Close your eyes. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Focus on how your body moves when you inhale, and when you exhale. Feel the ground beneath your feet, the breeze on your arms, the Vive headset over your eyes…We're talking about meditation in virtual reality!
At first these concepts seem far removed from one another. Meditation and mindfulness conjures up clichéd thoughts of incense, bamboo and pagoda-roofed buildings. In contrast, technology might elicit mental images of sterile white plastic, circuit boards and endless lines of code à la The Matrix right? The two don’t naturally mix.
Devika thinks otherwise... We have decided to push the boundaries and collaborate with Wollongong’s Nan Tien Temple. During this collaboration, our goal is to develop a meditation app, experienced through virtual reality (VR).
Our Meditation Project
Currently, meditation and mindfulness teaching apps are accessible via smartphones. After placing your headphones on, a voice recording will talk you through a series of steps such as breathing exercises. However, users can easily become distracted by visual surroundings while attempting to complete a session. To combat this issue, we are developing an experience in VR which assists meditation novices. Users put on a headset, which virtually removes the individual from reality and all the distractions it entails.
The development of this project was possible through a collaboration between Devika, UOW’s Dr Robert Gorkin, the Nan Tien Institute and the Nan Tien Temple. Our original idea for the VR app was to ‘transport’ the user to Nan Tien Temple virtually. Then the meditation instructor would guide them through the meditation process, varying in duration from 3-30 minutes.
Fellow collaborator and Nan Tien monk (who coincidentally has a background in computer science) recognised the potential for interactivity within the app. An example of this interactivity includes using the VR app to combat anxiety and negativity. For instance, when a user has a negative thought while using the app, they could virtually place a representation of that thought into a box which would then float away.
Importance of Meditation
Mindfulness has already been recognised as being beneficial in managing anxiety. With this in mind, VR applications could be used in the future to treat anxiety disorders. The app may provide stress relief for individuals in high-stress jobs (eg. paramedics).
VR meditation has the added benefit of ‘gamifying’ the process (applying game like thinking to the activity). This is important as mindfulness takes several progressive steps to fully achieve. Taking this into consideration, the application of gamification enables meditation to be practiced and mastered more efficiently. As a result, we have embedded a series of steps and levels within the experience. We hope that this collaboration will make mindfulness more accessible, enjoyable and a little bit easier for users to experience.