VR Meditation Could Take The Misery Out Of Long-Haul Flying

Using immersive tech for meditation is becoming more popular, but can it make flying in economy feel bearable?

Keen to explore the potential of immersive technologies to enhance passenger wellness during long-haul flights, StoryUP has partnered with French-American company Skylights, which has recently utilized cinematic VR as premium passenger entertainment to work towards integrating its Healium content onto their Allosky headsets.

Healium is an immersive media channel that aims to combat stress by combining immersive technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, with biometrics monitoring. Stress is the number one epidemic of the 21st century according to Healium, and self-awareness is the first and most crucial step towards tackling it. It’s what the team describes as “loving-kindness content.”

The app uses real-time EEG feedback to increase feelings of positivity by placing the viewer in environments which are healed and transformed by their changing biometrics. This is accomplished using devices such as the Muse headband or smartwatches in conjunction with the visuals provided by the headset.

The app is capable of functioning independently without wearable integration or VR goggles (there is an AR version which you can use on mobile devices, currently available on iOS, coming soon to Android), although it is a much more immersive experience to use the brain-sensing headband or other wearable as a controller while in VR. The visual meditation experience is powered by your own brain and heart rate, so as you move towards greater inner peace, the various brainwave patterns and changing heart rate moves alters the visuals surround the user, making flowers spontaneously grow or the sun shine more brightly. Rather poetic, really, but also a design choice based upon research that indicates that exposure to nature and mindfulness practices can aid in relaxation and anxiety reduction.

The EEG patterns most associated with stress and anxiety are increased fast wave activity (Beta) and decreased slow wave activity (Alpha). Increases in Alpha power are associated with lower levels of anxiety and increased calmness.  

A recent study published recently in Frontiers in Psychology, found that applied relaxation techniques had comparable effects to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) as do therapeutic approaches that incorporate mindfulness training.

According to the paper, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, with as much as one third of the population experiencing it at some point in their lives. Given the number of people affected, it seems a logical step to explore the potential of accessible, user-friendly, engaging technologies to assist in this treatment process.

While previous research has established that VR can be successfully used in the treatment of anxiety disorders, including phobias and PTSD, here researchers compared a brief nature-based mindfulness VR experience to a resting control condition on participants suffering from anxiety. The results demonstrated that both a quiet rest control condition and the VR meditation significantly reduced subjective reports of anxiety.

“VR intervention uniquely resulted in shifting proportional power from higher Beta frequencies into lower Beta frequencies, and significantly reduced broadband Beta activity in the anterior cingulate cortex. These effects are consistent with a physiological reduction of anxiety,” the paper states.  

The results support the notion that intentionally crafted VR experiences can be therapeutically effective, and may result in “immediate, adaptive psychophysiological outcomes.” There is early evidence, the researchers conclude, that VR based meditation interventions have the potential to play an important role in anxiety management and stress reduction. “As VR technology becomes more accessible and user-friendly, this type of intervention may find its way into a variety of environments and applications. Because the technology is relatively easy to use, it may serve as a wellness tool in work and school environments, as an intervention for persons with lack of access to nature, as a calming technique for persons receiving medical/dental procedures, as an adjunct to traditional therapeutic interventions.”

Who knows? If this catches on and eventually becomes part of the standard offering with most airlines, next time you’re facing 10+ hours squeezed in that middle seat in cattle class, you might just be able to escape to your own little Nirvana and emerge as a happier, healthier person upon landing. Until then, we’re stuck with more traditional therapies, like cornering the flight attendant for that extra G&T.

Image Credit: Healium / Muse

About the Scout

Alice Bonasio

Alice Bonasio runs the Tech Trends blog and contributes to Ars Technica, Quartz, Newsweek, The Next Web, and others. She is also writing VRgins, a book about sex and relationships in the virtual age. She lives in the UK.

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