Have you ever been so stressed you feel like you might pass out?
For Sydney health and high-performance expert Edwina Griffin, this actually happened to her at work one day. She was under so much pressure that she simply collapsed.
In her recovery, she tried using audio meditation tools to help her relax and escape the workplace pressures, but she found it wasn’t quite enough to enter that relaxation state, she told Yahoo Finance.
And it wasn’t until she meditated in a way that incorporated sight, smell and sound that she could actually switch off. That meant creating the visual that she was at the beach, along with the calming smells and sounds.
“[It’s] so you have every sensory input to the brain saying you are safe, you are in a relaxed environment,” she said.
It was this experience that led her to launch virtual reality meditation app AtOne.
It uses the Oculus headset to help people meditate in various virtual environments like forests, beaches or by using flickering LED light effects to trigger calm.
Its goal: tackling the stress and burnout epidemic by introducing meditation to the masses.
A problem that needs to be solved
The last year has been stressful. A pandemic, a recession, international travel restrictions and the transition to remote work has meant most people around the world have lived through multiple stressful changes, all at the same time.
For businesses, this is a major employee challenge they need to solve.
One in five Australians have taken time off work in the last 12 months due to feelings of stress, anxiety or other mental health issues.
The statistic isn’t surprising to Griffin.
“The base level of stress that we’re dealing with every day is higher,” she said.
And our tolerance for future change is even lower. That’s why businesses need to find ways to help workers destress in a meaningful way, and meditation is one big way they can do this, Griffin believes.
While many people think meditation is about descending into a “bliss state” or “something airy fairy”, Griffin notes that the benefits of meditation are tangible.
Meditation can help reduce cortisol, or stress levels, increase focus and emotional awareness and boost our energy, she said, and even reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
It’s also been shown to impact the metabolism and reduce blood pressure.
AtOne features original music, with tracks featuring Himalayan bowls, didgeridoos and gongs, drums, flute, piano, cello, bass, chanting and mantras, after partnering with Indigenous elder Woobula Kevin Duncan of the Gomeroi, Mandandanji Awaba people, Australian musician Yantra de Vilder, and Joshua-Tree to create the aural atmospheres.
The virtual reality meditation service, which has been used by Tennis Australia and several other large corporates, also uses Solfeggio frequencies.
These are specific tones of sound known to support the mind by tapping into the body’s endocrine system to reduce stress.
Smell comes into it too. AtOne uses specific smells from the University of Queensland’s ‘Serenascent’ and essential oils to allow users to engage that sense. The device also allows you to measure your heart rate and other symptoms of stress, engagement and energy both before and after accessing one of the meditations.
To Griffin, this is not only a valuable tool for users, but also for businesses who can use it to gauge how their employees are faring over time.
Tricking your brain
One of the biggest benefits of the service, Griffin believes, is its portability. You only need a quiet space to use it.
And while users may logically know they’re sitting in a bland white office cubicle, the ability to cater to the specific senses can overcome that knowledge and introduce a sense of calm.
“The thing with virtual reality is that the brain doesn’t differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t. It just sees the visual,” Griffin explained.
For Griffin, the other thing she wants to tackle is the belief that there’s only one right way to meditate.
She sees a lot of people who end up feeling stressed about meditating as they feel they’re not doing it correctly.
But the fact is, there is no one right way to meditate, and a lot of people already do it without realising, she said.
“Part of this for me is providing an experience where even if you don’t think you’re meditating, asking, ‘Do you want to go to the beach for 10 minutes?’” she said.
You intrinsically understand how a short break at the beach can make you feel, whether it’s meditation or not. The only difference is you’re tricking your brain into releasing those calmer feelings.
At the end of the day, Griffin believes it’s all about being open to new experiences and feelings and finding what works for you.
It’s also about understanding that meditation isn’t necessarily what you think it is.
“People will often think they’ve had a terrible meditation but when you look at their blood pressure, it’s actually been exceptionally effective,” she said.
“You could have a monkey mind and be experiencing all of these emotions during the meditation, but that could just be what you needed to process.”
For AtOne, its goal is to encourage people to try different methods to achieve those health and mental benefits.
“Give it a try. That’s the great thing about this – it’s an experience.”
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