AUSTIN, Texas — Bills, job stability and relationships — man, being an adult can be hard. But in the near future, when stress levels rise to the breaking point, we'll have an unlikely source to look to for a measure of release — virtual reality.
Sometime this March, creative-design firm Cubicle Ninjas will launch its meditation app, Guided Meditation VR. The app's pricing has yet to be determined, but the company's "Strategy Ninja", Josh Farkas, has said the Samsung Gear VR title won't cost more than $5.
I had the opportunity to try to reach my happy place with the app during SXSW 2016 here Monday (March 14) and was impressed with the results. Once Guided Meditation VR started, I was given a choice of four tranquility-inducing settings — Autumn Forest, Zen Garden, Tropical Beach and the Arctic — and settled on the Japan-based Zen Garden.
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The next step was selecting a meditation coach. Your choice determines what kind of meditation messages you'll receive in each of the four settings. Having had a couple of rough weeks in real life, I went with the Self Care regimen.
The app offers two other regimens: Zen Meditation and General Western, the latter of which employs a series of breathing exercises. Cubicle Ninjas plans to update the app regularly with new locations and new teachers.
Once my choices were accepted, I was transported to a Japanese shrine with a large Zen garden. The sky was a placid blue with fuchsia cherry blossoms floating gently on the wind. For a few seconds, all I could hear was the wind and birds chirping.
Then a woman's voice instructed me to take a deep breath in through my nose and exhale slowly through my mouth. She instructed me to continue the exercise as she continued coaching.
Although her voice was incredibly soothing, it was what she said that stayed with me -- "You deserve self care." I thought of the past few weeks and missed a breath.
I'm not sure whether the app sensed that I was out of sync, or that its message was just part of a programmed script, but the teacher's voice reminded me to keep taking deep breaths. She asked me to think back to the earliest time I remember feeling hurt and unsure.
After a few seconds, she told me to imagine my adult self hugging my younger incarnation and giving me the love and safety that I felt I missed during that time. Her words and visualization almost made me cry, but then I remembered that I was on a show floor and composed myself. Hearing the words that I was safe and deserved to take care of myself was no revelation, but having them vocalized triggered something, and I felt a little lighter than when I first put on the headset.
The Guided Meditation VR app is totally hands-free. It relies on your line of sight and the side-mounted touchpad to make selections. If you'd rather listen to the sounds of nature, you can disable the teacher's voice or listen to your own music. Each session is programmed to last 10 minutes, which is much less time than my average lunch break. I would love for there to be a way to dictate the length of the exercise, in case I need more time with my teacher or just need a quick pep talk.
The meditation apps currently available in the Oculus store for the Gear VR don't do much besides show a pretty vista in the hope that you'll calm down eventually. Guided Meditation VR's more direct approach adds a touch of humanity that people looking for a friendly voice in a stressful time will appreciate.