Does Virtual Reality Meditation Really Work?

Virtual reality (VR) meditation is a hot commodity in some circles today, with big names like Deepak Chopra backing the move to usher in a new wave of meditation. VR meditation apps, immersive deep meditation VR experiences, and a flurry of new gadgets are set to change the way you meditate. But is all this stripping away the purity of a once simple method of relaxation and focus? Or can VR take your meditation experience to a deeper, more meaningful place and deliver better results?

What Can You Expect?

During a VR meditation session, you will need to use VR hardware (usually a VR headset) and plug and play your downloaded/purchased app or software. Most will involve some form of soothing imagery, specially selected for its spiritual significance, symbolism, or relevance to the theme of that particular meditation. For instance, in the “Finding Your True Self” product jointly produced by VR specialists Wevr and celebrated alternative medicine advocate and author Deepak Chopra, MD, you experience a 20-minute long session of guided meditation. You can draw inspiration from the visuals of the

Bodhi tree, Buddha, nature and mandalas as you let the instructions delivered in the calming voice of Chopra himself wash over you.1

Can VR Meditation Relax You?

Studies have found that using a combination of VR and actual exercise together can give better psychological benefits than either method alone.2 VR exposure therapy (VRET) has also been found to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.3 Now, VR meditation combines both experiences to try and give you a chance to destress, relax, and distract yourself from the pressures and anxieties of life.

First-hand accounts from those who have tried VR meditation have yielded mixed results. While the vibrant “immersive” environments may

be an acquired taste, there is likely to be a style or space that suits your sensibilities in the virtual world too – whether it is the choice of beach, canyon, forest, or garden in Cubicle Ninja’s app;4 the underwater world of DEEP5; or the purple technicolor hues in Chopra’s product. So what can these VR meditation apps do for you?

The Pain Studies Lab, backed by the Canada Foundation For Innovation, has been working on a modified version of a VR meditation chamber for use as a virtual walking meditation experience. With your 3D goggles as well as biofeedback equipment on, you begin walking on a treadmill in a simulation of a forest. Your environment is modified based on your physiological parameters, helping you to gain control over your emotions and reactions. Research has found this immersive VR to be even better for pain management than traditional meditation, which is less accessible due to the skill needed.6

Who Should Try It?

If you are someone who meditates every day and the unchanging scenery of the location where you currently meditate is tiring you out, these apps can give you the variety you seek. If you need someone to guide you through your meditation, you will find assistance in the step-by-step instructions and the soothing voice of your meditation guide or teacher in the audio track. If you like the calm that music can bring, you will enjoy the sound effects of water, nature, and other little tinkles and hums that the VR meditation experience offers. More importantly, if you like to have a greater degree of control over the sights and sounds around so you can meditate in an environment that is optimal for you, this is a must-try.

But Is It Really Meditation?

Purists argue that this may not be meditation in its truest form. Mindfulness meditation, another popular movement, requires you to get away from all the noise and interference of technology

and its attendant distraction. You simply find a quiet place, sit down, and close your eyes, focusing on your breathing and nothing else. Sans visuals or music or anyone else’s voice. The calming effect comes as you free your mind of attachment and distractions and put your complete focus on the moment. This is the way meditation has been practiced for centuries. As one journalist reported, the VR experience was very relaxing given a certain duration of time, diverting, and immersive. He did, however, question how meditative it was given that traditional discipline of meditation required you to focus your attention inward. VR meditation, on the other hand, is very outward looking with all the sensory inputs you get through the experience.7

However, backers of the VR wave say that this is simply a natural progression or evolution to keep pace with our growing consumption of technology. In some ways, VR meditation can be superior to regular meditation. For one thing, it can also be integrated to

measure your physiological indications using electroencephalography (EEG). This allows your state during the experience to be measured, giving you visual feedback by way of a change in the virtual environment based on the changes to your parameters.8

The biofeedback tracking mechanism of DEEP and the Pain Studies Lab’s forest VR walking meditation means that you do in fact need to gain control of your breathing as in traditional meditation. Your breathing changes how and what you see in the virtual world of the app or VR meditation experience, and it also modifies how you actually move through the virtual world.9

To test the effectiveness of stress therapy that employs VR-based meditation, one group of researchers tested it against the results from an imaginary technique. Results showed that while both methods had a positive impact on

the meditative state of subjects, those who underwent VR-based stress therapy were in a significantly better and different state of meditation than the others.10

While further clinical studies are needed to back up the claims of VR meditation advocates and just how helpful it can be in treating various ailments, the experience may offer you a chance to relax – and all the benefits that come with relaxation – that is worth tapping into anyway.