Meditating has always been about unplugging, finding a quiet place with no distractions and experiencing a few minutes of solitude.
But a new way of meditating, courtesy of famed doctor and self-help author Deepak Chopra, flips that notion on its head. In his re-imagining, instead of disconnecting, he asks you to strap on a pair of virtual reality goggles, stick on a headphone, and immerse yourself in another world.
"Finding Your True Self" is a 20-minute virtual reality guided meditation that Chopra wrote and narrates. Users hear his voice encouraging them to sit still, hands in lap, and breathe.
All of which would be easy enough were it not for the fact that the visuals are so arresting that — initially, anyway — it's hard to not be distracted. As his soothing suggestions are piped in, the user is sitting in a green field under a perfect blue sky. Gilded rose petals float in the breeze. Then we are in the center of the cosmos, anchored by a swirling Buddha icon.
Speaking in August at the preliminary launch of the application at the Venice office of virtual reality production company Wevr, Chopra said he wanted to create "an enhanced guided meditation that is a sensory-rich experience." His overarching goal: to appeal to people for whom the idea of meditation might be unnerving.
"I've been a promoter of meditation for the last 35 years," he said. "Traditionally, it's done in silence so you can transcend thought. Now this technology exists that can accelerate these practices which are thought to be so esoteric, foreign and far out that most people are intimidated by it. This will make it more accessible."
Wevr co-founder and Executive Vice President Anthony Batt produced the experience, working with Chopra's son, filmmaker Gotham Chopra, to design the visuals using original art by Indian artist Abhishek Singh.
"Our intention was to make it just entertaining enough, but also using color therapy and audio, to set a stage where you could just listen to Deepak's voice," Batt said. "Nothing is moving rapidly. Actually, we're trying to do the opposite. It's very methodically thought through, how everything comes in and goes out so you're just hearing his voice. VR is a new medium, and there's all this attention being brought to it, and we wanted to make sure that Deepak was here to bring a really healthy and interesting dimension to it. You will see a new audience here."
The technology can be experienced by anyone with a smart phone and a pair of virtual reality goggles. It will be available in October through Wevr Transport and other platforms. The price has not been determined.
Chopra said now that these vivid simulations can be used for guided meditation, the other wellness applications are limitless. "I want to be able to use it to treat people with anxiety, phobias, eating disorders, hyptertension, simply by changing the content."
If, for example, someone had a fear of fire, VR could create the experience where they are walking through it until they are no longer afraid of it. For someone who wants to slim down, they can see themselves at their ideal weight, boosting their motivation.
"Virtual reality allows someone to have an experience of joy that's produced with sound, music and light," he said.
"There's no end to what we can do with it."