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Study supports using virtual environment to teach mind/body techniques
Date:3/30/2012

A small study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers found that online virtual communities may be an effective way to train patients in meditation and other mind/body techniques. The ability to learn and practice approaches that elicit the relaxation response a state of deep rest that has been shown to alleviate stress-related symptoms in a virtual environment could help surmount several barriers that can restrict participation.

"Our finding that a medical intervention in this case teaching a mind/body approach that includes the relaxation response can be delivered via a virtual environment is important because these environments are are richer and more rewarding than simply using interactive web sites," says Daniel Hoch, MD, PhD, of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at MGH (http://www.massgeneral.org/bhi/), corresponding author of the report appearing in the open-access journal PLoS One.

Hoch explains that, while practices that elicit the relaxation response have been shown to benefit individuals with a wide variety of health problems, the traditional way of teaching these practices face-to-face meetings over several weeks can present significant difficulties for patients, particularly those with limited mobility. In addition, individuals who are uncomfortable with group programs may prefer the anonymity of a virtual educational setting. While Internet-based programs have been used for mental health screening and support programs, Hoch and his colleagues were not aware of any prior efforts to systematically study a virtual mind-body intervention.

To test whether delivering such a program through a virtual environment was feasible, the research team chose Second Life, a three-dimensional "virtual world" in which users interact by means of online avatars that can communicate basic body language and emotional states. Several patient support g
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Contact: Kristen Stanton
kstanton3@partners.org
617-643-3907
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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