An Innovative New Way To Relax — And Ko Olina’s The First Place To Have It

The Sensync Vessel is the only immersive sensory relaxation experience of its kind in the world. The experience uses stereoscopic visuals, spatial audio, scent, vibration, and movement to create a calming virtual journey into nature.

Someday this technology may be used for everything from daily stress relief to treating serious mental health disorders — and you can be one of the first people on the planet to try it.

The Naupaka Spa & Wellness Centre at The Four Seasons Ko Olina now dedicates a room to this unique experience. They are accepting limited appointments of 20-60 minutes, starting at $75 per appointment. Call (808) 679-3200 for more information or to book.

sensync vessel wide view with person inside

I was able to try The Vessel recently. When you go, you choose from a series of virtual reality journeys like Deep Space, Zen Garden, and Floating Clouds.

Once you lie down in the device, you’re fitted with a virtual reality headset. The Vessel’s lid goes down and you’re transported to a new reality — complete with smells and sounds. Meanwhile, sensors track physiological data like heart rate, to assess how your body is responding.

I was surprised at how quickly I felt immersed in the virtual reality world. I was in The Vessel for less than 20 minutes, but got so relaxed that within a few minutes, I’m pretty sure I briefly fell asleep. I felt totally transported by the experience, and I emerged feeling refreshed and calm.

According to Dr. Alex Theory, one of the creators of The Vessel, reactions like mine aren’t uncommon.

“We’re seeing a very profound level of effectiveness from even a very short duration,” he told me. “We’re surprised by it, to be honest.”

The Vessel is meant to provide the therapeutic effects of being alone in nature — which is something very few of us have the time to really do. Some of the world’s most beautiful places can also be some of the most crowded; meanwhile, you may have to keep an eye on your kids or keep up the conversation with a partner while you’re there.

In The Vessel, you’re completely immersed, with no possibility of distractions.

sensync vessel close up

Dr. Theory, an experienced multimedia producer, created the experience with neurologist Adam Gazzaley, M, Ph.D, host of the PBS special The Distracted Mind with Dr. Adam Gazzaley.

Dr. Theory was in Ko Olina testing the vessel last week, and he sat down to talk about the mission behind The Vessel, why they are debuting the experience in Kapolei, and what he and Dr. Gazzaley hope to accomplish with their work.

Howzit Kapolei: What led you to create The Vessel?

Dr. Alex Theory: Around the world right now, we’ve seen an increase in a lot of mental health disorders and issues. We’ve seen a pretty dramatic spike in anxiety, in stress, in depression, and just a lot of different types of mental health issues..

The traditional Western medical approach to that kind of stuff is pharmaceuticals. “Oh, you’re not feeling well or you’re upset about the environment? Here you go. Take some pills. Take some pharmaceuticals.”

The vision around the Vessel was to create a digital therapeutic experience that could help people in their daily lives, essentially, manage stress and to kind of balance themselves to find that balance within their daily lives.

HK: Why did you debut The Vessel here?

Dr. Theory: We really feel like the Four Seasons brand is at the top level of not only luxury, but hospitality. So we were very excited to partner with the Four Seasons. And in particular, here at Ko Olina, it just has a magic. We just fell in love with the space, frankly.

Also, we saw that there’s obviously nothing like this remotely close to this area. Our company is based in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Those are pretty major technology hubs, and there’s a lot of new technology and innovation happening there. So, we were inspired to bring this new technology here to this place to offer something that’s new and exciting.

HK: Once you decide to build a new virtual reality experience, how long does it take, and how many people are involved?

Dr. Theory: It could take anywhere from 30 days to six months to build each experience, depending on its complexity. We have a team of up to 25 developers that are working with us, that are basically animators, programmers, engineers that are helping us develop this.

For our Ocean Cove experience, we actually drew some inspiration from the dolphins that are here floating in the ocean out there, and the sea turtles, and the whales. We drew a lot of that inspiration from the local environment and integrated that into some of the content.

HK: How is it different from some of your previous work in film?

Dr. Theory: You don’t realize how complex it is until you start doing it. When you’re a director or you’re involved in the creation of movies — it’s like a theater performance. You set a stage, and then the viewer is just looking at the stage.

When someone is watching a movie, they’re literally watching one direction, and watching a shot that a director has chosen for them to see. In the virtual reality environment, people can look anywhere. They’re not necessarily going to look where you want them to look.

So, one of the challenges is to create an environment that is engaging in any direction that you look, and to also create different types of cues within the experience that help guide the attention of the viewer.

HK: What’s guiding your decisions about what to put into the experiences?

Dr. Theory: Right now we’re exploring different types of experiences. Some of them are just experiences where you kind of appear in a space, and you are able to look around in all directions.

Another type of experience is where you actually move through different spaces and environments. We’re seeing that people have very, very positive reactions to it. It’s almost like just floating very gently or very delicately.

It’s just engaging enough for the mind, there’s enough stimulation that you’re engaged, but it’s not too much stimulation where you’re overstimulated and stressed out. It creates a sense of calm. That’s really part of the goal of what we’re doing.

HK: What do you hope to learn from people’s reactions here in Kapolei to incorporate into future versions of The Vessel?

Dr. Theory: There’s a lot that we hope to learn, to be quite honest. One of the things that we’re studying right now is how these specific environments are affecting physiology.

In contrast to, maybe, a movie, when you go see a movie, and you’re like, “Hey, how’d you like that movie?” Somebody could be like, “Oh, I thought the movie was great.” But they secretly hated it.

Your physiology doesn’t lie. Your physiological reaction to these different types of experiences is a very exciting and important metric, not only scientifically, but just for this whole movement of digital medicine.

One of the things that we’re very excited to learn and discover here is just the physiological reactivity of our guests. In addition to that, you can’t base everything on physiology, so co-equal to that is the genuine personal reaction that people have. Are they excited? Did they have a positive experience?

By contrast to things like movies or even a massage, which usually lasts an hour plus, these are very, very short experiences. They can be as short as 20 minutes.

HK: Can you reveal any of the results so far?

Dr. Theory: We’re seeing a very profound level of effectiveness from even a very short duration. We’re surprised by it, to be honest.

HK: Why do you think it’s been so effective?

Dr. Theory: We hypothesize that it’s due to the immersive nature of the virtual reality environment. It’s like being pulled out of your real world and then dropped into this completely other space. That’s very impactful on our psychology and on our physiology to literally be inside this virtual environment.

It’s the same kind of rush or high that you get when you go stand on a cliff, or by the water, or when you go into these incredible spaces of nature. Our goal is to never to replace nature in any way, but the research is leading us to believe that just being in those spaces alone, you don’t even have to do anything. Just being in those spaces can be beneficial to your brain and can be therapeutic to us.

There’s not many places where we can go these days to really escape and have a moment of inner peace for ourselves. If we can create a space where people can go and just have a moment of tranquility for themselves — honestly, if we could just accomplish that, I’d personally be very, very happy about that. I think that we would have created something worthwhile for our planet.

For more information, or to book an experience in The Vessel, call (808) 679-3200.