© Unsplash: Kalen Emsley
Disclaimer: I’m a complete technophobe. I just about know what a HDMI cable looks like, and I only came to grips with the iCloud a couple of months ago.
And don't even talk to me about gaming; I’m a complete novice - unless Tetris and Crash Bandicoot count?
But this year, I decided to shake things up. The reason? Well, given the ever-increasing interest and accessibility of virtual reality headsets - Samsung and Google have released their own versions of the tech gadget, for starters, and Sony has sold half a million PlayStation VR headsets since September - I wanted a piece of the action. (And to see what all the fuss is about).
And I'm not alone; the number of people looking to try out life in a virtual arena has doubled in the past three months. Read about these 4 tech therapies to help ease anxiety and depression.
I decided to try the fully-kitted out Oculus Rift for myself. #spoileralert. I was pleasantly surprised. Turns out the world of virtual reality extends far further than zombie games and fake basketball matches.
It did something pretty magical for my meditation practice.
MY MEDITATION PRACTICE BEFORE VIRTUAL REALITY
In all honesty, my meditation is pretty standard: I’ll usually shut my eyes and listen to a guided meditation on YouTube before bed, and I attend after-work soul-searching sessions at my local Buddhist centre to relax and centre after a stressful day. While I try to do it regularly, in reality, I perhaps manage once or twice a week.
But, as someone with a constantly racing mind, I’m well aware of the importance of meditation, while a study at the Carnegie Mellon University showed that 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation can reduce stress levels in just three days. Sound familiar? Read: Stressed? How meditation can help.
"When you initially learn mindfulness meditation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task," says lead study author J. David Creswell. "And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful."
But knowing something, and doing something are two different things and, typically, two minutes of trying to find inner zen is my limit. After that, my thoughts are halfway down the High Street wondering if there'll be time to pop to LUSH during lunch the next day.
Which makes me the perfect candidate for meditation with a VR headset. With the location created for - and 360 degrees around - you, all you have to do is relax. So if like me, you struggle to stay completely focused while you meditate, virtual reality could be the secret to instant calm. There's nowhere else to look.
MY VIRTUAL REALITY MEDITATION JOURNEY
The first time I donned the headset and opened the Guided Meditation VR app, I found myself in the universe - as in, it actually looked as if I was floating about in outer space. All around me was an infinite black sky twinkling with stars and in front of me - where my TV had been moments before - was a gigantic Earth. I felt like a weightless astronaut.
After twenty minutes of staring at the Moon in awe and feeling pretty small in comparison, I decided to see what else this virtual reality malarky could throw at me. I quickly realised that virtual reality and meditation are like peanut butter and banana; they an ideal pairing.
1. YOU CAN MEDITATE ANYWHERE
Not chilled out by the sight of the stars? Fear not. When it comes to picking your zen zone, you can pretty much take your pick. An autumnal forest, perhaps? A white sandy beach or under the Northern lights. Not only are the locations incredibly beautiful and realistic, but the supporting soundtrack is also on point - from the gentle flow of the streams to the distant tweeting of birds.
2. IT FITS INTO YOUR ROUTINE
Time is precious; who doesn't get that? Between social meetups, tight deadlines and squeezing in the gym, finding a moment to sit and be still feels like a luxury. During this trial week, though, I managed to meditate every day. Sometimes, two or three times. Why was it different? Whether I had one minute, five minutes or more, I knew I could sink immediately into my practice, which allowed me to focus entirely on what my meditation guide was saying.
3. IT KEEPS YOU COMPLETELY FOCUSED
Meditation, by nature, is the ability to train your mind to engage in peaceful thoughts and to reach a transcendental level of consciousness. While some people can do this without any aides, I struggle to switch off completely. After a week of help from the Oculus, that changed. This is because the place I was being transported to had already been created for me. How can you start worrying about tomorrow’s 9am meeting when you’re staring at glittering stalactites in a moon cave? I found myself pulling myself away from mindless wanderings less, and I’ve since been able to continue incorporating daily meditation into my routine - even if it’s only for a couple of minutes.
THE DOWNSIDE OF VIRTUAL REALITY
- If you’re anything like me, the set-up will feel as confusing as trying to defuse an explosive.
- It needs a couple of minutes to load up before you can jump into your favourite location.
- You’ll miss sitting on the edge of the Earth when you go to meditate without it.
- If you’re using it purely for meditation, it’s a pretty expensive investment.
THE RESULTS: DID THE OCULUS RIFT IMPROVE MY MEDITATION PRACTICE?
In a word, yes. I often make last-minute plans and I never know whether I’ll get into bed in time to get a full eight hours kip. But even when I was pressed for time, I was able to fit in a quality meditation practice - and it calmed me down instantly, unlike any two-minute meditation I’ve listened to purely audibly.
On the days when I could sit for longer - before going to bed, for example, I chose the ten-minute sessions. When I did, I fell asleep almost instantly.
It’s a hefty cost to pay but I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had such a zen week. Better still, I’ve learnt how to focus my mind more in real-life meditation, too - which has been invaluable.