The Meditation Chamber: Towards Self-Modulation

The Meditation Chamber: Towards Self-Modulation

Chris Shaw (Simon Fraser University, Canada), Diane Gromala (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and Meehae Song (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-077-8.ch007
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Abstract

The Meditation Chamber is an immersive virtual environment (VE), initially created to enhance and augment the existing methods of training users how to meditate, and by extension, to realize the benefits from meditation practice, including the reduction of stress, anxiety and pain. Its innovative combination of immersive virtual reality (VR) and biofeedback technologies added interoceptive or dimensions of inner senses to the already sensorially rich affordances of VR. Because the Meditation Chamber enabled users to become aware of autonomic senses that they are not normally conscious of, and to manipulate them in real-time, we found that it did enhance users’ abilities to learn how to meditate, particularly those who had never meditated. We describe the Meditation Chamber, scientific methods of evaluation and findings, and discuss first-person phenomenological aspects, its long-term applicability for users who have chronic pain, and future directions.
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The Meditation Chamber

The Meditation Chamber was an immersive virtual environment that was originally created by long-time VR researchers Larry Hodges, Diane Gromala, Chris Shaw, and Fleming Seay. It was subsequently refined and used at Virtually Better, a VR clinic that was founded by Hodges, and expanded upon by the Transforming Pain Research Group (Transforming Pain Research Group, 2010), directed by Gromala, a Canada Research Chair. Reported briefly at Enactive 2007 (Shaw, Gromala & Seay, 2007), the goal of the Meditation Chamber was to design, build and test an immersive VE that used biometrically-interactive visuals, audio and tactile cues to create, guide and maintain a user’s meditation experience. It is not necessary to use technology to meditate of course. However, the widespread use of CDs, DVDs, and online resources suggests that technology may be a useful way to enhance and reinforce the practices of meditation. More importantly, we discovered that immersive VR, integrated with biofeedback technologies, offer something unique — it enables users to see their intentional efforts to affect their continuously changing autonomic states. While standard biofeedback techniques also offer visual and auditory feedback, the simplistic monotones or waveforms are not immersive or aesthetically engaging. Thus, VR and biofeedback technologies were combined to determine if the immersion and biometrically-driven real-time feedback could help users achieve a meditative state. Biofeedback was considered to be potentially useful for enabling users to get real-time feedback and to gain a sense of agency or control over three aspects of their autonomic functions: heart rate, respiration, and galvanic skin response. Although biofeedback cannot, of course, offer a confirmation of being in a meditative state, it can indicate relative changes in physiological arousal and, after decades of testing, is considered to be a reasonably reliable indicator of reaching a meditative state provided there is additional questioning of the participants.2

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