Dierdre Shea 
ID Portfolio

The Self-Shaman
integrating mindful breathing practice
into the rituals of addiction and recovery

Wearable Breath Sensor, Responsive Light, Responsive App
electronically integrated porcelain, PLA, digital platform
Graduate Thesis, 2018

Addressing mental health, habit reformation, access and agency through the poetry of breath.  

Cravings can sometimes feel overwhelming, even for those who have already integrated habits to avoid and work through into their daily rituals.

Mindful breathing for addiciton establishes the user’s connection to their own body and mind, reducing cravings through acknowledgement instead of avoidance. These ancient breathing methods are used to reduce anxiety and promote empathetic acknowledgement of self. 

The Self Shaman is designed to assist people considering recovery or in recovery to integrate mindful breathing habits into the their recovery rituals, through an empathetic and empowering experience.

Based on actions already integrated into existing low-cost interventions, The Self-Shaman offers the user three tools to work through cravings, using mindful breathing to tailor the experience to best support their unique needs:

sensing ︎

The Talisman
is a porcelain necklace with an embedded sensor which detects the breath of the user through the rising and falling motions of the chest.

It is the center piece for the system. Discreet as a jewlery piece, but functional in it’s embedded technology. 

visual feedback ︎

The Vessel
is a table lamp which links to the Talisman and reflects the user’s breath in realtime through glowing white light.

Tap the base once for real time feedback, and tap twice to overlay the white light with a blue “guiding light”, programmed with a calming breathing pattern - for the moments when finding mindful breath is most difficult.

anytime, any place  ︎

The Guru
is a smartphone app designed as a lower cost and more mobile breathing reflector and guide. It responds to the sensor in the Talisman, providing an app-based visual to follow through mindful breathing.

It allows for increased accessibility and portability. For this reason, it was found to be a more preferable interaction by a large percentage of users.

The process of breathing through cravings is an action that can be taken by any, regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs, community and familial support, or resources. The guidance empathetically gives the user control to obtain self awareness and calm when they are overwhelmed by cravings. The user is taught a process with which to accept and empathize with self, while retraining the mind’s automatic reaction to cravings.

For ideation and prototyping of this concept, see Addiction + Breath

For technical specs of this open-source product, see Self-Shaman Tech Specs

For research, see below.

Research:: The Sociology and Science of Addiction :: Addressing Stigma, Access, and Agency over Recovery

Thesis Research Objectives:: To approach addiction as a function of wellnesss. To assess the scenario through an empathetic, human-centered, non-judgemental platform. To study this scenario from the perspective of those invloved. To be open to the emotionality of treatment.


Addiction affects billions of people across the globe, yet the system of treatment is inadequate. How can we assist those who are interested in recovery but have limited access?  


: first person interviews with stakeholders
    - active and recovering substance users
    - health care providers (psychologists, neurologists, counselors, doctors, etc.)
    - addiction public policy academics and advocates
    - social program providers (harm reduction, housing advocacy, rehab, etc.)
    - friends and family of active and recovering substance users    
active participation in recovery programs (AA, NA, group therapies)
: medical research (neurological and behavioral trials and studies)
: social history of marketing and public policy of drug use in the United States
: alternative methods for healing and mental health wellness
: participatory workshops
: user testing

Thesis Book: Research, Process, Reflections

(research takeaways)
Quality options for addiction treatment are offered with limited access due to cost, regulation, distance of services, and need vs. availability. Sometimes the services available are not appropriate for someone’s needs. Often appropriate action requires collaboration across methods.

“We don’t understand very well what works in addiction treatment. But we do have some reasonable tools:   therapy, medication, social support-- and in my opinion, people ought to be offered all of these options, in abundance. Because that’s the best we’ve got. And nothing works too well.”

- Jess Williams
The Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions (IRETA)

In addition, “successful” treatment methods are difficult to substantiate. While researchers are working on knowing more, it is debated and unclear why some people can quit and other’s have enormous difficulty. There is a spectrum in recovery.

These four concepts have been identified as essential turning points in recovery. Habit Retraining, Access to Treatment, Physical and Mental Health Wellness, and Agency over Recovery.

What are some low cost, accessible interventions we can apply to addiction recovery?

“One of the things that we’re doing is we’re providing mindfulness, yoga, guided meditation, sound meditation, for active users… these are pretty low threshold, depending on how they’re done, pretty low cost interventions, that are being used in rehabs, being used in prisons, and then nothing when you get into the real sh-t, especially if you are someone with limited means.”

- Dimitri Mugianis, NYHRE (New York Harm Reduction Educators)

MINDFULNESS THERAPY (as a tool for recovery) is “focused attention on the breath, intended to help individuals retrain their minds from habitually engaging in self-related pre-occupations such as thinking about the past or future, or reacting to stressful stimuli - to more present moment awareness.”

- Dr. Judson Brewer, expert in Mindfulness for Addiction Therapy.

To see ideation and prototyping of this concept, see Breath: Connecting with Ourselves