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“Just breathe.” It’s a piece of advice we hear constantly when stressed, anxious, sad, or over-excited. But it’s not just an off the cuff remark people use to tell people to calm down—breathing deeply and with focus and intention can help clear the mind and help alleviate negative feelings.
In an effort to teach people how to harness the power of breath, developers Owen Harris and Niki Smit created Deep, an immersive virtual reality experience controlled entirely by breathing in and out.
Deep runs on the Oculus Rift, and uses a custom controller that wraps around your diaphragm to analyze its expansion as breath goes in and out of your lungs. The thin strap with sensors that touch your midsection is still a prototype, but it will be able to determine whether or not you’re inhaling deeply or taking shallow breaths.
The game is based on yogic breathing, or prāṇāyāma—an intense focus on your breath and energy as you meditate or take your body through a physical journey.
As wearers breathe in and out, the experience in the headset changes. They follow a small white circle around the screen, and as they inhale, it expands, and when they exhale, it shrinks. The environment itself is like an underwater maze, but instead of traditional marine life, different shapes, colors, and beams of light react to breath.
Harris knows how important breathing is to our bodies physical and mental health—he’s experienced anxiety and depression for 15 years, and uses breathing techniques and quiet meditation to help cope with these issues. Deep was a personal project for Harris, until he learned other people would be interested in the stress-relieving VR experience, too.
Already the mobile app market is huge for mental health apps. Countless apps promise to help calm your mind, take you through meditation and breathing techniques, and ensure you’re reconnecting with your mind and body through, ironically, the device that perhaps causes you the most stress. I regularly use two such apps—Headspace for meditation, and Yoga Studio for moments when I need to quickly reconnect with my body.
Deep isn’t the first app for Oculus that’s meant to help manage stress. Guided Meditation is an immersive trip through different spots around the world. It provides a relaxing place for people to meditate—put on the Oculus and you’re transported to beaches, or forests, or a thunderstorm. A handful of other applications are also experimenting with graphics and audio to create virtual relaxation experiences. But none of them are controlled by breath.
Deep isn’t yet available to download, but Harris continues to showcase his product at VR and game developer events. And once it’s ready for widespread adoption, it’s likely to be quite popular—because everyone could try and destress from reality every once in a while.
H/T PSFK | Photo via Deep
Selena Larson is a technology reporter based in San Francisco who writes about the intersection of technology and culture. Her work explores new technologies and the way they impact industries, human behavior, and security and privacy. Since leaving the Daily Dot, she's reported for CNN Money and done technical writing for cybersecurity firm Dragos.