Getting in the zone, being focused, embodiment, immersion, or flow. Any name that you call it, the flow state is a real psychological phenomenon that occurs when gamers and exercise fanatics play games or exercise in VR. We’re here to help you understand the flow state and then hack it, so you can get the most out of it with virtual reality.

What is Flow?

Creative types know the flow state to be that magical moment where they become fully immersed and “one” with the article, art piece, or new design they’re working on. Fit gamers experience flow, or time dilation, when they’ve achieved a continuous stream of combo punches in a VR boxing game, or when they put the headset on and become fully immersed in the virtual world around them. VR flow is easily achieved when a player’s sense of sight, sound, and touch are taken on an interactive journey.

How We Enter Flow

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Experiencing a change in time perception, flow, or time dilation happens frequently for VR headset owners and can be attributed to the development of the games. Virtual reality game developers and studios aim to create games that hack the mental and physical flow states through the immersion of VR and the gamification of exercise.

Devs design gaming environments that are wondrously futuristic or shockingly realistic (depending on the game) and set up objectives and goals to tackle which leads to gamer buy-in and time dilation. If the senses are busy and focused on the task at hand, then the mind isn’t thinking about the time, motivating the body to push itself to rack up points or to see the look on that zombies face when you punch it.

The article “Visions of VR’s Future: 7 Reasons VR Will Change Sports Forever” written by Preston Lewis, explains that “Virtual reality is THE technology of presence because your vision is completely taken over. With the right VR design patterns your brain believes you have been transported to another world and the environment [and] game you are experiencing has the potential to put you in a flow state and dilate your sense of time. This is especially important when paired with fitness.”

Plank and work your obliques and abs while you fly in VR! Credit: Icaros

Designing exciting and invigorating action, FPS, or fitness games that people will want to play is a given, but making the game as realistic or appealing to the senses as possible will keep players coming back for more. In that same article, Lewis also talks about how VR reduces and delays the onset of pain while exercising or training by up to 60 percent.

Focusing on what’s happening in the virtual moment pushes exercisers towards weight loss or improved stamina by diverting their attention away from the intensity of exercise. This fact alone should be motivating for people who are returning back to exercise after a long hiatus or for anyone looking to achieve their fitness goals by minimizing the soreness that comes with shadow boxing with a virtual Bruce Lee or that feeling of holding a plank while flying and shooting spaceships.

How Do I Hack The Flow State?

To be clear, flow and time dilation doesn’t mean exercise and movement in virtual reality will be effortless. It means that you still have to put the effort in to get results, but that effort won’t make you feel like you were wading through the sands of time. Playing fitness VR games is a great way to train the body and brain to push past their comfort zones in order to achieve those fitness goals.

VR Exercise

Punch to the music! Credit: Soundboxing

Kent Bye from Voices of VR podcast recently interviewed Soundboxing’s Eric Florenzano, about his VR rhythm game and discussed how playing games in VR has helped players lose weight and get in shape with the addictive game. Bye shared that he experienced a VR-induced flow state while he was playing Audioshield, a VR rhythm game that is comparable to Soundboxing.

VR gamers like Bye experience immersion and flow when the mind was enthralled with the beat and flow of the music, while the body zeroed in on punching at orbs and user generated beat map challenges. The Voices of VR host mentions that he trained and then tested both his dominant and non-dominant arm for any physical improvements and found that his coordination had indeed improved. Florenzano highlighted that wearing Vive Trackers on the feet can turn the heat up on Soundboxing as more immersive kickboxing VR game.

VR Meditation

Guided MeditationsThe time-tested saying mind over matter rings true for hacking into a mental flow state. Mrs. Mindfulness, or Melli the mindfulness blogger and practitioner, writes that practicing mindfulness or meditation consistently can train our minds to enter the flow zone.

Mrs. Mindfulness describes flow as the state where “your ‘ego’ withdraws, making way for the process to happen, unimpeded— you’re not conscious of inhibitions, hunger, thirst, fatigue, aches or anything outside of the activity. All worries, thoughts and memories seem to melt away.”

Being mindful or meditating using just your mind or a VR headset have proven benefits for boosting the immune system to lowering inflammation from muscle strain. VR meditation apps like Guided Meditation VR are just as effective as sitting with your eyes closed, breathing, and letting go.

The real benefit that flow hackers are getting with VR mindfulness apps is being taught how to let go and go with the flow, while also learning how to control breathing. Breath control is a helpful crossover skill that will encourage the mind and body to flow together, which is especially effective in breaking through plateaus and over mental and physical roadblocks.