Inspiring Interviews: Stefan Chmelik - Founder/inventor of Sensate
Welcome Stefan Chmelik, best selling author, UK’s leading TCM expert and inventor/founder of the relaxation device, Sensate
After 30 years as a leading Harley Street stress expert, a life-long student of meditation, involvement in music since an early age, pioneer in technology assisted meditation, Stefan is now an innovator in the science of wellbeing.
Could you explain briefly how the Sensate technology works?
Sensate is a device+digital system that mimics a natural reflex developed over millions of years of evolutionary learning. All animals have the ability to ‘reset’ and rebalance their system after a stressful event, which could be a single perception of threat or a prolonged experience of heightened stress. This reflex involves breathing or sounding in the throat and chest to create patterns of vibration that have a regulating effect on the nervous system – think of a self-healing purring of a cat or a deer shaking and panting after escaping a threat. Human beings went on to develop ritualistic ways to mimic this reflex, through chanting, breathing techniques, voice sounding and the like.
Sensate works by reliably and consistently creating this effect, but on demand and without the need for training, experience or a teacher. Sensate works from the first session for the vast majority of users and helps build a relaxation response with repeat use over time, so the effects are cumulative as well as highly engaging and enjoyable!
How did you come to discover the benefits of vibration and sound before designing the Sensate?
The ideas and method designed into Sensate are the distillation of 30 years of clinical practice and a lifetime of meditation practice. I also come from a musical family, and have been using sound in therapy for decades. All sound is vibration (everything is frequency in fact, according to physics) and I worked out that enabling people to feel specific resonance inside their body activated the self-healing reflex. Feeling inside is very different from only hearing through soundwave air compression, which is the way that audible sound works via the ears. Low frequency infrasound is a tactile, felt experience that does more than activate brain receptors. The felt sense is the deepest possible experience, as the sense of vibration was the first sense to evolve, and is therefore hardwired into our nervous system more deeply than any other data source. We ‘feel’ safe, comfortable, anxious, stressed, we don’t ‘think’ these states.
We've seen that you attended extended vipassana retreats and have spent several years studying under buddhist monks. What are your top three things you learned from these experiences that have helped improve your wellbeing in everyday life?
The ability to be content with discomfort and uncertainty are essential for mental health. In fact, the only way to have any control over our mental state is to relinquish the illusion of control we all maintain, and to see that this is really just an attempt to feel better under difficult conditions.
Meditation means many things, but one thread that perhaps runs through all systems is the ability to be OK with whatever your current circumstances are, as fear and anxiety tip us into a fight/flight response from which it is impossible, by design, to be content.
Being content with difficulty may be only a first stage in meditation practice and not the end desired outcome, but it is probably true that unless we move beyond this then progression will be impossible. This is the level at which Sensate functions: it is not a replacement for meditation, it is a tool that helps people to increase the effectiveness of their relaxation response and therefore build resilience to stressful conditions.
As a highly qualified Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, are there any links from Chinese medicine that inspired the Sensate device?
Traditional Chinese Medicine is particularly good at recognising and categorising natural phenomena, including physical and emotional states. There is serious exploration of exercise and breathing sounds to optimise health including Tai Qi and Qi Gong, and using voice sounds to make the chest resonante has long been a part of meditation practice throughout SE Asia. Chinese Medicine also focuses on balance and harmony with nature, through appreciation of natural sound, seasons, and smells.
Fun facts for a fellow herbal practitioner and olfactory explorer?
I have always been fascinated and passionate about the potential of all our senses, and developed The Body Shop aromatherapy brand, the first nutraceutical chocolate brand and have consulted for skin product companies. I’m also a life long cook and food alchemist / herbalist as well as a trained cocktail barman, as I have always had an instinctive understanding of how to combine different elements to maximise the potential efficacy.
In particular, odour detection is also a primordial mechanism, and we now know that the sense of smell predicts your overall health and that we can ‘hear’ with our noses!