Chris Smith

Virtual Reality Assisted Meditation

A set of research explorations while working on JunoVR, a company I started with my friend Eric Levin to develop therapeutic VR experiences. We became deeply inspired by the possibility of helping people to relax and meditate using virtual reality. We leveraged research around heart rate variability, respiration rates, buddhism, states of awe, the selfing process, self-distancing, and binaural audio.

Some new ideas we built and tested are:

- Large scale, awe inspiring scenes (16 x 20 km scale grid of SF Bay Area)

- Automatic mantra speech detection and immersive visual feedback / reinforcement

- Out of body breathing experience, see yourself breathing from outside yourself 

- Breathing biofeedback based flying meditation, breathe to navigate

- Empathy with the environment, embody a rock

- Compassionate environments, what if the world smiled back at you?

- Sound visualization meditation, see your breath emanate though particles in the air

- A breath biofeedback smiling meditation, as you breathe you see videos of people smiling at you

- A soothing rainy day meditation experience

- A guided breathing meditation using breath biofeedback

- Integration of heartbeat into the coloring of a scene as a feedback mechanism

- Embodiment of an avatar with an animated diaphragm for breathing training

- Breathing biofeedback by showing the environment moving with the breath, changing opacity, removing walls etc. as one breathes 

Motivation

The core motivation across all of these ideas was to learn how to create an experience that naturally gets someone to feel calm, ideally with as little cognitive effort on their part as possible.

Results

We hosted VR meditation events in San Francisco and did onsite user testing at some companies. In one test with 17 users doing a 15 minute guided VR meditation we saw a 36% reduction in anxiety measured with before and after subjective surveys. We developed an intuitive feel for what works or could work well in virtual reality. 

Role

Developer, Sensor Engineer, CEO, Artist

A Guided Breathing Meditation

In this experience, we combined calming piano music with an expansive vista and a guided audio meditation track. We aimed to create a lifelike breath experience my modeling out the thermal flow of air in a hot environment. We took this flow field, create a vector field of forces and created a particle effect to mimic breath moving out and dissipating into the environment.

Thank you Chloe Goode for the audio meditation and this YouTube artist for music.

Virtual Reality Mantra Metta Loving Kindness Meditation

An exploration of creating a positive emotional feedback loop when a user speaks certain phrases, in this case, phrases related to universal empathy and compassion. We aimed to answer the question, can we use visual feedback to reinforce and strengthen a mantra experience?

Flying, Breath Visualization, Interactive Sound

We found that an ethereal particle field was a fun way to engage someone in a breathing or humming meditation experience. We placed a particle effect at the user's mouth and moved vector fields through a particle field leading to an interesting, mystical sort of experience. Many people found they could sit in this experience for a longer than most VR experiences. We also explored the idea of a soothing, dream-like flying experience where the user navigates using their gaze and gently flies over a large landscape.

Soothing Movement Meditation

This video was oriented towards a moving sound meditation inspired by yoga, chi gong and dance. Particle effects emanated from a users hands while a soothing song was playing. The particle effects changed in size in relation to the frequency spectrum of the music creating an engaging yet calming movement experience. 

HRV, Respiration & Virtual Reality

We integrated a BIOPAC EKG sensor into VR to explore what it would look like to see your heart rate in the environment. I mapped heart rate data to color scheme as one example. Additionally, we tested out the sensor pipeline for getting chest strap respiration data in and calibrated as well as built a custom HRV calculation utilizing some peak detection algorithms.

I found that it was interesting to see heart rate in the environment and this is an ongoing exploration in other more recent projects to figure out what works best.

Pulse Detection and Heart Rate Variability Calculations

A technical exploration into acquiring heart rate data, finding peaks and calculating heart rate variability.

Transformative Technology Conference 2016

I was invited to speak at the Transformative Tech Conference in 2016 to share about our work.