How Virtual Reality and Biofeedback Can Improve Meditation Experience

Valeriia Kyselova
Valeriia Kyselova
Account Manager

Why would Google, Aetna, and the United States Marine Corps payout for their employees to train mindfulness? It is because an investment in the smooth workplace functioning pays them back.

Since ancient times, the essence of all meditation techniques remains the same: to increase mindfulness and allow gaining peace and clarity of present moment awareness. Meditation is a way to move beyond emotional upsets and stressful thinking.

Mindfulness helps people handle pain, stress, and everyday challenges, however, that’s not the only reason why meditation has soared in the business and tech world.

Businesses start realizing how much more efficient and less stressed employees are when they practice meditation.

Comprehensive analysis of mindfulness research suggests that injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness improves not only focus but also the ability to manage stress in the workplace.

TMHome meditation

Credit: TMHOME

A recent study that 8-weeks meditation course increased job effectiveness by 6.15%. The course included three one-hour webinars and short daily guided meditations (6 to 12 minutes).

As a result, the meditation course allowed to decrease depression by 28.84%, anxiety by 30.29%, and stress by 32.45%.

Psychological conditions and mental health disorders cost an estimated $2.5 trillion globally in lost productivity and medical expenses. Part of the problem is a lack of access to qualified mental health practitioners.

Though virtual reality (VR) has been used for decades as a tool for therapists, it has not been widely available due to the high cost and fundamental technology limitations.

But with the advent of affordable Virtual Reality headsets, virtual reality is now becoming mainstream in global mental health treatment.

VR therapy apps are by no means a perfect solution. However, they are characterized by numerous shortfalls.

meditation vr apps

Meditation VR apps challenges and downsides

One of the main challenges VR treatment has is the lack of clinical evidence and data which is vital for effective treatment.

The recently published research showed that most of the existing mental health apps are clinically unproven and potentially ineffective. Moreover, they may lead to over-reliance and anxiety around self-diagnosis.

A lot of patients who are on waiting lists for medical treatment, turn to mobile healthcare apps as alternative sources of support. The high quality clinically proven apps play an important role regarding waiting lists.

According to the above research, the right software can sift slighter mental health problems and become a real remedy for treating some of the mental health issues, like panic attacks and anxiety disorders.

Online and app-based self-delivered treatments become increasingly favorite, though, to be efficient, those apps need to be data-based, scientifically credible, and peer-reviewed. It is especially vital for people who just started using the app.

If a person that’s suffering from mental health problems goes through all of the challenging processes and practices with your app and sees no improvements, this may lead to increased anxiety and even frustration.

Fortunately, the high-tech is on its way to significantly improve outcomes for those using VR mental health treatments.

It makes VR medicine centers possible and useful if designed with clinical quality in mind and supported by medical practitioners.

mental health

What is required to enter the market of mental health VR applications?

There are a few factors that stimulate the growth of mental health apps that use virtual reality. They include the omnipresence of smart mobile devices, the rise of affordable VR headsets, and increased attention to using technology in healthcare.

However, businesses that aim to enter this market need to comply with regulations and conduct thought-out and adequately designed clinical studies.

  1. Сlinical viability. Methodical reviews prove that healthcare apps that are designed with mental health practitioners involvement are on average two times more efficient rather than those without.
  2. External validation. Mental health apps should be validated by an external body. Transparently, with broad involvement of target users and medical specialists.
  3. Statistical proof. The promise that your app really helps people improve their mental health needs to be proved. Give users test-based numbers and scientifically proven statistics.

The frequent lack of an underlying evidence base, scientific credibility, and subsequent limited clinical effectiveness are the leading causes of app’s failure.

However, when it comes to meditation success measurement, there are factors like heart rate variability (HRV) and diaphragm expansion that speak up for the patient’s physical condition.

How to measure the effectiveness of your VR mental health app

The HRV is a measure of the variation in time between heartbeats. A lower HRV suggests a need for recovery and relaxation, while higher HRV indicates a low-stress and relaxed physiological condition.

Heart rate variability is highly useful in distinguishing between usual and meditative states: the pulse speeds up with inspiration and slows down with expiration.

The proper method of breathing in meditation is diaphragm-based. The relaxed breathing technique involves diaphragm muscle to expand the lungs.

It allows to slow breathing down, take in more oxygen, and relax the chest muscles that are almost always in tension.

For example, the biofeedback-based app DEEP brings VR relaxation experiences due to its custom controllers system. A user controls the gameplay and explores the unknown underwater world through breathing.

The custom controller measures diaphragm expansion to sense deep breathing. Then, it sends the data to the player in a variety of visual cues, encouraging to slow down the breath and to relax. Guided by a circular reticle that expands and contracts along with the movements of the diaphragm, the user moves through the virtual world shaded by relaxing illuminating colors.

VR for meditation

Credit: DEEP

As mentioned above, correct breathing techniques are central to meditation and relaxation. Nevertheless, the vast majority of people are unaware of these factors.

It is one reason why biofeedback based meditation is one of the distinct ways to track the initial progress and improve meditation experience.

What is biofeedback based meditation and how it works?

Biofeedback refers to many forms of electrical monitoring of body functions, e.g., heart rate variability, diaphragm expansion, blood pressure, etc.  To give information about a person’s progress, biofeedback based meditation apps use response data from a wearable device or a computer.

Biofeedback-based meditation facilitates concentration and emotion regulation. Though, the distinguishing feature between biofeedback and meditation itself is that standard meditation practices are self-regulated while biofeedback is machine tracked.

By combining biofeedback technology with immersive VR experiences, we can make meditation easier to learn.

Although, there are healthcare VR apps that are promoted as casual relaxation apps. These apps aren’t clinical, but they have an impact on users mental state.

The Unyte healthcare VR app, for instance, offers to think of interactive meditation as a “vacation for your mind.” The  app combines meditation breathing techniques, immersive gaming experiences, real-time biofeedback, and VR technology.

Unyte

Credit: Unyte

This VR mental health app teaches specific breathing and mindfulness techniques that influence the heart rate variability. With the help of real-time feedback, users can immediately get relevant data about the state of their nervous system.

Unyte shows user’s data in the appealing in-game UI. It displays a breathing indicator that guides players to optimal breathing rate that influences HRV and resonance score. This score reflects user’s HRV ranging from 1% to 100%.

The higher the HRV is, the higher is the resulting resonance score = the player is more relaxed

Unyte biofeedback

Credit: Unyte

Unyte uses a biofeedback device that easily connects to the body by ear clip. The iom2 biofeedback platform primarily measures Heart Rate Variability and breathing rate. Both parameters are interconnected and considered to be high indicators of meditative state. The breathing rate and HRV are displayed in real-time through every meditation experience.

Unyte IOM2

How can biofeedback be implemented?

Biofeedback hardware is rather expensive and complicated to use. Nevertheless, there are few solutions on the market that are widely used.

Spire mindfulness tracker is claimed to be “the world’s first wearable device to track breathing patterns.” It includes a wearable biosensor to track real-time respiration and give actionable feedback and a mental health mobile app that helps the user find the peace of mind.

Spire alert notification

The device measures user’s breath via the expansion and contraction of your torso. It continuously monitors breathing and alerts a user in case of sudden changes.

Muse

Credit: Muse

Muse meditation headband is a brain-sensing wearable that goes along with a healthcare smartphone app. The device provides real-time data feedback on changing brain states during meditation. The data includes graphs given after every session to elevate meditation experience.

Though Guided Meditation VR app isn’t clinically validated, this is the world’s first VR therapy app that measures heart rate without add-ons. It is marketed to give users a real brain vacation through a guided meditation session in virtual reality.

VR meditation

Credit: Guided meditation VR demo

The 360-degree view is available on Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift, although, real-time biofeedback is now available only for Gear VR headset.

The VR app captures biometrics to provide a better feedback loop, making it possible for users to track effectiveness and visualize positive results of meditation.

The VR relaxation experience offers four lush immersive environments with voiceover and chill-out music.

Each time the consumer chooses a new setting, the device asks to press their finger to a sensor in order to measure the heart rate. In essence, it takes the heart rate before and after the meditation.

To medicate or meditate?

For over five decades VR therapy has been used in clinics for anxiety disorders treatment. These mental health issues affect over 40 million people the United States and cost the country $42 billion a year.

Because of this vast number of people suffering from different kinds of anxiety problems, self-guided therapy through mobile and VR treatment apps can make an impressive difference.

The market for treating mental health via virtual reality technology has been easily adapted thanks to the years of scientific researches on meditation and mindfulness.

People are drawn to meditation for lots of various reasons, from stress reduction and pain relief to finding better self-understanding and enhancing the ability to concentrate.

In fact, it is ranked as one of the top-10 alternative therapies used in the U.S.

Biofeedback-based meditation is another visual proof that everyone who regularly practices relaxation gets mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional benefits.

Thanks to VR therapy technologies used for meditation practices it becomes possible to give real-time feedback with an intuitive in-game interface, show the progress, and inspire to a better result.

The combination of biofeedback and meditation makes it easier to gain more control over the health and mental issues, guiding to a more optimum breathing rate and level of mindfulness. Healthcare VR apps allow meditating at your own pace anytime, and anywhere you choose.

The final word

The market for healthcare VR is still in its nesting stage. Nevertheless, it’s becoming enhanced enough to enable safe and effective treatment.

VR meditation experience has already become more affordable than ever.

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