Can you find your zen in a sensory pod?

Mindfulness is not just a fad for wellness seekers looking for Zen — it can have enormous benefits. And those craving calm are reaping even further rewards thanks to technology.

Pacing through the V&A’s ever-bustling Waterfront retail space, I’m late for my first virtual reality sensory experience at U.Well’s sensory pod high above the shops and restaurants. I over-scheduled my day, and I know how destructive chronic busyness is for my brain. So do scientists.

The juggle is frequently just a distraction. “I understand that a patient’s claims of being ‘so busy’ reflect real-life demands, but I also listen for what’s beneath the behaviour, particularly if it’s habitual,” writes Professor Kristen Beesley in Psychology Today. So, are we just in a routine of meetings, kids, traffic, late nights, Netflix and no chill? If this sounds like your life, self-care is no doubt on your to-do list. How to make it really count? Well, that’s where a virtual-reality-meets-a-sensory-pod-experience may be your Nirvana.

Stress buster

Common stress is as routine as brushing your teeth. It’s a natural, physical response that can trigger our inbuilt fight or flight mode. So why turn to tech over a good ol’ back, neck and shoulders deep-tissue massage? “The U.Well-Sensiks pod is essentially a relaxation solution and a feel-good experience,” explains Chalandra Naidoo, Group Programme Director.

The immediate benefits are a sense of calmness, stillness, reduced anxiety and bliss, he adds. And this in a relatively short space of time. I was feeling rather anxious when I arrived for my session in the pod. After just falling and skinning my knee outside my daughter’s school, having to have a horribly awkward conversation with a friend and then running late for my appointment, my nervous state was heightened.

Opting for the Elephant Meditation (I was connected to headgear for 10 minutes of therapeutic nature exposure — elephants, naturally), I was informed it was the go-to for stress and anxiety reduction. Think of these sensory sessions like this: “depending on the sensory experience selected by the individual, the solution uses trained algorithms to stimulate our human senses with the use of AV technology, air flow, smell and temperatures,” explained Naidoo. “These are curated in correct harmony and presented to the user with sequenced sensory triggers to achieve immediate benefits. Our five senses, or sensory input from our environment, largely determine the way we feel. Stimulating these senses positively encourages the body and mind to relax.”

It certainly is calming to switch off – even for 10 minutes – but the benefit I would think will lie in more regular and longer sessions. The experience will also be more relaxing once the wellness facility opens its doors at V&A Waterfront (the current set-up is a pop-up store).

Nature’s way

The wellness-enhancing options to choose from at U.Well-Sensiks pod range from sensory reality experiences like Underwater Dreams to Conscious Existence. While many are rooted in nature’s potent healing abilities, some take users to a different realm entirely. The therapy treats more than just stress, also targeting deeper health issues.

“The use of cognitive distraction and cognitive channelling to aid the management of pain, stress and anxiety is well known and tested,” says Naidoo. And these cognitive distraction or sensory stimulating solutions will have greater variety, catering for almost every mood-enhancing need, bringing each experience closer to reality, he adds.

In other words, watch this space. For now, if you’re desperate for some tropical island chill but can’t travel, you can visit a sensory relaxation pod to experience the relaxation the real thing offers. Food for thought.

To book a U.WELL x Sensiks Wellness Express Pod experience at the current pop-up address at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, email or call or WhatsApp +27 69 884 7574. Sessions are strictly by appointment.

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