What’s the point of virtual reality? At this nascent stage the question remains hanging in the pixelated air like the promise of a better life off-world. As does the associated unknown of whether the tech’s promise of ‘exceptional immersion’ will stand the test of time and make the leap to mainstream appeal.
For now, on the content side, VR mainly means a few gaming experiences with relatively niche appeal (given the pro kit needed to power them), and experimental or quasi-educational content such as virtual tours, medical therapy, and attempts to foster empathy by embodying another first person perspective. But another idea is to use VR to foster mindfulness by tuning out the day-to-day and tuning into some calming VR vistas.
U.S. digital health company Provata Health is one of several companies hoping to harness the technology’s power as an escapist medium by using it as a backdrop for guided meditations — and has just launched a VR iOS app.
Idea being you slip on a mobile VR headset and use the app to experience a guided meditation within a 360-degree calming visual environment, such as sitting on a beach or next to a waterfall. (Although Provata’s app can also be used for guided meditations without needing to put on an iPhone-compatible VR headset — just with the same peaceful landscape to swipe around onscreen.)
Also incorporated into its app: the ability to link health-tracking wearables, such as the Apple Watch, to quantify the effects of a meditation session on, for example, your resting heart rate. Or look at how your sleep is being affected by taking time out to meditate. The company says the app can also be used to track pre and post meditation heart rate using just a smartphone camera — for those who don’t own a fitness wearable.
There’s an increasing number of apps and digital services focusing on the mindfulness space — including the likes of Headspace, Calm and Simple Habit. Even Apple has a relaxation app for its Watch wearable, called Breathe. Provata also has a wider digital health play — selling guided programs via employers wanting to offer staff encouragement to take up health-boosting activities — but the VR app is its first step into the consumer mindfulness space. CEO Alex Goldberg says it’s hoping to “pioneer a new category of digital health: Virtual Reality Preventive Care”.