By Zoe Bradbury
The World Health Organization is now classing stress as the “Health Epidemic of the 21st century”, but could technology actually be the solution, especially in today’s climate?
Digital detoxes, step aside. Strap on the VR headset and be transported to a trickling waterfall, in complete isolation, with no distractions– it’s time to meditate in the most modern way possible.
If one is stressed or anxious, it’s not uncommon advice to hear “step away from devices” or “have a digital detox”. Further, it’s rare for the terms “meditation” and “technology” to go hand in hand.
But what if technology itself, such as Virtual Reality (VR), could actually improve meditation and help calm people down? And what about now, when health guidelines are advising people to avoid going outside in the fresh air?
When one thinks of Virtual Reality, images of gamers with devices strapped to their heads, sitting in a dark room often comes to mind. But the inventive practice is now being used for health, including offering guided meditation.
Several studies have revealed that mindfulness meditation can be key in reducing symptoms of anxiety, creating coping mechanisms and improving reactions to stress.
However, for some, complete meditation can be hard to achieve due to distractions around them. Many struggle to turn off their mind, and to truly let anxiety or stress dissipate when meditating is easier said then done.
This is where VR meditation steps in. Being strapped into a headset can reduce this, allowing one to fully relax and immerse themselves in the experience of mindfulness.
With 360 degree video, immersive locations, new sights and sounds, as well as guiding coaches, VR meditation can be successful because it engages all the senses – even if it does mean tuning the world out by looking at a screen.
VR, or Virtual Reality, involves the use of computer technology to create a simulated, three-dimensional environment.
Commonly, the user straps on a headpiece display that allows them to be completely immersed in the virtual environment. Here, they can “manipulate objects and perform a series of actions” while exploring what is generated around them, says the Virtual Reality Society.
When this is combined with meditation, it means that the person can literally be transported away from their potentially stressful environments, into another world where their reality literally disappears.
VR headsets range from simple case-like devices, which hold a smartphone into place while the headset is positioned over the eyes, for under $30.
Other, more expensive options can range from $200-$1000 and include full motion tracking and even virtual hands.
There are a number of different VR meditation apps, both free and paid, that offer different functions and features.
Set in the serene Iceland landscape of mountains and rolling hills, this app offers six guided meditation sessions in different themes; breathe, focus, movement, letting go, calm and restore.
With 4K 360 degree video, strapping on the headpiece and using this app means that when one looks around, they are graced with a beautiful, Icelandic environment. Isolation and uninterrupted surroundings fully allows for one to immerse themselves into the guided sessions, which run for about 5 minutes each.
Offering 27 different environments and over 500 meditation spots, this app is a comprehensive, customisable meditation experience.
Snow-capped mountains beneath the Northern lights, rainforests, ancient ruins, waterfalls and lakes, are just some of the immersive environments.
Over the speaker, a coach runs through breathing prompts, as well as tips and tricks of meditating under the themes of “depression”, “zen” or “focus”.
But the customisable nature of this app makes it standout and completely unique to the user. Not a fan of a coach guiding? Turn it off.
Other settings include the time frame (2, 5 or 10 minute sessions), music, theme, location and what type of meditation style is required, from calming to energizing, to stability or comfort.
From secluded beaches, underwater coral reefs and tropical waterfalls, Provata VR transports the user to locations around the world, where guided meditation and mindfulness activities await.
What makes this app stand out is the included “meditation biofeedback”. This uses algorithms to track and calculate health indicators, such as resting heart rate, while also monitoring trends and progress in order to maximise use of the app.
Additionally, the app has two video settings, 360 degree video and VR mode, which means people who don’t have a VR headset can still utilise the app’s meditation functions.
If sitting in a location isn’t one’s meditative style, the Tai Chi Trainer XR app offers a movement-based alternative: Tai Chi.
Tai Chi has been described as “meditation in motion,” incorporating balancing meditation, energy control and self-defence.
Utilising augmented reality, this app displays a physical trainer in the room to demonstrate the fundamentals of the ancient Chinese meditative practice. Users can follow along in real time, learning the practice and associated breathing methods while located in a foreign, scenic area.
There’s even the option to take a “group class”, where group members can also be displayed in the same room over the headset.
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