Shahid Akhter, editor, ETHealthworld, spoke to Raman Mittal, teacher and Co-founder, Idanim, to explore mindfulness, as one of the ways to address the challenges emanating from poor mental health. Watch his exclusive interview below.
You can also read the major points discussed during the interview below.
Mental Health Disorders: Trends
"Mental illness has become a huge problem, and it is becoming even more grave after COVID. In a study done by the WHO in 2022, the global economy has lost almost $1 trillion US dollars, which is equivalent to almost one-third of India's GDP, because of lost productivity due to mental illnesses like stress, depression, and anxiety. How do you address these challenges of mental illness? There are many options available to us. Yoga is one thing that has proven benefits for mental illnesses and mental wellness. There are enough studies that have tied positive results to physical exercise. That could be swimming, that could be walking, that could be anything. And then there is also another avenue, which is mindfulness practice. An interesting study in 2019 analysed the brain structure of people who started meditation or attempted meditation for the first time. And then they did a small 40-day training in meditation for those respondents. And what they found is that the brain structure of these respondents has changed, and they tied it to patterns that are associated with lower stress levels. That was one very popular and very scientific study that was done, and it tied the benefits of meditation and mindfulness to a lower stress level."
Science behind mindfulness
"When we are stressed, the brain has two parts: the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. So, the sympathetic nervous system is designed to take care of hormones released during stressful times. Whenever we are under stress or in a difficult situation, there is a tendency to fight, freeze, or fly. Whenever we feel stressed, the sympathetic nervous system releases a hormone called cortisol, which basically activates our body and releases certain hormones that take care of that difficult situation. And when stress or a difficult situation is passed through, the parasympathetic nervous system takes precedence and starts releasing good hormones. Because of the times that we are in and because of the chronic stress environment that we live in, our cortisol level is always active. Many scientific studies have revealed that cortisol levels decrease in people who meditate. Basically, they activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is related to good hormones and releases hormones, takes care of our body, and relaxes in a relaxed state."
Building the Meditation Platform, Idanim
"I started my meditation journey in 2008, around the time when we started another company called To The New. It's a digital technology services company. We have close to 2,500 people in this company now, growing at a rate of 60–70%. We are one of the fastest-growing companies. We take pride in the fact that we are eight-time winners of Great Place to Work. We figure in the top 25 companies to work for in India. We wanted to create a platform that we could provide to our people so that they could leverage it during those difficult times. But when we did our analysis, we thought it'd be better to create something of our own. And then we ended up creating Idanim. Initially, we created it for our own usage, but we got very good feedback and responses from our people, and then we made it available to the external world. It’s one of the fastest-growing applications in the wellness and mindfulness space. We see it as a platform that takes care of emotional wellbeing and mental wellness. I see many health and mental benefits in my own journey. So this has been the journey of Idanim. We are very proud of what we are doing."
"The objective of Idanim is to initiate people into mindfulness practices and also help people deepen their own practice. We have onboarded world-class teachers who are globally renowned teachers who not only have very deep experience and practice in meditation but also understand the corporate world equally well; they understand the nuances of working professionals. The app is relevant and applicable to everybody. Mediation is all about living in the present moment and how we leverage and deepen our presence while enjoying the quality of life. So, that's all for me about meditation, and that’s what we are trying to do. We have already seen many research studies and scientific reports tying the benefits of mindfulness and meditation to many health benefits, including mental health benefits. So we are just trying a bit to spread awareness around meditation and mindfulness practices in India and outside India, and we are just loving this journey."
"There are very innovative and cutting-edge features that we have built into the application. I will share some of them. One would be live practice. So when I started my meditation journey, I had a lot of questions and challenges during my practice. Am I doing it right? How should I do it? How long should I sit? Postures, and these are all genuine questions. Everybody has those questions when they start their journey. So we thought it would be great to have a platform and also build a community that provides people with an opportunity to basically interact with the teachers."
"We basically do live sessions every day from 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., and we invite one of the teachers to conduct these sessions. Another feature that we take pride in is that it’s a great platform for the users to directly interact with teachers and ask a teacher, where anybody can write their query that is basically answered by one of the teachers with a TAT of 24 hours. Then we have also built in a lot of AI and data engineering-driven algorithms, machine learning, AI, and ML to provide highly personalised and custom recommendations to users. We have leveraged a lot of technology to provide highly personalised experiences to users across stages. There are many users who have not done meditation before and who don’t really know anything about it. So we also have those kinds of users, and then we also have users who have tried meditation."
"We have been growing pretty fast, as I mentioned. We launched in August 2022 and have seen very good success. We have had around 5 lakh downloads till now. We would have hit close to a million downloads by the end of this financial year. The idea is to keep adding more features."