Yoga in the Nauseating Metaverse (Part 2)
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | April 9, 2022
On Thursday I visited a place south of Asheville called “Lakeview Putt and Play Minigolf and VR Games” so I could write this blog. Shockingly, I don’t own a pair of virtual reality goggles. But before I ventured out into teenage games land, I downloaded the Roblox app on my computer so I could experience a little proto-Metaverse yoga at the Alo Sanctuary first.
Alo (in case you don’t know) is a high-end yoga fashion purveyor whose website parades extreme vata models hawking overpriced tights. This $200M company has stores sprinkled around New York and LA (and one each in Austin and Miami) that they call “Sanctuaries.” Not exactly sure why – a sanctuary from your busy shopping trip because you can sit on a couch? A sanctuary in which to feel body shamed? A sanctuary to relieve you of the burden of your money?
Anywho, when I started doing research for this blog, it was the only place in the metaverse I could find dedicated to yoga. As someone who has never been a gamer (I mean I played Pac-man at the mall when I was in seventh grade occasionally if that counts), it’s pretty weird.
First, I downloaded the Roblox app and found my avatar. From the basic, thrift store worthy selection of free stuff you can get, I picked purple hair, a ripped-up t-shirt, jeans, and a smiley face. Fancier things, like an interesting face, cost money (real money). For $5, $10, or $20 a month I can buy things like a panda, balloons, a purple ponytail, and a Thor hammer to drag around with me. I decided for the purpose of writing a blog about metaverse yoga, Goodwill style was going to be just fine.
Next, I found the Alo Sanctuary game and pushed play.
The intro video made me queasy (let’s remember at this point that I’m not even wearing VR goggles – which will take nausea to whole new heights, but I’m getting ahead of myself). I’m just sitting here at my computer screen and there’s a sort of slow-moving camera pan across a cartoonish, water-falled island (probably off the coast of Costa Rica or Bali, cuz where else do yoga folks go to get sanctuaried?).
A voice over of someone who sounds like Tara Brach on benzos welcomes me to the sterile space and I land in the entry way.
I couldn’t figure out how to move for about the first 5 minutes. Quite embarrassing. I move my mouse around. Nothing happens.
Lots of people run by me wearing things like bows and arrows, machine guns, teddy bears, and bagel hats. Why am I just standing here looking around? Then I remembered something from watching my son play Minecraft when he was about 10 – something about using the arrows on the keyboard? So I try it and it works! I’m moving, thank God! I hope no one noticed.
They were too busy treasure hunting yoga poses. Which, apparently, is the thing to do in the virtual Alo yoga sanctuary. You don’t have to actually do any poses, you just run around till you find statues of them, then you get points.
I ran over to the yoga studio space. As I approached a woman’s voice gets louder. She’s teaching a completely inaccessible, hypermobile, “hip opening” class which peaks with a crazy horizontal split. But, I am told I can’t participate because I don’t have a mat and I need to go get one from the Alo store.
But I don’t have enough credits to get a mat.
I keep seeing orbs and remember from watching my son play Pokemon Go that orbs are supposed to be good so I catch a bunch of them and then I can buy a yoga mat. After I get it, I roll it out in front of the video screen. My avatar can do triangle pose, because that’s the only pose I’ve found so far – good because she won’t tear her labrum like the teacher is probably doing at the moment.
Being rather disappointed with the yoga class, I leave without fear of offending anyone and go off to the meditation room. It’s in a high-ceilinged dome with a platform in the middle surrounded by a pool (or maybe a moat of piranhas, I don’t know).
I stay for a 1 minute meditation (doing that somehow gets me more credits, but at this point I can’t be bothered figuring out how or why) during which time I listen to another slightly anesthetized female voice tell me to breathe in for 6 seconds and breathe out for 6 seconds.
Okay, why not.
Then my meditation is over and I get up to leave.
Only I fall in the moat surrounding the platform instead. I start swimming around. There’s a fish in there (could be a piranha). I have no idea how to get out.
Other people see me in there and jump in too, but they jump out quickly. When I write “help” in the chat box everyone ignores me (kinda like going to a yoga class in LA).
Then I got bold and wrote, “Excuse me, I have never played any video games before, can someone please tell me how to jump so I can get out of this pond?”
The responses were mostly shocked and/or laughing emojis, and a bunch of OMGs. Okay, okay. I’m old! Just please help me. Someone kindly tells me to push the space bar. And with that, I jump out. Whew.
Then I sit down on a sanctuary chair to dry off and recover from my virtual near death experience. A cute girl wearing an “Alo” shirt comes over and sits next to me. She offers to help me better understand the game and asks me if I want to be her friend. Then she kindly teaches me how to friend her. We chat a bit and then she says goodbye because she has to go to school.
It was adorable… and a little sad.
So anyway, now I’m an official Alo yogi gamer. I guess? I have an avatar! With purple hair! Woot woot!
But, to really write about the future of yoga in the Metaverse, I need to see what it would be like wearing the VR goggles in Alo’s sanctuary. I called around town thinking I could go try out something at Target or BestBuy but they do not allow test drives. Just gotta buy the damn goggles, which I’m not prepared to do. So, I get in the car and drive to Lakeview Putt and Play Minigolf and VR Games where I rent a headset for $20 for a half hour.
When I get there, a very nice woman explains that their system is ancient (a whole four years old) and isn’t connected to the Internet so I can’t visit Alo. Also, they only have a certain number of games that you can play but she’ll try to find me something meditative.
She puts me in the headset and shows me how to use the hand device thingies. Then she loads me in. (I have an urge to say, “I know Kung Fu”)
Suddenly I’m in a huge room with a massive screen in front of me. I point my laser hand at a nature walk game which takes me to a huge landscape of trees, grass and mountains. I walk around a bit (well, I didn’t actually move, it just looks like I’m walking around because the scenery is moving. It’s nauseating so I stop near a river and ask her to take me back to the game selection.
The woman explains how to get back into the main room and tells me how to switch to a medieval village game where I shoot arrows at trolls for a few minutes. With my little hand control thingies, I’m getting pretty good at archery, but still no yoga happening. Then she suggests I try an escape room game. Again, not at all like yoga, but whatevs, here goes.
She doesn’t quite know how to play the escape room game so she watches YouTube videos on her phone while I’m fumbling around with little rocks, vases, and gem stones. Hard as I tried, I can’t smash the vases. But then she explains that the point of the game is to try to figure out how to get out of the tiny room.
I realize I’m in a tiny 4 x 6 medieval dungeon kind of room. Claustrophobia is setting in.
I throw a rock at a ladder above my head which then descends and magically transports me to a new room where I have to take the gemstones and stick them in a box to move to the next level. I work that out after some more fumbling with my weird hands, and move to a room without a wall, hanging over an abyss. I try to jump off the edge figuring if I kill myself, I’ll get to leave the game, but it won’t let me.
Finally, the 30 minutes are over (that was only 30 minutes?!) and she helps me take off the mask and the hand control thingies. I am sweaty and disoriented. So, I thank her and leave. Out in my car, I sit and breathe for a while. I’m feeling green and clammy but I pull myself together and start the car. Still, I need to stop at Wholefoods and buy a bottle of ginger kombucha to quell the waves of nausea. I couldn’t eat much that night. I just went to bed early.
When I tell my husband about my experience with VR he diplomatically opines, “Gosh, you really felt like you needed to do that all for this blog, huh?”
Follow the Money
Futurist Thomas Frey has said that we are at the beginning of a new age in digital reality. Instead of an atom-based world, he argues, we will engage in a byte-based world using Augmented Reality (AR) senses like in The Matrix.
Billionaire CEO of tech company Nvidia, Jensen Huang, anticipates that the virtual world will soon economically surpass the physical world. Noticing all the cool things the other avatars were wearing in the Alo Sanctuary and that it’s just the tip of the iceberg of ways to spend your parent’s money in Roblox, I get it.
The Global Wellness Institute released reports on the wellness industry in 2018 and 2021. They found that mindful movement was the fastest growing activity prior to 2020 and shrank the least during the pandemic.
Yoga is here to stay, and it’s already in the Metaverse – well sort of.
After my experiences in the Alo sanctuary and despite my nauseating VR experiences (my proprioceptors and vestibular system just said no) I think I’m starting to get it. Many people have become isolated, particularly during the pandemic, and find some sense of connection online, like the schoolgirl who saved me from drowning. But there are elements of addiction and escapism at play. And digital corporations prey on these vulnerabilities. Alo is no innocent provider of yoga fantasy, they see the writing on the wall, they are out in front.
I am feeling a little disillusioned (and did I mention queasy?) about the whole thing. Yes, I get that’s how the world is going, I understand the digital age is here to stay. Maybe, as I wrote in last week’s blog, as the Metaverse evolves, it will support human evolution as well.
But it’s not there yet. And, at this point I’m not ready for the matrix. I’ll stick with real yoga on my real yoga mat in my real life – where I almost never feel like vomiting.
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