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Innovation supports mental health

Interactive ball which replicates breathing is delivering wellbeing benefits



Alexz Farrall demonstrating the use of PAWS

A ball which replicates breathing has been designed as a means to support a person’s mental health and help regulate their emotions. 

The interactive ball – named the Physical Artefact for Wellbeing Support (PAWS) – expands and contracts in synchronicity with a person’s inhalations and exhalations. 

Working through haptic feedback, where sensors attached to the user’s body transmit data about their respiration patterns to the ball via a computer, it is already showing its potential in redefining how mental health care is approached. 

Research among those who use the PAWS reveals that there was an average 75 per cent reduction in anxiety and a 56 per cent increase in protection against worry-induced thoughts.

The ball has been developed by Alexz Farrall, a PhD student at the University of Bath, whose research has also revealed a significant improvement in people’s ability to focus on their breathing when they use his shape-shifting ball.

“By giving breath physical form, the ball enhances self-awareness and engagement, fostering positive mental health outcomes,” says Alexz. 

“I hope this device will be part of the solution for many people with problems relating to their mental wellbeing.”

Generally, breathing is an ignored activity, yet when done deeply and with focus, it is known to alleviate anxiety and foster wellbeing. 

Measured breathing is highly rated by mental health practitioners both for its ability to lower the temperature in emotionally charged situations and to increase a person’s receptivity to more demanding mental-health interventions.

Disciplines that frequently include mindful breathing include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and trauma-focused therapies.

Most people, however, struggle to sustain attention on their breathing. Once disengaged from the process, they are likely to return to thinking mode and be less receptive to mental health interventions that require concentration.

Through the creation of the PAWS, this issue is being effectively tackled. 

“When an individual holds the ball, their breath becomes a physical thing between their hands. They can feel and see the flow of air as the object expands and contracts,” says Alexz. 

“This allows them to become more aware of their own internal sensations and more receptive to psychological change. It gives a personalised and engaging experience, and is accessible to everyone.”

In time, he hopes his ball will be a tool used both by mental health professionals and private individuals.

“I want this device to be a genuine catalyst for mental health improvement, not just in clinical settings but also for home users,” he said.

Professor Jason Alexander, who supervises Alexz’s project from the Department of Computer Science at Bath, says: “The beauty of PAWS is that the concept is so simple – letting someone ‘feel’ their breath – yet it has the potential to revolutionise the delivery and outcomes of mental health support not only in the UK but worldwide.”