Australian health professionals released a world first virtual reality meditation app that combines smells, sounds and visuals with the capacity measure users’ emotional states.
AtOne is a Virtual Reality (VR) meditation app that uses music, smells (from the University of Queensland’s ‘Serenascent’ and essential oils), voice tracks and visual environments.
These all change based on the user choice, while the Rhythm heart rate band enables tracking of heart rate and heart rate variability for both individual and group reporting.
Serenascent was developed by UQ biomedical scientist Nick Lavadis and Rosemarie Einstein, based on grass and pine ‘feel-good’ chemicals that work directly on the brain to reduce stress.
One in five Australians (21%) have taken time off work in the past 12 months due to being stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy, and a new survey has found that more than three-in-five Australians experience stress at work.
Founder Edwina Griffiths has been testing the meditation app with Australian companies and sporting organisations during 2020. The meditation app uses the Oculus Quest headset and at $179 per year is a little pricey, but offers an impressive range of immersive and responsive experiences.
“Smell is underestimated. A lot of people don’t consider scent as well as audio. We use essential oils and Serenascent – you spray this separately and the app measures if you are using this or not and measures the differences,” she says.
Benefits of a meditation app
“Research shows that meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health,” says Edwina.
“Meditation and mindfulness increases both self-awareness and awareness of others which provides an opportunity for shifts in culture and more mindful communication between people.
“One of the central benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration, and it can also reduce blood pressure, anxiety, depression, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and insomnia.
“Research shows that VR can be successfully used in the treatment of anxiety disorders including phobias and PTSD, and while there are other meditation apps out there, I was determined to make AtOne an experience rather than another mindset task.”
Working with Indigenous sound
Edwina teamed up with Indigenous elder Woobula Kevin Duncan of the Gomeroi, Mandandanji Awaba people, Australian musician Yantra de Vilder and Joshua-Tree to include original music, with tracks featuring didgeridoos, Himalayan bowls and gongs, drums piano, flute, cello, bass, chanting and mantras.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the principles of Indigenous cultures they are very aligned with my philosophy,” says Edwina via creating the music for the meditation app.
“I appreciate the value of the didgeridoo and Gabby (Kevin Duncan) and I are very aligned in our belief systems. I also wanted this app to be Australian and to give people who don’t mix with Indigenous people the experience of the power and culture of Indigenous people.”
Integrating machine learning
“All meditation apps have a self assessment scale. I wanted to have real data versus a reception of how they went – often people think they have had a terrible meditation but you can see that they’ve actually had some benefits and not realised, which is why we measure heart variability,” says Edwina.
“You get reporting at the end of the meditation and a web log gives the user a report on their historical use.
“We are gathering the data and the next stage of release will use machine learning to respond to the way that you use the app. We’ll then get the meditation to respond to your levels and stress.”
Edwina has a degree in social sciences and owned a fitness studio before moving into corporate work and seeing a need to create a meditation app.
“After I sold that studio I struggled with toxic stress from a corporate environment. I combined my own research into smells, sound healing and LED lights and thought about how I can bring nature into the workplace environment. I also wanted to reach out to Gen Z using tech to create a tool for relaxation that they connect with,” she says.
Skills that are super handy working on apps include design thinking, coding and user interface (UI) design.
If you can’t decide what app you’d like to develop, we’ve got you covered with our fun What app should you develop? quiz!
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs