A Growing Collection of Mindfulness and Meditation Apps Allow Users to Access the Studio Anywhere
Meditation–including people using meditation apps–is definitely having a moment. You can listen to the hum of instructions such as “Call on the breath, notice what you notice, let your thoughts come and go…” streaming through your earbuds on your portable device anywhere you go, even on a city sidewalk or in a subway. According to recent data provided by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, upwards of 8% of adults use meditation as a form of mind-body wellness. Is mindfulness meditation proving to be one thing we can all agree on?
Could meditation be our 2018 love language? Well, it’s a trending solution and modern-day mind-hack. Its reach is wide and its shape fluid. That shape increasingly looks like plugging in. For years, technology has been shouldering the rap for the punishing pace in which we currently dwell. In an interesting plot twist, we may have the avenger of tech to thank for helping us collectively rise above the noise and confusion of our scattered life-scape.
Structuring Practice using Technology
Erik Myers was meditating on and off before he downloaded the Yogaglo app. Since he now has a teacher literally in his pocket, he’s able to start and end his day with meditation. Erik says, “I’m the type of person who needs structure and something to follow and the Yogaglo app makes everything 10 times smoother.” Beyond the ability “To BE the peace and calm energy that I want in my life, instead of waiting for it to come to me,” Erik reports, “My relationship with my wife has dramatically improved since becoming consistent with it.”
The meditation that Erik uses to bookmark his day is gratitude. He’s not the only one. Nina Polo Wieja noticed that the most significant shifts in her own life have come as a result of increasing the awareness of gratitude in her practice. The Yogaglo app compliments her already established practice by serving as a source of fresh inspiration, tools for expanding kindness, and a way to deepen her practice at home and on the road.
unplug for an outlet
Television Writer/Producer Brad considers Brentwood (California) home, but he spends much of his time on the go. His meditation practice is in a state of evolution. Brad found his way to unplug meditation studio on Wilshire Boulevard where he connected with a number of teachers and was hooked. When unplug launched their app, both he and his wife made use of its wide range of video meditation sessions and ability to maintain a practice anywhere.
“I was a completely different man before I started meditation. I had a lot more anxiety, would often feel tense, and had no way to relieve any of the stress. Constantly on edge and often agitated, meditation was the difference. I have an outlet now, and it’s given me a greater perspective on my life and made me far more introspective. I’m not perfect, but incorporating a regular meditation practice has dramatically altered my life.”
Minimum Dosage Required
Lynne Goldberg, co-founder of the meditation app Breethe describes herself as a former “Type A crazy person.” She attributes Breethe’s steady growth and global reach to its varied menu of small dose teachings. “What I notice is that people in general don’t want to sit for 25 minutes. Breethe distills information in a very different way so as to not overwhelm people. People using apps for meditation guidance are often people who would likely not be meditating if not for technology. They want to know what the minimum dosage is in order to see changes. So, what we’ve done is to come up with five-minute meditations to address that population. Then, as the user becomes more efficient and their habit strengthens, we have noticed they begin to crave longer meditations.”
The Creation of a Meditation Convert
Monica is a 75-year-old retired psychotherapist and mediation convert (thanks largely in part to Breethe) from Montreal. “The most important factor for me is that on this meditation app, the guide with her easy delivery gives a short explanation introducing each daily session. Also, there is a meditation concept that is developed through each week’s session. Being able to use the app on my iPhone makes it so accessible. I have it whenever and wherever I want it.”
Monica uses it at least five days a week, complementing it with alternate forms of meditation such as walking. “Before meditation I was always yearning to find more peace in life. I didn’t know that I was stressed, but the idea of being more at peace always appealed to me. Meditation has helped me recognize stress and deal with it much more effectively than having it deal with me!”
Own Your Own Mind
“If you want to know your own mind, there is only one way: to observe and recognize everything about it,” instructed Thich Nhat Hanh in his 1975 book The Miracle of Mindfulness. To do so, he added, “You don’t have to sit beneath a special tree in a distant land.”
“Meditation is neither shutting things out nor off. It is seeing things clearly, and deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them,” wrote Jon Kabat-Zinn in his 1994 classic Wherever You Go, There You Are.
According to author and Spirit Rock Meditation Dharma Teacher James Baraz, “In the moment that you’re mindful, there is a spaciousness in the mind. In that consistent willingness to come back and to be here (and to want to be here), mindfulness develops in its own natural unfolding.” While the practice’s look has perhaps been scrambled in the hand off to our digital culture, its intention of establishing some clarity of heart, mind, and consciousness remains intact. Rabbi Lau-Lavie, Founding Spiritual Director of Lab Shul in New York, recently described his daily mediation simply as, “Carving time to be there for the ‘me’ so I can be there for the ‘we’.”
Sarah is an East Coast-based business owner who somewhat new to meditation. Her rapid-fire days are filled with sporting multiple hats while making decisions and solving problems. To say she punches out feeling a bit depleted would be an understatement. She learned of the app Calm through a newspaper article. While meditation for her is not quite yet a non-negotiable activity, she’s been pleasantly surprised by the way she has stuck with it. For that she credits the app’s portability and its cueing. “Meditation calms me down and makes me think clearer, which were both a concern before I started using Calm. The brevity and simplicity of a meditation app is for me really appealing. Also, I need someone to guide me, so that’s very effective. The ability to be mobile in my practice is also key.”
Customizing App-Based Practices
The freedom to customize one’s mindfulness practice certainly appears to be fueling meditation’s global sweep. Rebecca, a Senior Manager with Trip Advisor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a perfect illustration of this. “Meditation has brought a lot of positive benefits into my life, including more calm, better balance, better communication, a more balanced and wholesome diet and lifestyle.” At the recommendation of a friend, she began using the Calm app a few months ago. She uses Calm along with the 10% Happier app, as she says they offer different and complimentary programs.
Meditation on the Go
The 10% Happier content themes and the conversational approach of creator and author Dan Harris, however, is the underlying reason Rebecca has stuck with her practice. “The apps help to apply meditation practice to aspects of my day-to-day life such as work, eating, communication. When I started to feel positive effects in these areas, that felt productive. It shed light on how powerful they are. I like that 10% Happier and Calm both encourage meditation on the go — in the car, while walking, et cetera. I like that you don’t have to be sitting on a cushion, because that is not always most desirable or enjoyable for me.”
Turn your Home into a Meditation Studio
unplug, “the world’s first drop-in, secular meditation studio,” was a pioneer in making edits to the practice in order to keep it current and accessible for all. The app was a passion project for its CEO/Founder Suze Yalof-Schwartz. “My goal is that folks will use our app to turn their homes into a meditation studio.” With two meditation studios in LA (Brentwood and the corner of Melrose Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood) and the debut of app’s unplug 2.0 version, Ms. Yalof-Schwartz suggests that customization is what it’s all about.
“Here’s the thing, if meditation came in a pill form everyone would be addicted because it works for every single person who commits to doing it regularly. But, we each consume it in our own individual way. With over 400 videos our users have the choice to either stay with some of the more classic mediations (such a gratitude), or for example, to smell their way to happiness using essential oil meditations.”
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David, a vascular surgeon in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has used both the Headspace and Breethe apps. In a prior chapter of life, he relied on setting a timer for practice. This approach had mixed results. Yet with Breethe he found he was able to “get to that daily frequency” that had previously eluded him.
“When I switched from my prior (sporadic) meditation practice to a daily practice with Breethe, I was going through some extremely stressful family situations to the point where I was barely holding things together. Following a daily practice, I was able to cope better with the same difficult situations.”
Bringing Meditation to the Mainstream
New York City-based Paige is the Creative Director for a brand of fine jewelry. She likes to mix up her practice by meditating at least four to five times a week using a the unplug app and her own personal practice. She says she got her “feet wet” on Headspace. Paige was able to absorb some of the techniques learned through that tool to then thread them into a personal practice. She’s a fan of Ms. Yalof-Schwartz and the way in which she was able to bring meditation into the mainstream through both unplug the meditation studio and unplug the app.
“unplug in LA is my first stop whenever I am on the West Coast. When I learned about the app, it was a natural step to subscribe. I love that you are able to browse by teacher, topic or time, and I can access content on my phone or iPad at any time. The myriad choices allow you to customize the type of meditation that you are looking for at that moment.” Paige also uses the unplug app’s teen meditations with her ten-year-old son at the finish of the day.
From the Meditation Cushion to the Meditation App
It seems we’ve collectively travelled some distance from the meditation cushion. With these cultural edits, skeptics naturally express concern that our devices have made the practice all too convenient. Are we swerving too far from meditation’s original roots? Ms. Goldberg offers, “I feel strongly that if you keep your head in the sand and you don’t use the tools that are available, then you miss out on the potential to connect and change the world. I see these new routes as an incredible platform to make a difference in an exciting way that I otherwise would never have been able to accomplish by traveling around leading individual classes.”
We’re a culture of people ever-seeking that one magic fix. But settling the mind is no easy task. As with encountering anything that is difficult, we never run out of ways to make progress. “We might have all kinds of ideas of how we want to be. We think, “Now I’m on a spiritual path, and I know better, and I think I’ve got it figured out.”
The Solution to our Meditation Quest
“Be careful of that thought,” cautioned Mr. Baraz through my earbuds as I sauntered along on my afternoon walk listening to free meditation content, compliments of the website Dharma Seed. His reasoning felt on point and well worth heeding. Maybe the true solution in our quest to source compassion for self (and for all) is ever-unfolding. It is a spacious blend of the old and the new, in forests and in cities, both seated and mobile, with socks on or socks off.
Resources for Meditation
References and Research
Featured Meditation Apps
Additional Meditation Apps
SUSAN CURRIE is a West Palm Beach-based poet with a camera. Her words and images have been widely exhibited and published. She met her muse some time ago when she discovered the ancient eight-limbed practice of yoga. Its way of life continues to inform and imprint the art she makes. The creative workshops she offers throughout the country share her signature approaches for practicing mindfulness in order to connect more authentically with one’s creative voice. Susan is the author of four books —Once Divided, Gracenotes, Breath Taking, and Superflow: Light Up the Artist in You (Shanti Arts Publishing, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2021)—and the creator of CHARMCODES.