Known Health Benefits
Reduce pain 18, 24, 30
Reduce inflammation, perceived fatigue, and delayed onset muscle soreness following exercise 7
Reduce anxiety 8
Increase alertness 8
Boost immune function 10
Improve hormonal profiles (decreased cortisol & increased serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin) 9
Reduce pain 20, 21
Physiological relaxation. 15
Diagnosis and treatment of a range of psychiatric conditions 31
Reduce stress and anxiety 4, 16
Improve cardiovascular & immune health 23, 27
Increase connectedness & empathy 12, 14
Better relationships 2, 32
Improve memory 22
Improve problem-solving ability 25
Increase Focus 3, 33
Increase Creativity 5, 13
Improve Decision-making 1, 29
Higher Productivity 26, 28
The “WHY” of Idle
In today’s fast-paced world, we are more interconnected than we’ve ever been, being able to communicate with any human on the planet from the supercomputers in our pockets. While this has in many ways resulted in improvements in the quality of life, it has also come with some negative ramification. For one, the line between our personal and professional lives is more blurred than ever as we are ‘switched on’ constantly. Further, while people can communicate more readily via electronic means, there is less of a focus on face-to-face communication. Combined, these effects have led to higher levels of stress, loneliness, and depression, so much so that it is being considered a public health crisis. In short, the cost of being constantly connected is becoming more obvious with every passing day.
As a PhD trained exercise and movement scientist, Idle VR’s founder Greg Gutierrez recognizes that technology is just a tool and not the cause of these issues. Throughout human history, new tools and technologies have been developed to solve some of the most vexing problems of the time and in every circumstance, new problems have arisen from those solutions. With that in mind, we believe that the goal in life should not be to remove all problems, as that is impossible, but instead to have better problems tomorrow than we have today. Therefore, the solution to the growing mental health crisis is not to “eliminate technology”, as that would result in the loss of some of the most amazing and world-changing advances ever experienced by humanity. Instead, he aimed to harness technology to create better problems tomorrow than we have today.
The question then becomes – how can we harness technology to foster growth? The science on human development is clear, the two most important components of any training program are overload and rest. To get bigger, stronger muscles, you need to overload them with exercise, then rest and allow the body to build them back up stronger. This is as true for our brains as it is for our muscles, yet most people do not take the time to truly rest their minds. You see, humans have always been ‘distractible’ – in fact, before civilization, it was critical to our survival – but this is the first time in human history that tools have been developed to take advantage of that distractibility to “hook” us onto a product. This has resulted in people reporting that they are constantly distracted, unable to concentrate, and that they ‘can’t shut their mind off’. Taken together, this led to the idea that we can harness cutting-edge technology – Virtual Reality – and combine it with ancient and proven relaxation techniques – massage and meditation – to assist people in disconnecting from their devices and reconnecting with themselves. By immersing people in a beautiful visual and auditory environment, while they get a massage and/or are led on a guided meditation, they can be more present and feel more connected with themselves and their world.
Because this is a novel application of an emerging technology, there is no available evidence on VR massage and meditation combined. However, there is a growing mountain of evidence for each of these individually…
More Details on the Science
As a trained scientist, Dr. Gutierrez reviewed hundreds of peer-reviewed articles to validate the idea that Virtual Reality enhanced relaxation services could provide additional benefit over traditional massage and meditation services. He was floored by the range of evidence that was not just limited to overall health and wellness on otherwise healthy persons. In fact, across a variety of conditions, VR alone was found to improve pain, anxiety, discomfort, restlessness, and even blood pressure. Combined with ancient and scientifically-proven techniques such as massage (improves pain, inflammation, blood flow, immune response, and hormonal profiles) and meditation (improved focus, productivity, creativity, decision making, cardiovascular health, and reduced stress), this was a slam dunk! In the following paragraphs, we will break down the scientific evidence in greater detail.
As VR is a uniquely attention-grabbing medium, immersing you in a virtual world which can take you away from the “real world”, the area that has arguably been most investigated is the effect of VR on pain. Literature reviews, considered the highest quality evidence available, have found that VR consistently decreases acute and chronic pain, unpleasantness, and time thinking about pain.20, 21 Further, VR-based behavioral interventions have been found to decrease acute pain among persons with a range of causes of pain, including individuals undergoing painful medical procedures (e.g. wound cleaning of burn injuries), urological endoscopies, physical therapy (e.g. for blunt force trauma and burned skin), dental pain, and experimental pain in healthy volunteers (e.g. thermal pain).17 According to the ‘Gate Control-’ and ‘Multiple Resources-’ theories of pain, if an individual is attending to stimuli away from the pain, they will perceive the painful stimulus as less intense. While there is an emerging body of evidence investigating the specific neurological mechanisms at play, it is clear that VR as a multimodal (visual, auditory, and tactile) sensory distraction, can take a person’s attention away from their pain and re-focus their attention on the VR environment.
VR has also shown significant promise in the diagnosis and treatment of a range of psychiatric conditions,31 demonstrating the power of this tool in improving overall mental health and wellness. However, there are known mental health benefits even for individuals without psychiatric conditions. For example, we know that being in nature is beneficial to overall well-being and lower stress (termed “Nature Therapy”), however it has been found recently that this effect is mirrored in virtual presentations of realistic nature scenarios. Specifically, a recently published systematic review of the literature found that across studies which used real nature stimuli, positive effects were found in various aspects of cerebral and autonomic nervous activities compared with the control, indicating improved physiological relaxation.15 In fact, they found an accumulation of the scientific evidence of the physiological relaxation associated with viewing elements of nature via virtual means would be useful for preventive medicine.
Meditation is an ancient practice that has been used by humans around the world for literally thousands of years to form deeper connections with ourselves and the outside world. Anything that has consistently been found to be useful for that long across the spectrum of humanity is sure to have a range of benefits and meditation is no exception. Currently, many of the most successful people in the world meditate, serving as anecdotal evidence, but the science also backs up the effectiveness of meditation. These positive benefits of meditation are rooted in the way that it facilitates a “re-wiring” of the brain, termed neuroplasticity.6 These effects include:
– Reduced stress and anxiety4, 16
– Improved cardiovascular & immune health23, 27
– Increased connectedness & empathy12, 14
– Better relationships2, 32
– Improved memory22
Aside from those benefits, there are some additional improvements that have been found with meditation which may be of particular interest to an employer conducting an employee wellness program. Many of these benefits were identified decades ago in the scientific community to be especially beneficial in a work environment19. Specifically, the following factors are known to improve with meditation:
– Problem-solving 25
– Focus 3, 33
– Creativity 5, 13
– Decision-making 1, 29
– Productivity 26, 28
Massage is an already incredibly popular approach to improving one’s sense of physical and mental well being, however the extensive scientific literature in this area is clear that these benefits have a physiological basis beyond just a ‘placebo effect’.11 Most prominently, we know that pain is improved with massage, even if just temporarily, across a range of conditions,18, 24, 30 however the benefits are much more holistic than that. For one, massage is also known to reduce inflammation, especially following exercise and associated muscle damage. In fact, a recent systematic review found that massage was the most effective intervention in reducing inflammation, perceived fatigue, and delayed onset muscle soreness following exercise.7 Massage therapy has also been shown to reduce anxiety and increase alertness, which was demonstrated via evaluation of individuals’ brain waves (EEG) following massage.8 Massage is also known to boost immune function, with natural killer cells quantity and activity increasing following moderate pressure massage.10 It is believed that this improved immune is the result of increased vagal activity leading to improved hormonal profiles. Specifically, cortisol (the stress hormone) is decreased, while serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin (the ‘feel-good’ hormones) were increased, following massage.9 Taken together, it is clear that massage is a powerful tool to improve one’s overall health and wellness.
1) Alfonso, J.P., Caracuel, A., Delgado-Pastor, L.C., Verdejo-García, A. Combined Goal Management Training and Mindfulness meditation improve executive functions and decision-making performance in abstinent polysubstance abusers. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011 Aug 1;117(1):78-81. DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.12.025.
2) Barnes, S., Brown, K.W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W.K., Rogge, R.D. The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. J Marital Fam Ther. 2007 Oct;33(4):482-500.
3) Chan, D., Woollacott, M. Effects of level of meditation experience on attentional focus: is the efficiency of executive or orientation networks improved? J Altern Complement Med. 2007 Jul-Aug;13(6):651-7.
4) Chen, K.W., Berger, C.C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L., Lejuez, C.W. Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depress Anxiety. 2012 Jul;29(7):545-62. DOI: 10.1002/da.21964
5) Colzato, L.S., Ozturk, A., Hommel, B. Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Front Psychol. 2012 Apr 18;3:116. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00116.
6) Davidson, R.J., Lutz, A. Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation. IEEE Signal Process Mag. 2008 Jan 1; 25(1): 176–174.
7) Dupuy, O., Douzi, W., Theurot, D., Bosquet, L., Dugué, B. An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol. 2018 Apr 26;9:403. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00403.
8) Field, T., Ironson, G., Scafidi, F., Nawrocki, T., Goncalves, A., Burman, I., et al. Massage therapy reduces anxiety and enhances EEG pattern of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci. 1996 Sep;86(3-4):197-205.
9) Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M., Schanberg, S., Kuhn, C. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005 Oct;115(10):1397-413.
10) Field, T. Diego, M., Hernandez-Reifa, M. Massage therapy research. 2007, Dev Review, 27 (1): 75-89.
11) Field, T. Massage Therapy Research Review. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2014 Nov; 20(4): 224–229. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2014.07.002
12) Fredrickson, B.L., Cohn, M.A., Coffey, K.A., Pek, J., Finkel, S.M. Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Nov; 95(5): 1045–1062. DOI: 10.1037/a0013262
13) Greenberg, J., Reiner, K., Meiran, N. “Mind the trap”: mindfulness practice reduces cognitive rigidity. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36206. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036206.
14) Hofmann, S.G., Grossman, P., Hinton, D.E. Loving-Kindness and Compassion Meditation: Potential for Psychological Interventions. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011 Nov; 31(7): 1126–1132. DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.07.003
15) Jo, H., Song, C., Miyazaki, Y. Physiological Benefits of Viewing Nature: A Systematic Review of Indoor Experiments. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Nov 27;16(23). pii: E4739. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph16234739.
16) Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A.O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L.G., Fletcher, K.E., Pbert, L., Lenderking, W.R., Santorelli, S.F. Effectiveness of a Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 1992; 149: 936-943.
17) Keefe F.J., Huling D.A., Coggins M.J., Keefe D.F., Rosenthal M.Z., Herr N.R., Hoffman H.G. Virtual Reality for Persistent Pain: A New Direction for Behavioral Pain Management. Pain. 2012 Nov; 153(11): 2163–2166. DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2012.05.030
18) Kukimoto, Y., Ooe, N., Ideguchi, N. The Effects of Massage Therapy on Pain and Anxiety after Surgery: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Pain Manag Nurs. 2017 Dec;18(6):378-390. DOI: 10.1016/j.pmn.2017.09.001.
19) Kuna, D. J. Meditation and work. Vocational Guidance Quarterly. 1975, 23(4), 342–346. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2164-585X.1975.tb02187.
20) Li A., Montaño Z., Chen V.J., Gold J.I. Virtual reality and pain management: current trends and future directions. Pain Manag. 2011 Mar; 1(2): 147–157. DOI: 10.2217/pmt.10.15
21) Li L., Yu F. , Shi D., Shi J.,Tian Z.,Yang J., Wang X., Jiang Q. Application of virtual reality technology in clinical medicine. Am J Transl Res. 2017; 9(9): 3867–3880.
22) Mrazek, M.D., Franklin, M.S., Phillips, D.T., Baird, B., Schooler, J.W. Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychol Sci. 2013 May;24(5):776-81. DOI: 10.1177/0956797612459659
23) Morgan, N., Irwin, M.R., Chung, M., Wang, C. The effects of mind-body therapies on the immune system: meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2014 Jul 2;9(7):e100903. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0100903.
24) Nelson, N.L., Churilla, J.R. Massage Therapy for Pain and Function in Patients With Arthritis: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2017 Sep;96(9):665-672. DOI: 10.1097/PHM.0000000000000712.
25) Ostafin, B.D., Kassman, K.T. Stepping out of history: mindfulness improves insight problem solving. Conscious Cogn. 2012 Jun;21(2):1031-6. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2012.02.014.
26) Pagliaro, G., Pelati, R., Signorini, D., Parenti, G., Roversi, F. The effects of meditation on the performance and well-being of a company: A pilot study. Explore (NY). 2020 Jan – Feb;16(1):56-60. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2019.07.014.
27) Paul-Labrador, M., Polk, D., Dwyer, J.H., Velasquez, I., Nidich, S., Rainforth, M., Schneider, R., Merz, C.N. Effects of a randomized controlled trial of transcendental meditation on components of the metabolic syndrome in subjects with coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med. 2006 Jun 12;166(11):1218-24.
28) Schmidt-Wilk, J., Alexander, C.N., Swanson, G.C. Developing consciousness in organizations: The transcendental meditation program in business. J Business and Psych. 1996; 10, 429–444.
29) Sun, S., Yao, Z., Wei, J., Yu, R. Calm and smart? A selective review of meditation effects on decision making. Front Psychol. 2015 Jul 24;6:1059. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01059.
30) Sut, N., Kahyaoglu-Sut, H. Effect of aromatherapy massage on pain in primary dysmenorrhea: A meta-analysis. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2017 May;27:5-10. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2017.01.001.
31) van Bennekom, M.J., de Koning, P.P., Denys, D. Virtual Reality Objectifies the Diagnosis of Psychiatric Disorders: A Literature Review. Front Psychiatry. 2017; 8: 163. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00163
32) Wachs, K., Cordova, J.V. Mindful relating: exploring mindfulness and emotion repertoires in intimate relationships. J Marital Fam Ther. 2007 Oct;33(4):464-81.
33) Zeidan, F., Johnson, S.K., Diamond, B.J., David, Z., Goolkasian, P. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Conscious Cogn. 2010 Jun;19(2):597-605. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.03.014.