Virtual Reality, once known for revolutionizing the gaming field, is now pioneering a new field: meditation. The goal is to offer increased well-being to its users by using a headset that shows different calming images and allows them to focus on their breath. As a result, they can take a moment to step out of any stressful situation and come back refreshed and ready to respond instead of reacting out of negative emotions.
Virtual reality meditation is a new form of meditation that involves a headset and an app that transports the user to beautiful destinations to create a relaxing, immersive experience.
VR meditation serves as a bridge to populations who may not otherwise try meditation, such as teenagers.
Some studies have shown VRs efficacy while other data have shown some downsides.
How VR meditation works
Virtual reality (VR) meditation works using a headset, sometimes called goggles, that offers an immersive simulation experience that transports to a peaceful place by emulating other realities. It eliminates worldly distractions allowing the user to focus and relax. Virtual reality has grown in popularity, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, as mental health issues have become more mainstream. It provides users who may struggle with regular or traditional meditation an alternative.
For example, through the VR headset, the user can be transported anywhere, like the beach or the countryside, which facilitates an overall calming feeling. Gentle sounds may also accompany the visual, like flowing water or a soft breeze, to complete the experience. This way, people can tune out the distracting thoughts that may be bothering them and get some gentle relief for a short time.
VR meditation – benefits and risks:
The use of VR meditation is a part of the growing movement that combines technology with meditation. This certainly isn't anything new with binaural beats music, podcasts, guided meditations on YouTube, and nearly 20,000 apps available worldwide for electronic devices.
Benefits of VR meditation
VR meditation has seen an uptick in use by teenagers who suffer from anxiety and depression. Some psychiatry practices are implementing this technology, especially for teens who suffer from a social anxiety disorder.
Here are VR mediation benefits:
- Better sense of calm.
- Rational decision making.
- Increased socialization.
- Less anxiety.
- More feelings of gratitude.
- A sense of wonder and awe.
- Self acceptance.
- Getting over grief.
- Finding more happiness.
- Better sleep.
Possible VR meditation drawbacks
Even though studies have demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of VR meditation, there are still some words of caution.
Some people are cautious for the following reasons:
- VR "cybersickness" or motion sickness.
- Eye strain.
- If the volume is too high, it can affect hearing.
- People prone to delusions may become more delusional.
- Children need to take caution so as not to damage their developing eyes with too much "screen-time".
As with anything, always check with your doctor before starting a new health regimen, especially if you suffer from motion sickness, eye disorders, hearing disorders, or serious mental disorders like schizophrenia.
How accessible is VR meditation?
While VR meditation has grown in popularity over the last few years, its price point may steer some people away. For example, the Meta Quest 2 costs $400. Additionally, users need to download an app that costs $10-$20 to guide them through the meditative experience. So for lower-income households, this is not a good fit, and most will need to rely on traditional medicine and behavioral therapy.
What's the VR meditation process?
First, the user puts on the headset and starts the app. One popular such app is called TRIPP. During the experience, the user chooses different meditation options to guide them through calming scenes and breathing exercises, including the box breath. This helps them feel as though they have been carried away to a soothing, peaceful place. This can be a great experience for those unable to travel to exotic locations or who live in big cities without much nature nearby.
While some people worry about eye safety when using VR, some studies report the it can help with the following:
- Lazy eye.
- Reaction time.
- Hand-eye coordination.
- Depth perception.
Virtual reality meditation is a unique way to meditate or, at the very least, experience something like meditation. Some studies suggest that VR meditation can produce transcendent feelings akin to taking psychedelic drugs. Something like this, however, won't just happen in one session. Experts recommend using VR meditation regularly to see results and how it affects them. However, they also note that just one lone session is not enough.
Using VR technology with meditation can have some powerful effects on promoting mindfulness. There are two layers to achieving mindfulness. First, one must settle their mind. Then, they must witness whatever thoughts or habits occur within the mind. Unfortunately, this is where most people give up and become frustrated because they feel like they can't stop outside thoughts from entering.
The VR headset works by putting a layer between the two stages where relaxation can be induced. Hence, the thoughts gently drift away, and the user comes into the present moment to experience mindfulness. The more this process happens, the more likely they will see positive mindset changes.
A bridge toward meditation
Because VR is so popular with gamers and teenagers, VR meditation can serve as a bridge to meditation for populations who may otherwise not have tried it. The benefits of traditional meditation and breathing exercises have been widely studied to calm the nervous system and help those who suffer from mental health disorders. Additionally, there has been an increase in mental health issues since the COVID-19 pandemic, where people were locked down and unable to socialize for months at a time. Just as that pandemic changed the fabric of society, virtual reality may as well in the coming years.
Virtual reality meditation is an exciting, new, and relatively safe way to meditate and engage in mindfulness for peace and relaxation. It's possible as it grows to become more popular and widespread, it will eventually become more affordable as well. While its full mechanisms are not completely understood yet for the human condition, brain, and psyche, it does shed light and hope for a path forward through mental illness and into wellness.