Findings from Guided Meditation Research Group

chakra banner

As part of my study on whether VR combined with meditation can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress and discomfort, it was suggested that I also study a control group that used a similar meditation without VR. I created a guided meditation using imagery similar to the environments being created in VR.

For instance, the root chakra begins:

We begin with the Root Chakra, Muladhara. Imagine a red ball of energy situated at the base of your spine near your tailbone. Inside this glowing red ball of light are things that remind you of the earth. Think of all the things rooted in the earth – crystals underground, roots, creatures that live underground and help plants thrive, minerals and soil… Allow yourself to feel secure, grounded and connected to the earth.

For each of the seven levels of the chakras there is an appropriate description.

I invited people via social media (acquaintances and members of a local yoga studio) to volunteer to be part of the study. There were two sessions – one took place in a yoga studio, another in a home. The study was briefly explained, along with all necessary information about voluntary consent to participate in the study. Participants were given a preliminary questionnaire that asked basic questions about how they were feeling and whether they had ever done guided meditation before. Their heart rate was measuring using cell phone sensor and apps or wrist-mounted fitness trackers.

After the meditation, participants were asked a nearly identical set of questions about how they were feeling, to gauge if their feelings had changed any. Their heart rate was also measured again post-meditation. Below are the findings.

Pre-test Heart Rate
A. Current feelings anxiousness B. Overall sense of health & wellbeing C. If worried, how hopeful for improvement? D. Describe current mood
1 3 3 84
2 3 3 1 91
1 3 3
2 3 3 3 71
3 1 2 1
3 1 2 2 65
2 1 3 2 85
1 1 2 3 72
2 3 3 4 89
2 1 4 1 59
2 2 2 2 86
3 0 1 4 84
2 1.833333333 2.5 2.416666667 78.6
Post-test Heart rate
A. Current feelings anxiousness B. Overall sense of health & wellbeing C. If worried, how hopeful for improvement? D. Describe current mood
0 3 4 80
1 4 3 4 86
0 3 4
2 3 3 4 65
2 2 2 1
2 2 2 3 75
1 2 3 3 84
1 2 2 3 70
2 4 3 3 89
1 3 4 3 54
1 3 3 3 76
1 1 1 4 70
1.166666667 2.666666667 2.6 3.25 74.9
-0.833 0.833 0.1 0.833 -3.7

Feelings of anxiousness decreased by .83, overall sense of health and well-being increased by .83, hopefulness improved .1, current mood increased by .83, and heart rate decreased by 3.7.

Although this was a small sample size of only 12 people, it did seem to show that anxiousness and mood improved, while heart rates lowered, indicating that meditation had a beneficial, calming effect.

Next step will be to finish the VR simulation and do a similar study on participants to see how people respond to the VR simulation vs. guided meditation.

Gaze navigation – destroying emitters after they have been triggered

One of the issues in the game was that if a player’s gaze looked briefly at a glowing sphere (“OnActorBeginOverlap”), it would trigger the “light up” emitter called the spirograph, but if the player did not gaze at the trigger for the full two seconds, the spirograph trigger would remain instead of disappearing. This caused confusion, especially if multiple spirograph emitters began overlapping.

In the picture below, you can see the gaze cursor (rectangular bar) intersecting with the trigger capsule and the spirograph lights up.

Spirograph trigger
Spirograph trigger

In order to solve this problem, the Level Blueprint was modified to add a component, “OnActorEndOverlap” along with “DestroyComponent.” This caused the emitter to be destroyed (disappear) if the gaze cursor was not overlapping it.


To see the Level Blueprint in it’s entirety, watch the video below.

Now all the spirograph “light up” emitters disappear if the player is not looking at them.

Particle effect – sacral symbol

This particle system was made up of three different emitters. One emitter controls the sacral symbol shape, another controls the dotted ring that shrinks in towards the center, and the third controls the “bubbles” that float upward from the center.

Each emitter uses a custom material to give it a unique appearance. This material is selected in the “Required” node for each emitter. (see video).

Sacral material
Sacral material

Sacral Chakra landscape

The second chakra is known as the Sacral, or Svadhishthana. In the body it is located in the pelvic area. It’s color association is orange and it is ruled by the element of water. Energies assocated with this chakra are flow, flexibility, creativity and pleasure.

The player begins this level in a watery cave. The VR Pawn player camera is placed inside a post-processing volume that makes it seem as if the player is underwater. Soft music and burbling water sound effects are audio cues.

volumetric post-processing
volumetric post-processing box and VR Pawn “cursor” with a gaze teleportation trigger capsule surrounding the sphere near the entrance.
Post Processing Settings
Post Processing Settings

A volumetric post-processing shape was placed inside the cave and settings were tweaked to give the effect of blurriness and green-blue lighting associated with being underwater. Bloom intensity was set to 2.68, Threshold 1.57, a blue tinted lens flair, and Guassian Depth of Field settings were tweaked. A small pulsating spotlight added to the twinkling water reflection effect.

The player moves around the level by using the Gaze Teleportation system (gazing for 2 seconds at one of the lighted spheres). In this way the player travels around the environment in an upward spiral path. In the center is a column of water falling into a pond. Other watery symbols such as the sea shell remind the player of the chakra’s associations.

Gaze Navigation Complete

First, I’d like to send a huge shout out to Brantly McCord, Purdue grad student and fantastic game dev instructor, for showing me how to create this gaze navigation Blueprint. I couldn’t have done it without him!

VR Pawn
VR Pawn in “Muladhara, the Root Chakra”

In this game, there is a VR Pawn that is basically a camera with a very long cube stuck out the front of it. When the player gazes around the scene while wearing the VR headset, their gaze is mirrored by the camera, which allows the cube to sweep around the scene as a sort of pointer. (This happens invisibly in the game, as you can see in the inset VR_Pawn picture above.) This pointer may overlap a trigger capsule when the player’s gaze sweeps over it. If the gaze pointer does overlap the trigger capsule, certain events are triggered. One of those events that can be triggered is the gaze navigation system, which allows the player to “teleport” to the different spheres in the game simply by gazing at them for 2 seconds. This eliminates the need for controllers – the player simply looks where they want to go next. A particle system that looks like a glowing Spirograph lights up around that sphere, indicating that the player’s gaze has landed on it. The player must keep their gaze steady for two seconds, and then they warp to that spot.

Gaze Navigation Level Blueprint
Gaze Navigation Level Blueprint

Above is the Level Blueprint for the entire gaze navigation mechanism, along with event triggers for particles and sound. What we have is a basic flow of logic that is copy/pasted for each of the 7 sphere triggers. When the user’s gaze overlaps the trigger surrounding that sphere, the logic checks to see if the gaze remained steady on the trigger for 2 seconds, and if so, teleports or “warps” the user’s position (via the VR Pawn) to that sphere.

Teleport logic
Teleport logic
Check Position
Check Position

So for instance, the game checks to see if the VR Pawn is looking at the trigger. If true, a timer is set for 2 seconds. When that time elapses, (time left is less than or equal to zero) then SetActorLocation moves the VR Pawn to that trigger the player was gazing upon.

Time to warp
Time to warp

This logic is repeated for each of the 7 sphere triggers.

Spawn Particle and sound
Spawn Particle and sound

There is also a system for spawning the Spirograph Particle and sound cues when the VR Pawn gazes at the sphere trigger. Sound cues include a brief verbal description of the current chakra’s name, a positive affirmation to assist in meditation, and a subtle “gong” sound effect when the player teleports.

Once the player has ascended through all seven spheres in that chakra level, they ascend to the next chakra level. There are seven chakras in all.

Adding particle emitter to trigger – make it rain!

To mark the transition from this level (root chakra) to the next (a water element), I wanted to introduce a rain effect that is triggered when the player teleports to the 6th sphere. I also added some post-processing volumes to make the atmosphere seem more blue and foggy at that area. At this point the player is literally “going out on a limb” to get ready for the next level.

6th sphere trigger
6th sphere trigger

In the level blueprint, I created OnActorBeginOverlap, which connects to Spawn Emitter at Location. This causes the Rainfall_P particle emitter I created to begin making it rain when the 6th sphere trigger capsule is overlapped.

Triggered particle emitter
Triggered particle emitter

Here is an image of the Rainfall_P particle emitter system. As you can see, I set the Initial Location very large – 20000 units along X,Y &Z.

Emitter Location
Emitter Location

The trigger works – it rains when the player encounters it. The problem is that the rain is only occurring inside of a box area, rather than raining over the entire scene. Rather than the player feeling like it’s raining inside the scene, it seems to just be raining inside a transparent box. The player is actually standing outside the box at this point, so they are observing it from afar. I have “Set Fixed Bounds” turned on, because I was told you need to for performance/frame rate issues.

I tried dragging the Rainfall_P particle emitter into the scene without tying it to the trigger, and it does indeed rain over the entire area. This is with that is that it rains all the time – I only want it to begin to rain once the 6th sphere is triggered. I also tried disconnecting the Spawn Emitter from Get Actor Location, which only made it worse. It covered an even smaller area further away.

Rain particles
Rain particles
Rain confined to area
Rain confined to area
Rain in a box
Rain in a box

Adding sound cues to gaze navigation

I want sound to play a big role in my environment, so I set out to make it so when you gaze at the spheres to teleport to that location, it also plays a sound cue. I downloaded several royalty-free sound effects and music from and including some deep bell and gong sounds.

I then imported them as .wav files into Unreal. You have to convert them to a Cue, by simplying right-clicking and choose “Create cue.”

Then you select the trigger capsule you wish to play the sound, and right-click, choose “Add Event / OnActorBeginOverlap”.

Sound cues
Sound cues

At this point, Unreal switches you to the Level Blueprint, where you can begin to work with the Event. Pull out a wire to Play Sound at Location, then near the Sound input, select the sound cue you want to play from the pull-down menu. It’s that simple!


Packaging issues

To package a project for Windows from Unreal, you must have the proper software installed, including Visual Studio 2015. (See the documentation here.)

I wanted to package my game to send to others, but when I tried File/Package Project/Windows, it packed for a while then gave me a fatal error. Several forum posts I read said to delete your Saved and Intermediate file. This created a tremendous problem when I realized I had started building my introductory level using the Default level, which got deleted when I threw away those folders! Recovering them from the trash only recovered a portion of the scene, so I had to rebuild much of it. Lesson learned: Don’t build your levels in the Default level! Start a new one.

Another thing I did to simply the Package process was to turn off all supported platforms that I wouldn’t be using, such as Linnux and iOS.

By reading through the lines and lines of text in the Error log, I found this:

UATHelper: Packaging (Windows (64-bit)): Cook: LogTexture: Warning: Cannot retrieve source data for mip 0 of texture Mushroom3-texture

This could mean the image file was corrupt. I deleted the Mushroom mesh and texture altogether from my content file, and then my game packaged successfully! Next steps will be to re-save the files, re-import and try again to see if I can use the mushroom mesh.

After the game packaged successfully, the next step was to test the .exe file in VR. When I launched the game, it loaded, but only showed up on the computer monitor, not in the VR headset. After more digging through forums, I found some advice on Blueprints, so I added a Delay of 2 seconds, then something to Enable HMD, and also added the Execute Console Command (although that last part doesn’t seem to work automatically like it should):

Start in VR Blueprint

If your game doesn’t start in VR automatically, you can type the Tilde key on your keyboard while in game, which opens up a command console, then type “stereo on”. This will launch it in the headset.

The thing that seemed to work best though is a very small setting that is hard to miss and not very well documented. In the Project settings under Description, look for a checkbox that says “Start in VR” under Settings towards the bottom.

Start in VR setting

After doing all this, my game launched in VR successfully.