- Photos by Anthony Jinson
Neuromeditation with Healium.
With just a few clicks on an app called Healium, a user can be transported from their living room couch to breathtaking 360-degree scenic views in a matter of seconds.
Healium offers a wide variety of virtual and augmented reality stories for users to experience, from teleporting to eight countries through magic portals to watching the seasons change at Emerald Lake, with new stories uploaded every 60 days. These immersive videos provide so much more than a pretty picture; there is real science behind them, and they have been proven by multiple peer-reviewed journals to reduce moderate anxiety by a third in as little as four minutes.
CEO and chief storyteller Sarah Hill began working in the world of augmented and virtual realities with her startup StoryUp VR in 2015. StoryUp’s original experience, titled “Honor Everywhere 360” was inspired by Sarah’s grandfather, who tragically passed before he was able to see his war memorial. Honor Everywhere 360 allowed terminally ill World War II veterans who couldn’t make an in-person Honor Flight to virtually visit the memorials as if they were standing right there. Through these experiences, Sarah’s team noticed that the veterans had a physiological response — an idea that would eventually lead to Healium.
Since 2016, the clinically validated mental fitness channel Healium has been creating VR and AR stories that help users manage their stress and anxiety in a unique way. The first of its kind, Healium uses an EEG headband and Apple Watch to monitor brain waves and heart rate throughout the experience. This biometric data is displayed to the user within the story as a firefly, allowing users to see their stress like never before. The firefly represents the amount of high beta activity in the brain, moving up and down over a solid white threshold line as brainwaves change. This visual neurofeedback informs the experience, and if using a wearable, a person is able to change their environment — whether it be changing the color of a jaguar’s fur or growing flowers — through brain patterns or lowering their heart rate. Though you can experience Healium without these wearables or a VR device, the optional hardware provides a more immersive and interactive experience that allows users to control their environment with the power of their thoughts. And that’s a powerful lesson for everyday life.
What Healium provides is a form of neuromeditation. Neuromeditation differs from traditional meditation because it applies neuroscience, recognizing through dozens of brain imaging studies that not all meditations are the same. Because different meditation types impact brain patterns differently, Healium categorizes their stories into “Calm” and “Focus.” This allows individuals to choose the story that best suits their goals and needs.
Healium has proven to be a drugless solution and mental escape for the everyday consumer who uses it to fall asleep, as well as those in acute situational-defined stress — including professional athletes, military members, and front-line health care workers. In fact, a recent study at Boone Hospital Center compared the effectiveness of using virtual reality for meditation versus audio-only meditation. The study, conducted from October 2020 to March 2021 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared 100 front-line health care workers as participants: 50 using Healium and 50 using audio-only meditation as a control. Using the Brunel Mood Scale, which consists of 32 mood descriptors that are categorized into 8 dimensions (anger, tension, depression, vigor, fatigue, confusion, happiness, and calmness), the study found that while both groups showed a similar, significant decrease in anger, tension, and depression, only the group using Healium showed significant decreases in vigor, fatigue, and confusion and significant increases in calmness and happiness. Given that the study was conducted in the hospital setting, the results suggest that the immersive experience VR provides, combined with neurofeedback that increases self-awareness, may yield more positive outcomes than traditional standard audio-guided meditation.
Sarah likens using the “mental fitness channel” to training for a marathon. “There is no end in the stress Olympics we all experience in life,” she says, “so we have to build our mental armor. As a content company, our goal with these stories is to teach people that their thoughts have the power to control things not only in the virtual world, but in the real world as well.”
Though there isn’t enough data to conclude the long-term effects and benefits of using Healium, the experiences are so realistic that it tricks your brain into creating a stored memory, which users can revisit in times of stress or before bed.
For those interested in experiencing Healium themselves, you can sign up for a free account on their app, which gives you access to limited content, but a free user cannot track data or use a wearable. To get the most out of your experience, opt for one of Healium’s paid subscriptions: Healium Lite, which is AR only, for $4.99 a month; or Healium XR Pro, which gives you access to all of Healium’s VR and AR experiences, for $28.99 a month.
Some may see being located in the Midwest as a disadvantage, but Sarah considers being in the “Silicon Prairie” to be a strategic advantage.
“With decreased costs, investment dollars and revenue dollars go further,” she says. “Here in the heartland, companies are building compassionate products that don’t just fill a need, but also have a social purpose and add value to peoples’ lives.”
Between partnerships with well-known companies like Procter & Gamble and Apple team members visiting their Columbia office, the future for Healium is as bright as ever. Their team has doubled in the last year, and Sarah expects that in 2022 the company will add more compatible wearables, release more exciting content, and announce “fascinating brand partnerships that will allow them to do real good in the world.” The conversation about digital drugs is not stopping anytime soon, and neither is Healium.