The concept of mindful breathing is quite compelling. By encouraging individuals to focus on inhalation and exhalation, mindful breathing has the potential to relieve pain.
So, where does VR come into play here? Studies have shown that VR can help stimulate mindful breathing, notably through its 3D, sensory qualities.
Although the reason for this is yet to be confirmed, scientists have speculated that VR acts as a distraction by requiring visual and auditory attention. Less attention is therefore focused on pain – the word ‘perception’ is notably relevant here.
A study has reflected that, in just a week’s time, those who used VR-aided mindful breathing had a higher tolerance for pain, as shown by the different brain activation patterns produced.
This study involved two groups: a traditional mindful breathing group and a VR mindful breathing group. With the VR group, participants wore special glasses while looking at virtual reality 3D lungs, offering an external stimulus. On the first and seventh days, they showcased their breathing technique in the lab, while the other five days were used to practice.
The findings showed that both methods were effective. With VR, in particular, the sounds and stimulations were the core reason for reduced pain sensitivity (also known as exteroception). Hence, VR can be quite useful because it helps beginners practice this breathing style and enter a relaxed state of mind, due to its immersive nature.
One benefit of this study includes the VR breathing technology, since it aligned the 3D lungs with the subjects’ breathing. Secondly, the fNIRS technique was utilized to study the brains, which allowed for a quiet, peaceful environment for participants to surround themselves whilst breathing.
Looking forwards, researchers are hoping to launch a clinical trial with those experiencing chronic pain. This is especially useful because VR can act as a safer substitute for Opioids, a drug that often sparks dependence among users and therefore can be prone to misconsumption.
Written by Amanda Y