sensory deprivation because I had sort of concluded with my research and experimentation that the visual sense is actually not that helpful.
Since then I've practiced visually and learned those skills. But for a beginner it's actually quite challenging. Whereas, music in our society often plays a role of calming us. And being a non-conceptual force like you can put on that gentle jazz playlist and it puts you into that calm, productive coffee shop vibe, right in this weird, ephemeral way.
Jay Vidyarthi: And so if you take that combination of biofeedback and sound, Which I've done on a number of projects, including Sonic Cradle, which is the one you're referring to from that picture, as well as Muse. I did it there as well. You know, Connecting these biofeedback sensors to well designed sound experience, there seems to be this access point to a non-conceptual state of being, and I think that fundamentally is worth exploring in deeper and deeper ways.
Amin Ahmed: And there's lots of projects in the space now. When I was working on Sonic Cradle, it was sort of newer. There was a couple of, a couple of precedents that I was able to cite, but in the past 10 years or so, it's really blown up because I think more and more people are recognizing both experientially, but also experts are recognizing that there might really be something here that can help us and I think the success of Muse and other products in the area have really confirmed that. that's wonderful. I love using the Muse device. We were talking earlier on how I had my 285 day streak and then missed a day, and now I'm starting, and now I'm back again. Right? Like, so I've done a week and, and continuing from there, but the, the idea of having that sound and closing your eyes really solidifies that meditation practice for me is because if I had my eyes open, I can tell the sensors go off and, you know, the, the waves, the birds and all that sort of thing. But as soon as I close my eyes, then there's not that stimulation, the visual stimulation coming in.
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah. there's a fundamental hardware limitation there with Muse. So I'm gonna get wonky on you here.
Amin Ahmed: Yeah.
Jay Vidyarthi: The electrical fields of your eyes are actually, can disrupt the sensors. So if you open your eyes, okay. The do the data simply just gets a little noisy. Which is why when we were designing the experience and we were experimenting with those things, ultimately decided that it should be a closed eyes experience.
That being said, in many traditions of meditation, you open your eyes. I'm looking at a tree out the window and I can meditate mindfully and watching the colors and the shape and the movement at the texture. There's no reason why you can't be mindful with your visual. in particular kind of nuance of brain sensors that makes that especially difficult, though not impossible.
I think developments at Muse and elsewhere are starting to address that problem. But, certainly, almost 10 years ago when I was working on it, it was an insurmountable technical challenge.
Interesting. I know from blinking and all that, there's lots of activity happening there. But-
Amin Ahmed: It's almost like a good accident to happen where your eyes are closed, it just helps you focus a little bit better, and then eventually you can get more into the advanced, side of meditating, like you said, with your eyes open.
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah, I think so. that was sort of, when we were thinking about the design for Muse, myself and Chris and Trevor and other Arielle, other people on the team there, I didn't want to try to take credit or anything like it was a team effort.
But when we were designing it, it's sort of like, how can we wor, you know, like any design problem, how can we work with the constraints and the opportunities we have to create something? And that, I think what you described is kind of one of the synergies because I think, especially in our busy, always connected world. Mm-hmm. , I think it can be useful for beginners to practice with eyes closed.
So it just kind of thankfully synergistically worked out with the limitations of the technology, became a clear design direction forward. This will be something, you know, that you close your eyes and you do a session. That's kind of the, the goal.
I think, you know the other thing to recognize is it's, it's, you know, one of the interesting things about, now that I'm thinking back to that year before we launched Muse and all the like experimentation we were doing, I think the other thing that was really interesting is that we tried really hard to make Muse normal. And what I mean by that is at the time there were some E E G sensors that all felt really sci-fi, like the future of brain computer interfaces. And I remember kind of going around and like, you know, sharing with the team this vision. That like I
We don't want our product to be quote the unquote the future of brain computer interfaces. We want it to be like a toothbrush. Mm-hmm. , like It's just something you can have in your bedroom and you can use as a part of your routine, and you're not thinking, or even cognizant of the fact that what you're actually doing is self-administering neurofeedback while performing mindfulness practice
and tracking your data through a Bluetooth connected mobile app. You just wanna be like, I'm doing my muse. I, don't want it to be so cloudy today. I want the birds to come.
And like, so that's where those metaphors and designs came because I, you know, for, as the UX lead on the project, I was like, surrounded by these really brilliant scientists and like, design, like, you know, Not designers, but like scientists and like product people that were like thinking about what this could mean for the future of technology.
And I felt like my role on the team, like the position I was playing was like, yeah, that's all well and great, but how is this just like gonna enter someone's bedroom and not feel like absolutely weird? Like , you know? I can,
I can punctuate that with a quick anecdote, which is, I remember when I joined the team, I looked at the promo photos of the early hardware and there were photos of like, you know, someone wearing the device like at a Starbucks, on an iPad.but we're not there was like:
And that I sort ended up writing some like photography guidelines based on some user research to kind of guide the design process towards like a private eyes closed like thing that's like a part of your regular routine as opposed to some fancy new future of tech thing. I,
Amin Ahmed: I'm grateful that you did that because even now I don't think wearing that in a Starbucks or out and about would feel natural or look natural .[:
Amin Ahmed: So, and, and I think you've got the best job, first of all, I just have to say like the UX of mindfulness and combining technology and all that. But one thing confused me a little bit is that where did the name come from? Still ape the name of your company. There's gotta be a story behind this. Where did the name still ape come from?
Jay Vidyarthi: Still ape basically has a double meaning, and I'm actually kind of curious as to like what your guess might be about what that, what that means? Like what, what comes up for you? Or maybe just like what feeling comes up for you with it.
Amin Ahmed: Yeah, great question. So, when I first heard that the word Still Ape, if I knew it had something to do with the monkey mind, that was the first thing that came to mind. Monkey mind, busy and all that.
But an ape and a monkey to me are very different. Ape is big, powerful, you know, beast, right? A big animal. To tame it or to make it still and to sit still is difficult, but it also has this very like regal feeling to it and very noble.
And I, I love the idea of mixing those two things together, the stillness part of it from the meditation and just being calm and settled. The ape is that something that we all feel like and are, but it's not just the monkey mind. It's that powerful being within us that worth we're I don't wanna say, I don't wanna say taming, but we're noticing.
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah, I think you, you nailed it. And I can put some articulation around both meanings, so. Mm-hmm. , we are apes, that's sort of what we've evolved from. And there's something interesting about a lot of the mindfulness practices that have inspired me and wellbeing in general about the stillness.
That is a huge component of these practices because there's something kind of miraculous about sitting still. Mm-hmm. . It's just not like there's no evolutionary, like you're not hunting for food, you're not looking for a mate. Like if you think about an ape, like if you think about yourself as an ape and you think about sitting still, there's something that really evokes conscious awareness because there's so much happening.
Even though from the outside, you're just sitting still. There's so much happening in your mind and in your experience. And so that's kind of one meaning, which is that this idea that, you know, we need to sit still a little bit. In our society, we are just doing, doing, doing; we're filling our minds and our attention spans with all kinds of information, and tasks, and to-do lists and social media feeds. And it's just like when you sit still once in a while. And I think that's something that meditation and mindfulness have taught me as an ape.
I think the other part of it is kind of like the idea that we are still apes. That we're, you know, we have all this amazing technology, we've got satellites guiding us to the coffee shop, and we've got interconnected collective hive mind where we're sharing pictures of our favorite kitties. You know, like it's, you know, It's just
We're in this complete different virtual reality compared to our ancestors, but fundamentally we're hitting some limits and those limits are defined by the fact that we're still embodied apes here, that we still have emotional limits, we still have cognitive limits. That like
With information overload, our ability to make meaning in the world is starting to break down right with, you know, constant access to social networks that are easy to send messages, we've got like constant potential bullying and canceling. from high schools to the global geopolitical situation. Right. There's just, you can send a tweet and change geopolitics like
Amin Ahmed: right.
Jay Vidyarthi: And our bodies like aren't like, it's so hard for everyone to even watch the news because we're still apes.
Like We can't handle daily stories about how the world is falling apart. And so there's like this meaning of like sitting still being an ape sitting still.
But there's also this meaning that like we think we're all above our bodies sometimes. But we are still apes and we still have those emotional and cognitive capacities that we need to take care of using these practices like mindfulness, compassion, and wellbeing practices in general.[:
Amin Ahmed: Oh, that's amazing. I didn't think of the, that we are still apes, but yes. Absolutely. And the, you mentioned about all of the different technologies, social media and all that, and the term hustle and grind is everywhere now, and that's become almost a badge of honor. Sleep deprivation, exhaustion, you know, start, we mentioned Starbucks, not that we're you know, that we're not promoting or, or unpro promoting it, but is that when you hear the term hustle and grind, what comes to, what's the first thing that comes to mind for you?
Jay Vidyarthi: You know, I think of the, you know, I used to live in downtown Toronto and I think of that city center and you know, being a kind of mindful person, like sometimes I like to take a walk if I have like, you know, a meeting and then an hour break and then another meeting and, you know, one of the practices we do in mindfulness circles sometimes is kind of like a mindful walk where you apply a technique like it might be paying attention to your feet, touching the ground or your breath while you take a kind of slow walk.
I'm not sure if you've maybe seen people do this where they walk very slowly and intentionally so you can kind of picture me, you know, sort of walking in clothes, not unlike bees, just sort of walking down Bay Street in Toronto, taking my time and really noticing like how amazingly fast everyone's walking.
Everyone's looking at their phone or engaged in like intense conversations. They're walking super fast. They're dressed to the nines, and I can see it on their faces. You can just see this wear and tear, this intensity, and there's nothing wrong with that. And It just sort of brings you that wonder of like, there's nothing wrong with it as long as these people are okay. Mm-hmm. . And I think what we're starting to see in our society is a lot of people aren't okay.
Amin Ahmed: Right.
Jay Vidyarthi: And, that's what comes up for me. Hustle Man is a very clear mental image like some memories of kind of like taking some of those slow walks around downtown and just kind of feeling fish outta water a little bit.
And, you know, I think there's some personal, you know, I like to try to tell the story like I'm some like magic force there like, but you know, I'm having identity crises as well because I was raised in this world. And I'm like, Should I be trying harder? Should I be dressing up and coming to Bay Street and making out money?
Jay Vidyarthi: Should I, you know, like All those self-doubts that start to come just from like seeing myself. As kind of removed from that And as I've gotten older and found more of my place that sort of subside, subsided a little bit and I'm really glad that I've kind of made some of the choices that I've made to opt out of that cuz there was a time where I was totally caught up in that. And you know, that's, that's all kind of what pours out when I think about hustle and grind. Like what that represents.
Amin Ahmed: Yeah. The, The term grind definitely, like you described, right? that worn, tired, you know, almost exhausted look, I, we see that all the time and it's, it is really sad. And I'm actually happy that people like you are doing what you're doing to introduce mindfulness to more people.
In the last, I would say 10 years, I think mindfulness has almost become mainstream now. Yoga was always there, but mindfulness, you hear that term everywhere. People are aware of it, they're familiar with it, which is wonderful.[:
Amin Ahmed: Mental health is one of the areas as entrepreneurs, you and I both, I'm sure we've suffered from it. I speak for myself, but mental health has always been a challenge, right? You have that anxiety, you've got the high highs and the low lows. And for me, meditation has been one of the things that I use to, to help with that. Is there anything other than meditation that you do, to help with mental health?
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah. I think it's an you know, I think it's an interconnected system of everything from trying to balance nutritional elements like caffeine and you know, trying to find the right. Balance. Don't always succeed at that, but trying mm-hmm. I think, you know, physical, physiological health is essential.
Amin Ahmed: Right.
Jay Vidyarthi: And, you know, I'm trying my best, yoga and running and things like that.
I think it's a big balance with the meditation practice of course, as well. I also think like the distinction between formal and informal meditation is kind of essential. There is me sitting up there for 20, 30 minutes, you know, and practicing. But then there's like applying it in this moment. Like, you know, Even on this call at some point I've been looking at the tree up here and just using that to ground me in the midst of this conversation before I get too excited. You know, , . I also think it's been a really big as someone who lives at the intersection with technology, and who's worked to design technology and also been on long meditation retreats, I think I've become extremely passionate about, in my own life, in the lives of my family, as well as, you know, helping others form healthier relationships with technology, drawing boundaries, working on healthy habits to cultivate the space required, to be calm.
And a lot of people will like, you know, meditate for five minutes and be like, this is too hard. And you know, it might actually be too hard because what are you doing the other 23 hours and 55 minutes of the day? Are you sleeping enough? Are you eating well?
Amin Ahmed: Yeah.
Jay Vidyarthi: Are you just lost in Instagram and training your mind for 99% of the day to be frantic and constantly contact switching and then expecting those five minutes to just be calm, it's a, it's a closed system.
So I think like having all those components in order to bring things back down to earth is the prerequisite, I think. And so those are all relevant, I'd say. And also there was a time where, you know, I first found meditation. I thought everyone in the world should meditate. This is incredible because it's transforming my life.
And then there was a kind of point of humility where I was like, wait a minute, that's kind too hubris. Like Not everyone, like it worked for me, but maybe different things. So maybe not everyone needs to meditate. You know? I should be a little more, more gentle about that.
And now I'm at the point where I'm like, most people probably could benefit from meditation. Like it's not everyone, but I'd say most people.
Amin Ahmed: Yeah.
Jay Vidyarthi: But any practice that promotes some kind of intentional mindfulness, I think could be beneficial. But for some people that might be journaling, it might be, you know, therapy, et cetera.
And I also wanna just shout out that like sometimes these conditions, like you mentioned, anxiety, you know, medication is not to be shunned. I think there is some incredible groundbreaking medications out there, and we shouldn't just like abandon science, that's a huge part of it. Right?
The only issue is that the traditional, it's broken, fix it you know, Healthcare model from our physical health just doesn't really apply to that complex system I've described around mental health. Like I like to say. You know, I wonder how many mental health conditions that show up in the clinic, you know, could be solved with routine exercise, nutrition, you know what I mean, before we get into prescribing but that's not to say that prescriptions aren't incredibly helpful as well.
So I think it's, you gotta find your combination and you gotta practice kind of all of it, but it can be overwhelming. it all starts with one step. It all starts with one breath. And I think just starting where you are is also an essential part.[:
Amin Ahmed: Yeah, very well articulated. And, and it's nice to hear the well-roundedness of that, of that approach. Is there anything that people would be surprised to learn about you? We've learned a lot about the mindfulness, the tech, the entrepreneur. Is there anything about you that, would surprise somebody?
Jay Vidyarthi: Hmm. I think, you know, we're talking about these multiple identities and I've got a few, and, you know, there's this like, Hey, he's designing technology and he is practicing meditation, but like, . And I think clearly in our conversation, I'm sure you and others can gather how passionate I am about mindfulness.
Amin Ahmed: Right?
Jay Vidyarthi: But I'm also super passionate about technology. I love technology and I think that's a misconception that someone like me might like be anti-tech.
Like I grew up playing video games. I love tech. Think it's amazing. I just draw boundaries on letting it affect my mental health. And I think it's important for all of us to do so.
Jay Vidyarthi: When I can intentionally watch a great TV show or recently, you know, I've never used Instagram until this month. And I just created it. I created an account just as an experiment and I said to myself, if this becomes unintentional, if I start to become habitual, I'm just gonna delete it. But I specifically wanted to find a place for kind of my musician identity to live okay. so I created an Instagram and I started to explore it.
And like the first week was really profound because, I haven't been on that kind of personal social media in a long time, and all these names and old friends came up that I haven't seen in a long time, and I could see their lives and it was really heartwarming.
But then I started to share on it and the algorithm figured out that I love music and then started promoting all these videos of incredible musicians. And I started to feel shame of like, wow, there are some amazing people out there. I am not a great musician. I'm not good enough at this. Like, Who am I to be making this account and trying to share a song or two?
And then like, Thanks to my mindfulness practice, I was able to see that for what it was and just say, you know, Forget that I'm just going to sh I, I'm not 21 and trying to be a famous musician anymore. I'm like, This is something I love to do and I'm just gonna share it with whoever, whoever will listen.
But I experienced that. And so same with video games. Like I think some video games can be really addictive, but there are some amazing works of art in the field of video games, some that are even informed by mindfulness. And so
I think that's maybe a misconception. You hear someone like me talk and you think that I'm like living on a mountain with everything tied away but I still love technology. I love the potential of it. I just don't think we've lived up to the promise of what's possible. Mm-hmm. , And that's what I'm trying to do, is trying to find a way the technology can be more harmonious with who we want, who we want to become, not just our momentary urges in the moment.
Amin Ahmed: Interesting. If you, if you decide to change the name of your company, you could always go with something like the Mindful Geek. That's just a suggestion.
Jay Vidyarthi: That's a great book. I think, I think Michael Taft has a book called The Mindful Geek.
Amin Ahmed: Oh, does he? Okay.
Jay Vidyarthi: I might have had that wrong. I don't know if I have that right. But yeah.
Amin Ahmed: That's awesome. That's awesome. Well, this has been fun, Jay. I really appreciate this and it's been interesting to hear about your experience, and how you've gotten to where you are today. The background of your technology experience, your mindfulness, and I'm sure the listeners will also get a lot out of this as well. I, I know I have. Definitely.
Jay Vidyarthi: Thank you for the insightful questions. I really appreciate that. And, to anyone who's listening, take a nice deep breath, not something that's tense or bringing too much tension in your body, but a nice, relaxed, slow, deep breath. That's it. That's it.
Amin Ahmed: And before I forget, I don't wanna leave this out. Taking a deep breath, I know you mentioned that there's an app where you are a meditation teacher and others, it's the app that you haven't, the meditation app that you probably haven't heard of is the way you described it. Do you wanna take a minute here and just talk a little bit about that and let our listeners know where they can find that?
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah. A few years ago from a design perspective, I was lucky enough to get involved with, who we mentioned earlier, Dr. Richie Davidson, who was the, progenitor of that sports metaphor. And he runs probably the leading neuroscience laboratory, studying the effects of mindfulness on the brain and they created an offshoot nonprofit to try to take their findings of the lab out into the world. Mm-hmm. .
And I was lucky to come in there as a designer at first to help the design team like think through the user experience of the app to make sure it's easy to use and understand. , I really just planted a seed there.
The team over there has done the really heavy lifting and making that design as great as it is today. But we put out an app called the Healthy Minds Program, and as a part of that design, I started working with Kurt, who's the main teacher, over there, on working on some of the content.
Mm-hmm. . And so as that started to grow, I started to, to contribute more and more and become one of the teachers within the app.
And like I said, Download 12 apps. Try them all. They're not all a fit for everyone. But if the idea of a highly secular, science-based mindfulness program that, expands more than just paying attention to your breath, but like explores areas in connection and isolation, areas of insight and purpose in life, as well as awareness ah. And you like the idea of that being interspersed with podcasts where you learn some of the science , that it might be worth a try.
And I think the most amazing part is that, healthy Minds Innovations is a nonprofit and thanks to our supporters, the app is entirely free. You'll never get asked to subscribe. You'll never get asked to like, pay this money to like get access to the content. It's all up for you to use and, generate you know, your own wellbeing with.
And I hope, I hope it helps someone out there. I know it's helping a lot of people already. And honestly, I can tell you personally, almost every morning I take a look at our little feed of reviews of that app, and it's something that keeps my fire burning in terms of this work just to see every morning a few lives are changing- yes from some of the work that we're working on and that just kinda keeps me going.
Amin Ahmed: That's amazing. So, so you're saying there's no subscription anxiety with that app, I'll put a link to show , I'll put a link to it in the show notes. And also I will also put a link to your website as well.
If anybody wanted to get a hold of you or learn more about you. Is it jayvidyarthi.com? Is that where they can find you?
Jay Vidyarthi: Yeah, or just Google my name. It's pretty easy. There's lots of stuff there.
Amin Ahmed: Okay. Wonderful. Jay, thanks so much again. I really appreciate it. And hope you have an amazing day.
Yeah, thanks, Amin. Take care.