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Meditation Pods May Help with Anxiety in the COVID Era

A new sensory deprivation product signals a growing demand for meditation areas in public spaces.

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A company called OpenSeed has developed a 50-square-foot, womb-like environment that shuts you off from the outside world and transports you to your happy place at the touch of a few buttons. You may recognize the newest model of these meditation pods as one of the time-travel vessels from the latest installment of Bill and Ted: Bill & Ted Face the Music.

Robert Young

While the futuristic design of OpenSeed’s meditation pods may not be able to physically transport you across time, they do use the latest science on sensory deprivation and chromotherapy to facilitate moments of Zen at the office or high-traffic locations like busy airports. OpenSeed founder Jonathan Marcoschamer, an entrepreneur and meditator based in Miami, describes these new meditation spaces as “pods that allows for privacy, sound and visual isolation, and the integration of different therapeutic modalities that can help people access higher states of awareness.” They’re similar to sensory deprivation tanks, only without the water.

The spaceship-like pod design features LED light sequences for atmosphere, aromatherapy to soothe the senses, surround-sound ambient music to generate therapeutic vibrations, and a selection of meditations for those in need of guidance. The LED lighting is programmed with chromatic cues that sync with the audio to generate an immersive experience.

see also Anatomy 101: The Brain Science Behind Meditation

The pods, which can seat up to three meditators, block out most external noise and are equipped with three sets of noise-canceling headphones. There’s also built-in Wi-Fi for booking through the accompanying app. The user can customize temperatures and their selection of amenities via the touchscreen of a tablet and choose from speaker sound or headphones. A UV light can be installed to disinfect the pod within 45 seconds, according to Marcoschamer.

So where can you try out this new technology? The pods may appear at some international airports as soon as 2021. Marcoschamer says that due to the pandemic, the company had to hold off on implementing pods in some of the airports that were in the pipeline. And even then, the general public may have to wait even longer. Currently, the airport pods have been ordered by airlines for employees and premier customers in membership lounges, explains Marcoschamer. The company also has a deal with a luxury condo building in Virginia, and internationally, a pod will be installed at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, a five-star hotel and spa in Switzerland.

They are not yet designed for pay-per-use scenarios in more public spaces. Marcoschamer says the company is working on an at-home home version that will cost much less and be much more accessible.

The cost for a single meditation pod starts at $25,000.

see also Can You Buy Your Way to Enlightenment?

Robert Young

The Science of Isolation

The meditation industry is booming—particularly in the COVID-era. The mental health benefits of meditation are well documented, as are the benefits of sensory deprivation, or restricted environmental stimulation technique (REST). As ‘60s-era isolation float tanks saw a resurgence as a wellness trend in recent years, Marcoschamer says that some of the science behind it had informed the design of OpenSeed. “Both offer a private microenvironment that is specifically designed to facilitate moments of deep calm,” he says. “The difference is that our version is ‘dry’ and can be placed in an office environment much easier.” Chromotherapy has also been scientifically validated for its healing benefits.

OpenSeed recently conducted a study in Japan that tested the efficacy of micro-environments with sound-light-aromatherapy integration to reduce stress and calm the nervous system. Conducted over a three-week period at Tokyo Fudosan Holdings, 30 subjects were divided into three groups: Group A meditated in pods, Group B meditated without pods, and Group C was the control group that did not meditate. Researchers monitored subjects’ heart rates, looked at EEG brain scans, and conducted surveys, and found that isolated and controlled environments could successfully—and quickly—quiet the mind, reduce stress, and enhance performance.

see also How Yoga Calms Anxiety Holistically

Meditation inside a pod showed greater parasympathetic nerve activity, meaning relaxation, than in other locations, says lead researcher and neurosurgeon Michihito Sugawara, MD. “This suggests that pods can further increase the positive effects of meditation.” Sugawara said that subjects who used the pods reported more ease, and less stress and fatigue, as well as an enhanced ability to view situations with more objectivity. “I believe meditation inside pods can further improve our mental and physical health,” he says.

Marcoschamer’s meditation journey began in 2012 when he learned the ancient Buddhist technique of Vipassana, which teaches the practitioner to sit in stillness and observe sensations in the body. “You learn to cultivate an equanimous mind that can observe thoughts and be present with emotions without judgement and reactivity,” he says. “When you take that skill into daily life, it helps you maintain your cool in stressful situations and lets reason, compassion, and empathy have more presence than anger, frustration, and other negative emotions. The more you practice, the more these benefits become second nature.”

see also What’s the Best Meditation Technique for You?

The Rise of Meditation in Public Spaces

Designated meditation rooms and classes at workplaces and in crowded public spaces like airports are part of a growing trend to reduce work-related anxiety in employees and mitigate fear and anxiety among travelers, while also providing a place to relax during a layover or prior to a long flight.

In the workplace, according to a 2018 National Business Group on Health survey:

  • Meditation increased productivity among employees by 120 percent.
  • Employers who offered meditation programs saw an 85 percent decrease in employee absences.
  • Companies that have implemented meditation programs saw a 520 percent increase in profits.
  • 60 percent of employees experiencing anxiety in the workplace saw an improvement in their symptoms after practicing meditation.

In airports, a slew of international hubs like London Heathrow, Hong Kong, Helsinki, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Fort Worth, and San Francisco now have dedicated yoga rooms, and most major airports like John F. Kennedy in New York City have nondenominational and interfaith chapels that also double as meditation rooms.

see also Yoga at the Airport: 5 Poses for a Long Layover

For meditating on the road, try Monk & Llama’s portable meditation bench.

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