THE PATHFINDER TO YOUR MEDITATION APP
The most important things to know
to choose meaningfully.
Life can be difficult at times, even far from our control. Meditation can help us face it all, managing stress levels, increasing our focus, and bringing us closer to inner peace. Meditation apps enable us with a straightforward experience, teaching us such an essential and life-changing skill without too much of an initial effort.
Meditation itself refers to a practice where a person uses various mental techniques to achieve clarity and stability. This was first developed in India, with the oldest evidence documented from approximately 5.000 to 3.500 BC.
Several meditation techniques have been developed over time. Here is a small selection:
- A syllable, a word, or a phrase repeatedly spoken to quiet the mind. This creates subtle vibrations, and encourages positive change, helping to enter a more profound meditation state.
- Sound bath. This meditation technique uses instruments like gongs and bowls to create sound vibrations that will help shift the brain into a relaxed state.
- Inspired by ancient Buddhism, this technique involves sitting upright, following the breath and letting the body relax, just being still. Zen meditation promotes alertness and a sense of presence.
- This Chinese practice involves using the body's energy or Chi through breathing techniques, changing postures, and guided imagery for meditation.
- Focused attention. Using breathing to maintain awareness, anchor the mind, and focus attention.
- Asking yourself a question and focusing on your feelings and thoughts when you try answering the question.
- Using the body's centres of energy, also called Chakra, by keeping them aligned, fluid, and opened.
- Seeing a person or an object in your mind. Though it may be challenging, it helps to observe the mind and to focus on the related sensations.
- Seeking to contemplate aspects of human existence like emptiness, suffering, and impermanence to find insights on the true nature of their reality.
- Body scan. Syncing the body and the mind by imagining a scan moving over your body and bringing your attention to areas of concern, whether about aches, discomfort, unusual sensations or tension.
Most people choose to meditate because of its excellent benefits:
- For mental health, like improved focus, calm, compassion, mental clarity, and self-awareness. Researchers have also found meditation helpful with more critical conditions like anxiety and depression.
- For physical health, like fostered energy levels, increased immunity lowered blood pressure and decreased inflammation.
Time saved thanks to the possibility of practising meditation in multiple locations without attending a specific place.
No direct impact on the physical environment.
Peace of mind increased thanks to the direct benefits of mindfulness training.
No direct impact on home costs.
Meditation apps can contain several of the previously mentioned techniques, managing them as guided or unguided sessions:
This type of app comes with a meditation program where a teacher is leading you via phone call, audio, or video. If you are a beginner, guided meditation apps are perfect as you will have someone who will lead you through the things you should be doing. Users will be taught how to view their mind's contents, approaching various exercises, and how to make the most of the practice.
If you are not new to meditation and prefer to manage it on your own, you are better off with unguided meditation apps. Also known as silent meditation, these apps allow the user to customise the meditation program in relation to the degree of silence, the duration and the space required. Typically, the user can apply the skills previously learned from guided meditation like body scans, mantras, and visualisations. This is why many experts suggest starting with this only when you have already reached a proper experience through guided meditation.
Are you unsure if you should go for one or the other? You can enjoy the best of both worlds if you get apps that offer both guided and unguided meditation. Whether you feel comfortable with having someone guiding you, or if you prefer silence more, you can make the most by alternating both methods.
Before you purchase a meditation app, make sure to look for the key variables, such as:
According to your experience level and preferences, your choice can fall on a guided or unguided meditation app.
Meditation apps can include a wide variety of topics to support you. However, the main subjects that you may want to look for in these apps are:
1. Focus. According to research published in the Journal of Biological Psychology1, meditation increases present moment awareness through stimulating the prefrontal cortex of the brain.
2. Sleep. Almost everyone can improve his/her sleep performances, and meditation can be a great way to address that. According to studies made by the Journal of the American Medical Association and the National Sleep Foundation2, people who use meditation apps fall asleep sooner and stay asleep longer compared to those who don't meditate.
3. Stress. If you are feeling stressed in any aspect of your life, this is mainly due to the hormone cortisol. A study done involving 1,300 adults, made by Orme-Johnson and published in J. Altern Complement Med.3, has discovered that meditation decreases stress and effects of stress-triggered medical conditions.
Another thing to consider about your meditation app is how long you can set as a meditation timer. It can be one minute, five minutes, ten minutes, and twenty minutes or even more, depending on your preference.
Some apps come with daily reminders and statistics so you can track your progress. Several apps also come with notifications that will remind you to stay grounded throughout your daily routines.
Meditation apps combine different types of media. While most apps are based on audio sessions, some of them integrate videos: for guided meditation, sleep aid or as tips to improve your technique. Most apps also come with music that can help set the mood for relaxation, meditation, focus, and reflection.
Teaching children about meditation can help them learn about self-reflection, the importance of happiness and health. Some apps offer meditation for young ones where they can learn about visualisation and breathing exercises.
1Rubia, K. (2009). ‘The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders.’ Journal of Biological Psychology, 82(1):1–11. Epub 2009, Apr 23. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19393712>
2Black, D. (2014) ‘Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances: A Randomised Clinical Trial’ Journal of the American Medical Association. Epub 2015, Feb 16. <https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998>
3Orme-Johnson, DW., Barnes VA (2014) ‘Effects of the transcendental meditation technique on trait anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.’ Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2014 May;20(5):330-41. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0204. Epub 2013 Oct 9. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24107199>