This article by Co-founder and Chief Meditation Officer of Flow, Tristan Elizabeth Gribbin, was first published on Biohacker Summit’s blog, August 28, 2018, and updated and re-published in December 2020.
This article covers some of the latest science regarding meditation and mental wellness as well as the indications about virtual reality's potential positive impact on mental health when used as a tool to boost wellness and reduce anxiety and other mental disorders or stress.
Let’s begin by taking a really deep breath
Most of us breathe only at 20% of our lung capacity, so let’s make a real effort to breathe even deeper, really filling our lungs. By taking a conscious full breath, we immediately connect deeper within to ourselves. Our breath is the fundamental starting point of almost every meditation practice.
Now let’s add a focus or intention — this could be a word or sentence that describes what we would like to gain in meditation — for example gratitude, clarity or energy, and as we think of this word or sentence and repeat it to ourselves, we continue to take some more deep breaths.
We are now meditating with breath and focus combined. These two simple actions, to breathe and to focus, can be used at any time, day or night to access meditation’s benefits.
See Tristan Gribbin’s demonstration and guided meditation from the Biohacker Summit 2018 Stockholm video series:
Why do we need meditation now more than ever?
This is the scenario of a typical day:
The alarm goes off, we get out of bed, wash up and eat breakfast, if we have time. Scroll through notifications on the phone. There are some alarming alerts from the news that appear. Head to work. Check emails, and try not to get distracted. Sort through endless messages. Attend to a long list of to-dos at work. Attempt to work through a growing backlog. Go to meetings. Check the buzzing phone. Ask yourselves why are we here and what this is all about. Wonder about our fast-fading hopes and dreams. Take a 5-minute break, feeling distracted and worried. Get back to work where there are more and more requests and responsibilities to tend to and it’s only mid-day.
We have been living in a stress epidemic (even before our current global crisis) in this day and age, and this is deadly serious and impacts us all. Anxiety, depression and exhaustion have never been so prevalent as now. The World Health Organisation has declared that, "Stress is the Health Epidemic of the 21st century."
If this is how modern life looks and feels, chances are high that our energy is depleted by the afternoon, not to mention the constant tinge of tension we feel crawling up the back of our necks and around the shoulder area, lower back, maybe even the entire body — stress.
In addition, there is always an endless list of work-related tasks that need to be taken care of before the end of the day, so we push ourselves harder and our personal lives get neglected. We find ourselves working online late in the evenings instead of unplugging, connecting with loved ones, reading or doing activities to nurture our bodies and minds.
If the story above sounds familiar, then it is time to:
Slow down & breathe
Think more clearly
Take a positive action step
Meditation is that simple, yet the majority of people do not practice meditation. With Flow, all it takes is four mindful minutes any time night or day to recharge from a life that is constantly demanding our attention and energy. Still, most busy working people like us have a very hard time sitting still for just a few minutes with our eyes closed.
Stress is costly
According to the Global Wellness Institute report, "The Future of Wellness at Work", Stress effects 68% of workers and stress costs EU companies €617 billion yearly, due to decreased productivity, rising rates of sick leave, and less engagement. When not managed properly, stress leads to burnout, which can cost us our health, mental well-being, relationships, creativity, happiness, and more.
We are so accustomed to being on the move, running from one thing to the next, we’ve forgotten how to consciously slow down, connect and restore.
One study shows that three out of five employees experience a high level of stress. This stress contributes to anxiety, depression, digestive disorders, heart diseases, sleep problems, weight gain, cognitive impairment, and many other health problems.
4 (out of the many) science-based reasons to meditate:
Meditation has been proven again and again in peer-reviewed scientific studies to be one of the most effective solutions to stress. Here are some of the positive changes that are known to happen to our brain during meditation:
1. Increase in production of Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
Mindfulness practice improves attentional performance and emotional regulation by increasing the production of a neurotransmitter known as Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) during the process. Research has shown that lower levels of GABA are closely linked to higher levels of anxiety and vice versa.
2. Increase in production of Dopamine
Dopamine is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that is often linked to the feelings of love, lust, motivation, attention, learning, and addiction. It is the substance that helps control the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. When we are feeling that sudden surge of motivation to take action towards a certain achievement, it is the works of dopamine. Dopamine levels increase during a sustained meditation. In turn, our body enters a state of deep relaxation when our dopamine level rises.
3. A lower level of Norepinephrine in the bloodstream
Norepinephrine is one of the stress hormones that are released when we are experiencing stress. The purpose of norepinephrine is to keep us safe from physical danger by raising alertness when we are in potential danger. However, our adrenals will continue to pump out norepinephrine when we are under constant stress.
Levels of norepinephrine in our blood is relative to our level of stress. Higher stress levels means more norepinephrine is released into our blood. The encouraging news is, research shows that norepinephrine blood levels will eventually reduce through meditation which leads to improvements in our quality of life.
4. The amygdala will begin to shrink
The amygdala, also known as the lizard brain, controls autonomic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation. When it picks up on environmental stressors surrounding us, the amygdala triggers a fight-or-flight response. We can think of is as our central security alarm circuit.
Meditation has an effect on our amygdala. It will begin to shrink during the process thus weakening the connections between the amygdala. As a result, connections with our prefrontal cortex associated with attention and concentration becomes stronger.
Traditional Meditation is Hard Work
Meditation applications such as Headspace, Muse, Calm, and others have seen a dramatic rise in our marketplace. These apps see a compounded annual growth rate of approximately 48 percent, as more and more people seek technological ways to reduce stress. The challenge remains that many of us busy people find it hard or even impossible to sit down and stay still for 10 minutes with their eyes closed.
When we talk about meditation, the first image that usually comes to mind is the traditional one of a person sitting absolutely still in a seated position. The good news is there is no one perfect way to meditate. There are many ways to get the benefits of meditation even on the move and with our eyes open.
Meditation is an extremely personal experience that can be done not just sitting with eyes closed but while we’re lying down, or on the move, sitting, walking, dancing, or merely swaying to a rhythm. We don’t even have to close our eyes if we don’t want to.
For example, the Japanese practice known as shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, is a proven form of meditation that has a positive impact on our health and happiness. It is simply done by being in nature with trees, and connecting with nature through our senses.
Leveraging VR technology to facilitate meditation
According to Dr. Brennan Spiegel at Cedars-Sinai, "There are now well over 5,000 published studies supporting different applications of VR. The FDA has acknowledged VR as a new field. It is no longer an issue of whether using VR for healthcare is scientifically valid, but whether we are committed to using it in healthcare. Now we have to answer the non-scientific question: Do we have the necessary resources to offer VR to our patients as a therapy alongside traditional medicine?"
Our fan of Flow since 2017, Dr. Rafael Grossmann MD, FACS, is a leader in the VR/AR/XR field when it comes to medicine. Dr. Grossmann was the first surgeon in history to use a Hololens during surgery with success, and is a big influencer in #DigitalHealth. We noted Dr. Grossmann in our blogpost, "From Iceland to New York with Love," a story about nurses at the NYU Langone hospital in New York state using Flow VR to combat high stress levels during the covid crisis. The hospital uses Flow VR to this day, with positive results.
One recent study that shows VR is an effective in treating anxiety disorders, using calming nature imagery, Virtual Reality for Anxiety Reduction Demonstrated by Quantitative EEG.
At Flow, we combine cutting edge technology including Virtual Reality (VR) with a variety of 4 or 8 minute meditations in six modes for an immersive experience that eases users into their own very personal meditation.
The power of Flow’s unique software platform - Flow VR, Flow Meditation mobile apps, Flow web portal and Flow at work corporate wellness programs, springs from stunning 360° degree videos of pure Icelandic nature combined with our highly effective spectrum of modern-day meditation tools, and our expert use of carefully curated licensed music from international artists. The results are mesmerising and impactful.
Flow gives immediate access to meditation’s endless benefits through exponential technology. Exponential technology means that "It is a technology that is now at the point where its price-performance makes it possible to solve today's business problems in ways that were not previously possible." The way VR technologies engage with our senses to transport us to another world of wonder makes Flow meditations immediate and immersive.
The six modes of Flow are 1. Breathe, 2. Move, 3. Let Go, 4. Calm, 5. Focus and 6. Restore, which allow users to choose what kind of meditation they want or need each time.
Move and Let Go are some of the favourites of our corporate customers, as they provide highly effective ways to actively release or let go of stress. Moving our bodies can boost the power of our meditation experience. Letting go of stress and tension makes space for more of what we are looking for in meditation.
All six modes of Flow are demonstrated in my TEDx talk, How to meditate in VR.
VR meditation can give a profound experience of meditation at any time, any where, and from the very first try. Even a single session of meditation can lower stress and anxiety levels.
Interactions between VR and the brain has led to many applications in health and medicine that are used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, surgical training, and physical therapy. Scientists are also exploring whether VR can change social attitudes by allowing users to experience the world from another person’s perspective.
Don't believe us, read what our users say
"Wonderful. Exactly what I was looking for. An escape into real nature, no fake cartoon environments. Flow VR is pure bliss. It's the reason why I bought the Oculus." - Brigitte Lipschutz, executive coach
"Best meditation app I have found anywhere!" - Matt on Sidequest about Flow VR
"My daily pleasure and escape from Covid. Love the music and the guidance is just right. This app makes meditation accessible and joyful and helps create a good habit."
- Gudrun Th about Flow Meditation mobile
Before we created Flow in virtual reality, I was skeptical about how VR could boost meditation. My background is rooted in meditation, and I have led hundreds of meditation classes and workshops. Now I have led hundreds of Flow sessions for corporates, involving Flow's meditation technology tools. We have witnessed positive outcomes again and again, over a thousand times with people experiencing Flow meditation.
Mixing meditation with VR successfully requires expertise and sensitivity. The Flow team has over 100 years of combined meditation experience including significant time with enlightened spiritual masters. We have award-winning filmmakers in our core team, www.arniandkinski.com who create our stunning 360° nature videos, with audio and visual content. The feedback we most often receive about Flow is that people instantly feel calmer, relaxed, and more focused after every Flow session.
e found anywhere!
Meditation is the most important thing we can do in our lives.
We meditate for an infinite number of reasons, as we are each unique. We can access benefits from within, like more peace, joy, and gratitude, the possibilities are endless. Meditation strengthens our minds. It helps us to be able to think intelligently when things go wrong, helps us to understand life, and to succeed personally and in business. Meditation helps us achieve the greatness that deep in our hearts we know is possible.
Let’s meditate now by taking a really deep breath, tuning into our heart’s deeper desire, or longing, and choosing a focus that expresses from our heart what we are seeking in our meditation… and breathe deeply, relax into it, and trust what happens…. and we are already making progress.