In Anxious Times, Melissa Root’s Calmpak Beckons

By Lee Howard The Day, New London, Conn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Calmpak" was created by Dr. Melissa Root. It is a sound card that opens up like a singing birthday card. Each card includes a five-minute recorded monologue that guides listeners through a series of relaxation exercises.

NEW LONDON

Psychologist Melissa Root had known for years about a technique called progressive muscle relaxation that has proven effective in easing pain and relieving stress, but it wasn't until actually seeing the effects of these exercises while volunteering at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital that she got an idea to help people from all walks of life carve out a Zen moment or two every day.

"At the hospital, people would fall sound asleep, and this was 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning," said Root, who used a recording of her own voice to help relax patients as part of the hospital's Gentle Touch program. "One elderly gentleman asked me how he could do this again."

A year later, with the help of students from four local colleges and partial funding from the business booster Thames River Innovation Place, Root Success Solutions LLC is ready to launch its Calmpak brand products to bring these exercises out of the hospital and into people's homes, offices and even college campuses.

Root's first product, the Calmpak Sound Card that opens up like a singing birthday card, is essentially a five-minute recorded monologue that guides listeners through a series of relaxation exercises; the second, the Calmpak keyfob, allows nearly anyone with a smartphone to access via the internet either the same five-minute monologue or a longer 20-minute version, complete with images taken at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford and the city's Ocean Beach Park, by using a small device outfitted with Near Field Technology (think Apple Pay). She said she has a provisional patent on each.

The sound card is already available for purchase at the L+M gift shop for $20 (or $25 online), while the keyfob goes for $9.95, plus shipping, on the website www.rootsuccess.com. Until May 15, each keyfob purchase will be matched by the donation of a device to a first responder.

"It's such an exciting new startup in our community," said Liz Pasqualini, executive director of TRIP, a regional economic-development engine that helps entrepreneurs in the start-up phase of their businesses.

Pasqualini said Calmpak, which received about $4,000 from TRIP, is the smallest of the 16 projects the organization is funding this year out of a total pool of $3 million in state grants and local matching funds. But TRIP decided it was a good fit because of its ability to connect college students at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut College and Mitchell College with the local entrepreneur ecosystem -- a niche TRIP had found hard to crack.

"We liked the fact the project was connecting us to higher ed institutions in the region," Pasqualini said.

It also happens to be the first tech-oriented startup funded by TRIP, and it's one of the few projects that hasn't been impeded in some way by the COVID-19 outbreak, Pasqualini said. That's because all of the college students associated with Calmpak have either completed their tasks or been able to continue to work on the project remotely.

Root, previously known in the community for helping submariners and schools use a technique called video self-modeling to improve performance, said a Coast Guard cadet contributed videos for the product, a UConn student has been involved in graphic design, a Mitchell College student is doing photography and it is hoped that Connecticut College will help run a pilot study to determine the effectiveness of Calmpak.

Another selling point for TRIP was Calmpak's intention to incorporate local imagery, especially when the products move into a second phase that will include another relaxation technique known as guided imagery that has proven particularly helpful for fibromyalgia patients. Ironically, Root said, it is just this imagery of scenic local spots such as Bluff Point that is keeping us all calm in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Root said the sound cards are geared mostly for patients in a hospital setting or those who do not have access to a computer or cell phone. The cards instruct people to tighten and relax muscles one at a time until the whole body releases much of its tension.

"They've been selling really well; customers love it," she said, adding that she hopes to be able to bring the price down if she can sell them in enough quantity.

The keyfob product Root could easily see handed out by colleges to help students deal with stressful situations. She added that relaxation exercises, which can also be found on YouTube and elsewhere (with variable quality), don't come with the stigma of going to see a campus counselor for those who feel embarrassed about mental-health issues.

The beauty of the fob, she added, is that it is a visual reminder that help is only a minute away; holding the device next to a smartphone immediately connects it to either of the relaxation exercises.

"It's so easy; they don't have to type in anything," Pasqualini said. "There are not a lot of barriers." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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