By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — After hours of studying or during a lull at work, computer users may visit Facebook, Reddit or a number of other Internet websites for mindless fun. But visiting social media websites does not enhance productivity or counteract stress as well as Sparq Labyrinth, creator Matt Cook said.
Sparq is an interactive mindfulness tool designed to counteract stress and promote wellness in computer-centric work and school environments.
It made its debut on Nov. 17 at the University of Oklahoma. Labyrinth meditation, as engaged by Sparq, is a full-body-engaging activity. Traditionally, labyrinth meditation was used in monasteries by monks but has since been documented to reduce stress and anxiety in hospitals, schools and prisons.
Cook said while in graduate school at OU, he was looking for ways to apply ideas of philosophy to the library environment. Libraries engage cognitive abilities. However, more libraries are full of books that are never read.
Instead, libraries like Bizzell Memorial Library on OU campus are full of students with laptops, iPads and smartphones.
Cook said Sparq utilizes technology but engages the whole body to combat fatigue, which can occur from staring at a computer for many hours and only using one’s eyes and hands.
Cook, who had meditated some before the development of his mindfulness tool, said meditation can take a lot of time and training, but the opposite is true of Sparq, which makes it appealing.
“You can walk into it without any training,” Cook said. “It’s distracting but not frustrating. It distracts from stress and takes less than five minutes in and out.”
Sparq users can choose from six labyrinth patterns, each of which represent various cultures, including medieval Europe, Celtic, ancient India, Serbian, Native American and a literary labyrinth inspired by the “Lord of the Rings.”
At the meditation tool’s current location, explanations about each culture along with suggestions about what users should think about while moving through each labyrinth are displayed on the wall.
Using an iPad to select the desired labyrinth, users can walk, dance or perform yoga through the labyrinth image projected in the installation space while meditating. Cook, who built the meditation device, said he faced several challenges throughout its development. Cook had to make the device big enough without being too big as well as flexible, safe and secure.
“It was like constructing a giant Lego set with no instructions,” Cook said.
He used everything from theater lights to wireless networking to electronics and tools to come up with the finished product. Now Sparq is a minimally invasive device that does not require permanent installation so it can adapt to users’ needs.
Thus far, surveys that Cook has collected from OU students have shown a positive response to the mindfulness tool. As finals overwhelm university students, comments such as “this was eye opening,” “suprisingly peaceful,” “it revived me for more work that needs to be done” and “worthwhile, should be permanent” continue to fill questionnaire sheets.
One user, who has ADHD, said, “The labyrinth made a tremendous difference in reducing the level of anxiety I usually feel around finals. After taking a short break, walking the labyrinth, I literally felt like a new person. I felt overall tranquility, which is almost impossible for me to do, especially in that amount of time. Thank you!”
Sparq is available for students and the public to try in Bizzell Memorial Library until Dec. 20. In January, Cook will take the meditation device to the OU-Tulsa campus for graduate students to test. Later in the spring, Sparq will be taken to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where real-time data such as blood pressure rates while utilizing Sparq will be recorded.
Cook said he believes the meditation tool would be extremely useful in the corporate world and, in the future, hopes to take Sparq to technology-related companies such as Google.
For more information, visit sparqlabyrinth.com.
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