Lotus in a pond

Mindfulness and VR: How VR Helps Introduce Patients to Mindfulness-Based Interventions

Mindfulness is a state of consciousness that comes through intentional awareness and presence. Virtual reality can lay the groundwork to introduce patients to mindfulness.

Let’s explore how mindfulness and virtual reality technology can go hand in hand.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a concept that has appeared more frequently in social and professional settings within the last decade. Mindfulness speaks to a state of consciousness that arises through intentional awareness of the present moment. An individual, while drawing attention to the moment-to-moment unfolding of an experience, perceives the present in a non-judgemental, detached fashion.(1)

When used in conjunction with other therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), mindfulness can serve as a complement to treating certain common aspects found in distinct mental health conditions. As it does not aim to treat only one concern, mindfulness is easily used along with other therapeutic techniques, plus it can be applied to many different patients.

For these reasons, Amelia Virtual Care has developed different virtual reality environments that incorporate mindfulness exercises. With the support and guidance of a therapist, patients with mental health concerns, such as generalized anxiety disorder, can become aware of their thought patterns and negative emotions. Plus, they can learn how to sit with their difficult emotions and resist experiential avoidance.(2)

How to Practice Mindfulness in a Virtual Reality Setting 

VR therapy has already shown many benefits when working with patients with different mental health conditions.  Its multisensory stimulation allows for a highly immersive environment that mimics in-vivo experiences.(3) Indeed, the high-quality features boasted by VR immersion are what help integrate mindfulness exercises seamlessly into the novel technology. 

The merit of mindfulness in VR lies in the possibility that patients can observe surroundings, sensations, and sounds as if they were in a real-life setting. Along the same line, the efficacy of mindfulness in VR lies in therapists’ opportunity to reinforce progress and gradually challenge patients, albeit with control. All find common ground through the promotion of mindfulness exercises. 

Amelia Mindfulness VR Environments: Attentional Focus

Based on the concept of Vipassana meditation, this exercise encourages patients to minimize internal noise to set distance between themselves and the thoughts that would foment an alert state of being. In this environment, patients find themselves in the countryside where a river flows steadily nearby. Leaves fall slowly to the ground while butterflies flap gracefully in the air.

Patients may have unwanted thoughts but are welcome to observe them as much as they would follow a butterfly in mid-flight: no reaction nor judgment. Similarly, therapists can increase stimuli exposure to help train patients’ capacity to remain in the “here and now” moments of the experience. This approach taps into the Zen absorption technique, aiming to perfect attention focus on the present.

Amelia Mindfulness VR Environments: Body Scanning

The body scan is one of the essential techniques implemented in relaxation programs based on mindfulness. With this exercise, patients can build awareness of tension or pain located throughout the body and, in response, find ways to provide relief or simply “let go.”

The benefit of an exercise of this kind is its capacity to complement Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation. Complementing the body scan and VR technology is a feature in which audio instructions draw a patient’s attention to different parts of the body. The patient is asked to observe the sensations held in those areas. If lost, the patient needs to solely look at their avatar to see the body area in question lit up. 

Amelia Mindfulness VR Environments: Emotional Regulation 

This scenario set in the spring and summer seasons invites patients to explore nature’s seasons, focusing on breathing and the present moment. The exercise plays with perspective from different virtual heights to sow new sensations for patients to experience and explore. 

In the summer section, the VR technology gently guides patients in the process of gratitude by including an additional three 3D components. Breathing and observation have not been placed aside; instead, patients must find a balance in their mindfulness practice with the new elements in play. 

Amelia Mindfulness VR Environments: Underwater in the Ocean

This setting belongs to the relaxation exercises; however, therapists can extend its application to meditation, focusing on full attention and honing in on the skill preliminary to mindfulness. In under the sea, water bubbles come and go, like the thoughts that pass through the mind. Patients are asked to observe the bubbles’ movements and focus their attention on how fast (or how slow) they move within the environment.

Like the exercises before, the practice aims to foster non-judgment and, at the same time, encourage a higher level of consciousness.

If you would like to learn more about how virtual reality can help reinforce mindfulness practices, contact us! We would love to set up a demo session and discuss how you can integrate VR into your practice. 

References:

  1. Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of clinical psychology62(3), 373–386. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20237
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1093/clipsy.bpg018
  3. Tarrant, J., Viczko, J., & Cope, H. (2018). Virtual Reality for Anxiety Reduction Demonstrated by Quantitative EEG: A Pilot Study. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1280. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01280