Meditation meets Virtual Reality

Keep up with the latest in mindfulness.

Meditation Gets Real

Meditation, so we have heard, allows us to connect with the world, and with ourselves, in a powerful way. With the help of a new app, you can now meditate to connect with the virtual world as well.

Guided Meditation VR is the first virtual reality meditation app to hit the scene. Developed by Cubicle Ninjas, it allows you to “expand your mind,” by placing a headset over your eyes and ears and immersing yourself in a serene illustrated environment like a lush, sandy beach or a burnt orange and rusty red-hued treescape, while listening to a guided meditation of your choosing (the nine options include “Zen” and “Relaxation”). It’s just you and the raw, unfiltered world of virtual—that is, almost real—reality.

It might be hard to get on side with the idea that sitting on a fake beach can expand your mind, as the app claims, but if you just wanna chill out and be part of a pretty simulation, why not? It is cool tech- nology, after all.

Then again, you could always get outside, breathe some fresh air, and take in a bit of the real world instead.

Sit…and Think Nothing

Concern that the average smartphone user spends more than 4 hours a day on their device has prompted the city council in Seoul, Korea, to support an annual Space Out competition. More than 1,500 people applied for 60 spots to simply sit in a park, in silence, for 90 minutes. (The person with the most stable heart rate wins.) In promoting the competition, the city council entreats, “Let’s just enjoy thinking nothing!”

Meditate for Mental Health!

That’s the motto of “A Compassionate World, Mindfulness Challenge 2016,” sponsored by Toronto’s Centre for Mindfulness Studies, on October 30. Anyone can donate online. In-person participants will do a variety of mindfulness practices for a few hours in an event space in Regent Park, and contribute $40 (and more if possible) to support the training of frontline social service workers to deliver mindfulness programs to marginalized and disadvantaged social service clients.

Watch Your Mind

Feeling overwhelmed? Need to take some deep breaths, slow down, and get present? Soon the Apple Watch will help users take a timeout.

Apple’s new mindfulness app, Breathe, is one of many upgrades coming to the watch’s health and fitness tracking capabilities. The app features visualization cues to guide you through one to five min- utes of deep breathing. Afterward, you’ll receive a summary of what your heart rate did as you were breathing.

Judson Brewer, director of research at the Center for Mind- fulness, who has developed apps to help people quit smoking and to encourage mindful eating, had an early peek at Breathe in action. While he feels it’s too early to tell how it will work in practice, he does say, “It’s great to see Apple developing apps that have the potential to help people become more aware of what’s going on in their bodies.”

Parents: Be Kind to Yourselves

In a study of 333 mothers and fathers in Portugal, a team at the University of Coimbra analyzed the correlations between mindfulness, mindful parenting, parenting styles, and stress. Some of the strongest correlations involved mindful self-compassion, which emphasizes self-kindness—rather than self-judgment—and a sense of common humanity, recognizing that we all experience failure and suffering. Parents with more self-compassion were more likely to practice mindful parenting, use an adaptive parenting style (blending authoritativeness with supportiveness), and feel less stressed about child-rearing.

Seeing By Design

Homework for a design class at New York’s School of Visual Arts teaches students to really see—through a lens of mindfulness. Teacher Rob Walker, a New York Times columnist and expert on material culture, asks MFA stu- dents in his Point of View class to “practice paying attention.” The purpose? To help them push back against what Walker calls “a war against seeing” through the din of modern-age distraction. From striving to see something new every day along a familiar route to zeroing in on ambient sounds in a sea of noise, students discover potent strategies outside the classroom for being present to what’s right there.

Navigating Marital Stresses

When romantic relationships hit a rough patch, does being mindful help? Recent research offers positive clues. In one study, Heidemarie Laurent and colleagues in Wyoming asked 88 couples to each spend 15 minutes hashing out an unresolved conflict. Their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, soared—but maintaining a mindful awareness and openness during the argument seemed to provide a buffer. In cases where a partner reacted with coercive or angry behaviors, or simply with- drew, participants with greater mindfulness either showed a faster recovery of their cortisol levels, or didn’t experience the impaired recovery that usually follows such negative interactions. Another study in Baltimore examined how trust, emotional attachment, and mindfulness influenced interactions in recently married couples who discussed a marital transgression, such as unfaithfulness. Spouses with less trust of their partner and lower levels of mindfulness were more disengaged, compared to those with higher mindfulness.

When Teens Befriend Themselves

Practicing a little self-kindness might help young people weather the turbulent teenage years. In a pilot study, Karen Bluth of the University of North Carolina taught a six-week course on mindfulness and self-compassion to about 30 adoles- cents. The kids learned to acknowl- edge and soothe their own distress while recognizing that such suffering is common to the human experience. Afterward, they reported less anxi- ety, depression, and stress.

Psychedelic Mindfulness?

Meditation. LSD. Magic mushrooms. Is some combination of these an effective treatment for anxiety and depression? Medita- tion is known to work. But recent research out of Imperial College London shows that psilocybin, the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms, also helps against anxi- ety and depression. Now neurosci- entists at Johns Hopkins University are looking at treatments combin- ing the two approaches. They hope people suffering from mood disor- ders who find meditation especially difficult will get a similar benefit from psychedelic drugs.