Tag: meditation

The New Wave Of Mindfulness Tech: Meditation VR

When talking about the particular stressors of life in the modern age, it’s hard not to point to tech as part of the problem. Technological innovations, it seems, have wormed their way into every corner of our lives. 

When talking about the particular stressors of life in the modern age, it’s hard not to point to tech as part of the problem. Technological innovations, it seems, have wormed their way into every corner of our lives. 

There’s now a smart mirror, for instance, that will analyse your appearance to direct you in how best to carry out your morning beauty routine, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t suffered the mental fatigue of realising they’ve just spent the last hour scrolling through Twitter and Facebook on their smartphones.

Eillie Anzilotti in this report for Fast Company gives another view on how tech can be part of the solution for stress too.

Apps like Headspace (which I highly recommend Sue Warren) facilitate daily check-ins and meditation; wearables like WellBe are even going so far as to measure your stress levels for you. The team at m ss ng p eces, a Brooklyn-based production company (the missing letters are intentional), decided to take it a step further.

“I’m always thinking about ways in which these new technologies like VR are going to enable us to become more immersed in stories and become better human beings,” m ss ng p eces founder and executive producer Ari Kuschnir tells Fast Company. “I didn’t see enough experiments in VR with anything related to mindfulness.”

VR hasn’t yet crossed the threshold into mass consumption, but Kuschnir and the m ss ng p eces team wanted to find a way to use it as a platform to boost mindfulness and relaxation–and reach as many people as possible. “We were thinking of what could be a good place to start, and landed on a VR experience that could also work as a 360-degree video, featuring a well-known spiritual teacher,” Kuschnir says.

Kuschnir immediately thought of Jack Kornfield, the founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California; he’d been listening to Kornfield’s podcasts for years, and admired his ability to weave stories together. Kuschnir ran the idea by Ivan Cash, a contributing creative director at m ss ng p eces; Cash, in turn, told Kuschnir that he had an uncle who worked at Spirit Rock. The m ss ng p eces team got in touch with Kornfield, sending him a sample VR headset and explaining the concept: to translate the storytelling work Kornfield was already doing on his podcast into a more immersive, visual format. Kornfield was immediately on board.

“VR really is the future–it will become widespread as a way for people to experience something they didn’t know before,” Kornfield says. “It’s a particularly beautiful way to capture what it means to be on a retreat or to come to a meditation center. For a lot of people, those experiences are quite foreign–they may think that it’s out of their comfort zone, or not for them. But what VR does is allow people to have an immersive experience where you feel you are actually present somewhere with people around you, and you get a sense of why people gather together in these places.”

The experience put together by Kornfield and m ss ng p eces–which is now available on YouTube as a 360-degree video, and as a VR experience on Daydream and the couple million YouTube-enabled VR headsets–aims to capture myriad facets of meditation. “There are meditation talks, a nature meditation in the hills of Marin County, a walking meditation, for which we’d encourage people not to actually walk through while wearing the VR headset,” Cash says.

As Fast Company has previously reported, it could take around eight years for VR to reach the mainstream “tipping point”–there were 2 million non-Google Cardboard VR headsets in consumers’ hands at the end of 2016, and it’s expected that there will be 135.6 million in use by 2025. But m ss ng p eces feels it’s important to stay ahead of the curve, and begin to prove VR’s usefulness in democratizing access to truly immersive mindfulness-supporting experiences.

In addition to trying to reach those VR users interested in meditation, Kornfield and m ss ng p eces are also looking to partner with organizations who can bring the experience to people in jails and underserved schools, expanding on the mindfulness training work Kornfield has already been doing in those spaces. “And honestly,” Cash says, “hopefully it inspires more creators to explore the interesting tension, which is that we have such amazing technology, but it’s making us miserable. We want to keep figuring out how to make the right kinds of content and resources to support people being happy and fulfilled, and holistically in a better place.”

How to do Mindfulness Meditation

This is a clear and simple instruction in meditation, thank you Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
“Mindfulness practice is simple and completely feasible. Just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount.”

“Mindfulness practice is simple and completely feasible. Just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount.”

Thank you Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche for your teaching.

“An important point is that when we are in a mindful state, there is still intelligence. It’s not as if we blank out. Sometimes people think that a person who is in deep meditation doesn’t know what’s going on—that it’s like being asleep. In fact, there are meditative states where you deny sense perceptions their function, but this is not the accomplishment of shamatha practice.

Creating a Favourable Environment for Mindfulness Meditation

There are certain conditions that are helpful for the practice of mindfulness. When we create the right environment it’s easier to practice.
It is good if the place where you meditate, even if it’s only a small space in your apartment, has a feeling of upliftedness and sacredness. It is also said that you should meditate in a place that is not too noisy or disturbing, and you should not be in a situation where your mind is going to be easily provoked into anger or jealousy or other emotions. If you are disturbed or irritated, then your practice is going to be affected.

Beginning the Practice

I encourage people to meditate frequently but for short periods of time—ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes. If you force it too much the practice can take on too much of a personality, and training the mind should be very, very simple. So you could meditate for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening, and during that time you are really working with the mind. Then you just stop, get up, and go.
Often we just plop ourselves down to meditate and just let the mind take us wherever it may. We have to create a personal sense of discipline. When we sit down, we can remind ourselves: “I’m here to work on my mind. I’m here to train my mind.” It’s okay to say that to yourself when you sit down, literally. We need that kind of inspiration as we begin to practice.

Posture

The Buddhist approach is that the mind and body are connected. The energy flows better when the body is erect, and when it’s bent, the flow is changed and that directly affects your thought process. So there is a yoga of how to work with this. We’re not sitting up straight because we’re trying to be good schoolchildren; our posture actually affects the mind.

Often we just plop ourselves down to meditate and just let the mind take us wherever it may. We have to create a personal sense of discipline.

People who need to use a chair for meditation should sit upright with their feet touching the ground. Those using a meditation cushion such as a zafu or gomden should find a comfortable position with legs crossed and hands resting palm-down on your thighs. The hips are neither rotated forward too much, which creates tension, nor tilted back so you start slouching. You should have a feeling of stability and strength.
When we sit down the first thing we need to do is to really inhabit our body—really have a sense of our body. Often we sort of prop ourselves up and pretend we’re practicing, but we can’t even feel our body; we can’t even feel where it is. Instead, we need to be right here. So when you begin a meditation session, you can spend some initial time settling into your posture. You can feel that your spine is being pulled up from the top of your head so your posture is elongated, and then settle.

The practice we’re doing is very precise: you should be very much awake even though you are calm.

The basic principle is to keep an upright, erect posture. You are in a solid situation: your shoulders are level, your hips are level, your spine is stacked up. You can visualize putting your bones in the right order and letting your flesh hang off that structure. We use this posture in order to remain relaxed and awake. The practice we’re doing is very precise: you should be very much awake even though you are calm. If you find yourself getting dull or hazy or falling asleep, you should check your posture.

Gaze

For strict mindfulness practice, the gaze should be downward focusing a couple of inches in front of your nose. The eyes are open but not staring; your gaze is soft. We are trying to reduce sensory input as much as we can. People say, “Shouldn’t we have a sense of the environment?” but that’s not our concern in this practice. We’re just trying to work with the mind and the more we raise our gaze, the more distracted we’re going to be. It’s as if you had an overhead light shining over the whole room, and all of a sudden you focus it down right in front of you. You are purposefully ignoring what is going on around you. You are putting the horse of mind in a smaller corral.

Breath

When we do shamatha practice, we become more and more familiar with our mind, and in particular we learn to recognize the movement of the mind, which we experience as thoughts. We do this by using an object of meditation to provide a contrast or counterpoint to what’s happening in our mind. As soon as we go off and start thinking about something, awareness of the object of meditation will bring us back. We could put a rock in front of us and use it to focus our mind, but using the breath as the object of meditation is particularly helpful because it relaxes us.
As you start the practice, you have a sense of your body and a sense of where you are, and then you begin to notice the breathing. The whole feeling of the breath is very important. The breath should not be forced, obviously; you are breathing naturally. The breath is going in and out, in and out. With each breath you become relaxed.

Thoughts

No matter what kind of thought comes up, you should say to yourself, “That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practicing meditation.” It gets down to how honest we are, how true we can be to ourselves, during each session.
Everyone gets lost in thought sometimes. You might think, “I can’t believe I got so absorbed in something like that,” but try not to make it too personal. Just try to be as unbiased as possible. Mind will be wild and we have to recognize that. We can’t push ourselves. If we’re trying to be completely concept-free, with no discursiveness at all, it’s just not going to happen.
So through the labeling process, we simply see our discursiveness. We notice that we have been lost in thought, we mentally label it “thinking”—gently and without judgment—and we come back to the breath. When we have a thought—no matter how wild or bizarre it may be—we just let it go and come back to the breath, come back to the situation here.

No matter what kind of thought comes up, you should say to yourself, “That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practicing meditation.”

Each meditation session is a journey of discovery to understand the basic truth of who we are. In the beginning the most important lesson of meditation is seeing the speed of the mind. But the meditation tradition says that mind doesn’t have to be this way: it just hasn’t been worked with.
What we are talking about is very practical. Mindfulness meditation practice is simple and completely feasible. And because we are working with the mind that experiences life directly, just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount.”

From The Lion’s Roar.
ABOUT SAKYONG MIPHAM RINPOCHE

Sakyong Mipham is the leader of Shambhala, a global community of meditation practitioners committed to realizing the inherent goodness in humanity. He is author of several books, including The Shambhala Principle. His website is sakyong.com.

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