Category Archives: biohacking

Virtual Reality And The Future Of Storytelling

virtual reality

Photo: Pixabay

“Just so I understand this correctly, it’s possible to experience death in virtual reality. To experience what it’s actually like to die, in the brutalist of ways even. And as our senses develop — touch, smell, things like that — this experience is only going to get more realistic.”

The woman nodded in response. We were sitting across from each other in a large yurt that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, the door flap of the enormous tent making a gentle slapping sound in the wind as six of us sat cross-legged in a circle well past midnight.

The topic: virtual reality and consciousness.

“But you have to consider another scenario,” she said, leaning in further.

“What if experiencing death enabled us to face our greatest fear, and what if that wasn’t a bad thing? What if experiencing death gave us a greater appreciation for life, maybe even enabling us to live with more appreciation, empathy, and gratitude?”

Last fall, we gathered at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur for Digital Raign, a week-long summit created for bringing together industry folk (and curious minds – me) in the virtual, augmented and mixed reality worlds to discuss the state of the industry.

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According to a report by Canalys, over 2 Million VR headsets were shipped in 2016. While this is a notable number, it remains small in comparison to the hundreds of millions of smartphones sold each quarter.

Still, we are on the brink of an industry that is set to change the world as we know it.

With last year’s launch of Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR at under $80each, wider accessibility to VR is finally possible. And for $15, you can buy Google Cardboard or even build a headset on your own for free. (Hint: it involves cardboard, bi-convex lenses, magnets, velcro, and a rubber band.)

The biggest setback that prevents VR from truly taking off is content. VR content is expensive to produce and funding usually comes from supporters who see enough traffic to turn around and monetize big on advertising.

Users show up for content. And more users = more traffic = sponsors, who in-turn fund content. It’s a chicken-egg scenario.

Music video director Chris Milk (Kanye West, Arcade Fire) is out to change that. Milk has dabbled in virtual reality concepts early on and in 2014 co-founded a production studio with artist and entrepreneur Aaron Koblin.

His first TED talk on the topic was in 2015, entitled “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine.”

“VR is the last medium for storytelling, because it closes the gap between audience and storyteller. -Chris Milk

Linden Labs, the founders of Second Life, are also betting big on VR with the upcoming launch of a new platform.

Variable Labs is one of many other companies dedicated to creating immersive VR experiences in order to help individuals foster empathy, develop soft skills, and help change behavior through therapeutic techniques. Last year, it was also announced that Reel FX was teaming up with Facebook’s Oculus for a $1 million ‘VR for Good’ initiative dedicated to inspire social change.

From spirituality and healing to education, work, tourism, and of course entertainment, the possibilities in virtual reality are endless.

VR is too new for us to fully understand the full scope of its implications, but it’s good to know that as it emerges as a platform for mass-consumption the social good element is breaking through sooner than it did in its predecessors, despite the outliers.

And, as early consumers and content creators, we have the unique opportunity to help decide which direction it goes in.

Whether it be transformative and uplifting, or dark and potentially traumatic.

The time to call it is now. And the great news is, good things are on the horizon.

More:

Chris Milk, Virtual Reality as an Art Form (TED talk)

VR for Good at Sundance

Environmental Biohacking & Rumbling With The Unknown

Sunset at Big Sur taken during week 4 of my bio-hacking experiment

Big Sur, CA – Taken during Week 4 of my experiment.

The following is based on a talk I gave a few weeks back at Twitch HQ for Women’s Catalyst Lightening Talks.

At the end of September I deliberately kicked myself out of my studio apartment.

I sublet to a friend for two months and hit the road.

Now, I didn’t go very far. I drove around California in my trusty Prius C – living with friends, crashing on couches, spending time in nature.

I did this because I needed to get uncomfortable.

Because I believe that curiosity is greater than comfort.

[ Curiosity Zone > Comfort Zone ] *

I didn’t always believe this.

I’m a virgo perfectionist who likes her creature comforts. I’m in the upper half of my 30’s. What sense did it make to live out of my car when I had immediate goals to achieve?

Because I needed to clear my head. Because I wanted to get better.

Biohacking is a systems thinking approach to our own biology.

Here’s a short list of hackable things** :

• Nutrition – what we put into our bodies

• Physiology/Movement – muscle activity, cardio-vascular health, stretching & posture

• Environment – lighting, air quality, spending more time in nature

• Meditation – it can literally rewire the brain

• Mindfulness – practicing gratitude on a regular basis

• Sleep – measuring how much you get, performing regular quality checks

• Attention – how you think, learn, reason and focus

• Getting Uncomfortable…

…Ah ha!

Getting uncomfortable can mean a lot of things. It can mean taking a cold shower, contemplating death, or giving rejection therapy a spin. For me, it was a version of being homeless.

I’m not going to say it was easy. I oft dreamt about returning to my peaceful Oakland apartment.

But as soon as I returned to Oakland two weeks ago I felt a wave of disappointment wash over me. I walked to the window and looked out. Where was everyone, and…

…When can I do it again?

Here are my findings post-experiment:

1. Possessions – I can get by with less. A lot less.

2. Focus – Having less allows me to focus directly on my goals.

3. Self-reliance – I became stronger with my asks because my needs were clear.

4. Self-Awareness – I became more open minded to new situations.

5. Planning – I made a choice to just show up and take it one day at a time. And it worked.

Most of all, I learned that I don’t need to have everything figured out.

Becaue we are a generation defining life on our own terms. There are no right answers, no playbook to live by. We can write our own stories as we go.

 

* via this post by James Altucher

** via this post by Dave Asprey

Beyond Meditation: Improving Brain Health And Performance

Image Source: Medicalxpress

Brain health is a fascinating topic. We know so little about our brains yet they drive everything we do. Meditation and the concept of mindfulness are popular topics, yet we don’t understand how we arrive at the benefits that everyone talks about. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of us don’t know how our brains actually work.

The good news is that we’re in new period of health and wellness where doctors can accurately see how our brains function, and even pinpoint the specific areas where our brains malfunction. This is very different from the traditional, assumption-based approach to making diagnoses in mental health. We are also learning that in many cases, real treatment doesn’t require the help of chemical drugs in order for us to find balance or heal.

 The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. is an informative read that focuses on brain elasticity. He presents the concept that that we can redesign our brains by understanding how they work from a mechanical perspective.

For example, you know when you have trouble recalling a memory, or a specific word? Blame it on the gradual neglect of the brain’s attentional system. In short, our brains become noisy. When this happens, the signal for a new memory can’t compete against the background electrical activity of the brain. This causes a signal-to-noise problem.

Using practical explanations paired with real-world stories, Doidge covers topics ranging from healing through neuroplastic therapy to everyday practices for preserving our brains.

In Change Your Brain, Change Your LifeDr. Amen calls out the main issue with  mental health today – we are “throwing medication-tipped darts” at issues unproven through science.

He relies on a technology called SPECT  to discover which areas of the brain over or under perform. Unlike an MRI or CAT scan,  a SPECT scan shows the electrical activity happening within your brain as it functions. Based on this, he is able to find the cause of a problem through factual evidence.

A SPECT scan is expensive – it’ll set you back $3,500. In Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, he presents methods for anyone to improve their brain health. Treatment methods are broken into four core areas, or 4 overlapping circles, where we can take a balanced approach to assessment and healing.

  1. Biological – how your body actually functions. This is the physical aspect of how your brain and body work together. Factors include nutrition, exercise, sleep, hormones, genetics, and overall physical health.
  1. Psychological – developmental issues and how you think. This includes how we talk to ourselves, self-concept, body image, traumas, upbringing, and significant developmental events.
  1. Social – social support and your current life. This includes the quality of one’s relationships and current life stressors. For example, depression is often triggered by stressful life events involving others, and the health habits of the people with whom we spend time with have a dramatic impact on habits and well-being.
  1. Spiritual – your sense of meaning and purpose. Having a sense of purpose allows us to reach beyond ourselves to affirm that our lives matter.

Mental health is a topic we tread lightly, as though we are somehow considered “broken” or “weak” when addressed. The irony is that our brains are actually the CEOs of our bodies –  influencing every thought we have, each action we take and the behaviors we choose to express. If we treat mental health in a reactive way rather than a circumstantial one, we can break these taboos and become higher functioning human-beings in the process.

Meditation Can Literally Rewire Your Brain

Photo: WoodlyWonderworks, Finding Balance

Photo: WoodleyWonderworks, Finding Balance

I’ve been meditating on and off for the past ten years. It wasn’t until late last year that I started getting consistent about my practice.

There are two big reasons why I made it a daily habit. First, I joined a group called The Catalyst Collective. As part of the 8-week pilot program  we were asked to do the following things daily: write, get 20 minutes of physical exercise, and meditate.

I’ve always liked meditation. In theory it’s so easy – just sit there and breathe? No problem! I quickly came to notice that dropping into a meditative state is not as simple as it seems. With personal coaching from Palomi Sheth I’ve been able to take my sessions deeper through regular practice mixed with a variety of visualization exercises.

Step 1: Calm and center the physical body. A solid technique for this is to do a body scan.

Step 2: Become aware of your mind’s activity.

 Notice, then release, the crazy parade of thoughts and feelings going through your mind. Releasing these thoughts is key and tends to be the most challenging part of meditation, for me at least.

One technique that’s worked for me is to imagine each thought as a balloon. After identifying the thought, I acknowledge it – then release the balloon from my head space.

Another successful technique is to view your thoughts as a film reel. Observe the film as it plays, then move yourself further from the screen.

These first two steps usually take me twenty minutes or more before I drop into a meditative state.

Some nights it doesn’t work at all. In the Catalyst group we talked about even doing a few minutes of deep breathing to get the habit going. And it worked! I saw results – those few minutes spent sitting and breathing helped me relax and recenter right away.

Since then, I’ve made an effort to meditate every evening right before bedtime. Many people find that mornings are equally if not more effective. Here are three ways meditation has helped me and how it can be beneficial to your lifestyle.

  1. Stress reduction.

I’ve been coping  with high levels of anxiety my entire life. In the past few years I’ve discovered new ways to manage and avoid compounding it. Some would call it a flaw, others a feature. Either way, meditation has helped me to remove myself from the craziness. It helps me to learn that the things I fret over are not worth worrying about at all.  

  1.  Promotes mindfulness.

One of my favorite exercises is to visualize a set of Jenga blocks. When I see the initial stack, the blocks are all out of order. They form a jagged tower and it’s about to tip over. As I continue to breathe, the blocks align.  This exercise is incredibly centering and  goes great after steps 1 and 2 above.

  1.  Improves focus and concentration.

It’s ironic that during meditation, I focus on nothing at all. Yet in my daily life, meditation helps me to focus on one thing at a time and give it 100% of my energy.

There are countless other benefits. Meditation has been proven to support the immune system,  increase happiness, and slow  the aging process. If you’re new to meditation don’t worry about doing the right type or having the right tools  (i.e. the latest app).

The best technique is age-old and strips everything else away: simply sit comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe.