Where is your mindfulness? The best meditation apps tested
The days when doing yoga and meditating was something you didn’t really let on about unless you had fully embraced the sandals, no socks and wholewheat bread mantel are long gone.
In 2015, the meditation and mindfulness ‘sector’ alone was estimated to be worth in excess of $1billion. That figured has been inflated by the growing number of apps that purport to help you find your centre.
So what are the apps that promise to save us from all that stress of technology? And do they really deliver what they promise?
At great personal cost – you trying doing ‘down dog’ straight after breakfast – I set out to test 5 of these apps, saving your from pulling muscles you didn’t even know you had and spending money you’d rather not waste.
The more I tested, the more uneasy I became. I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation on and off for over 8 years. Recently it’s been more on than off as I’ve started to really see the benefits. Daily practice is essential; mindfulness meditation is simple but not easy and that’s where the problems begin with apps.
Most apps point to the growing scientific evidence that there are clear benefits to meditation but they fail to embrace the more subtle elements of practice that lead to those results. In some cases, the information they give you is extremely reductive. For example, one I tested tells you ‘mindfulness is a form of relaxation.’ It’s not. It helps to be relaxed in both mind and body but you are aiming to be very much awake.
Mindfulness is not something you just ‘do’, it is a way of being. The best definition of mindfulness comes from the long-term mindfulness practitioner Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
There’s another important element – “paying attention” has to be combined with good intentions, compassion and kindness. You could ‘mindfully’ kill or steal, but that wouldn’t do much to relieve the suffering of individuals or the world.
Here are the best of the apps I tested and my thoughts on them:
If you’re looking to be calmer, this could be the app for you. It aims to encourage you to take up meditation on a daily basis and provides options for sound and the amount of time you want to meditate for.
While it offers scenes from nature to focus on while you meditate, I prefer to be in nature with my eyes shut or hold a light gaze rather than looking at a computer screen. Other features include multiple guided and unguided sessions. If you want more, you can pay for a subscription.
This app has received a significant amount of media attention. One of the company’s founders used to be a buddhist monk and his domain knowledge shines through. The app makes it easy to learn the basics of meditation.
The level one course features simple 10-minute sessions, which encourage you to build up a regular mediation habit. The app reminds you to practice and allows you to focus on improving specific areas such as health or performance. After the first set of sessions, you need to purchase a subscription, which opens up more features to extend your practice.
Insight Timer [5/5]
This app is one of the most popular in the category. It’s simple to use but has enough features to allow you to progress in your practice. First of all, it lets you set how long you want to meditate.
For a small amount (£2), you can access guided meditations, which allow for natural growth. If you want to track your progress, there’s a journal facility and the app rewards your efforts with stars. There is also a social element with the ability to connect with friends and join meditation groups. This app is real value for money and my ‘star buy’ as it grows with you with very little financial investment. All you have to do is commit!
Simple Habit [2/5]
Very much the new kid on the block, Simple Habit positions itself as the option for people who are so busy that they’ve only got 5 to 10 minutes to spend on mindfulness. To me, that’s totally missing the point but it may still act as a good entry point.
However, while Simple Habit is beautifully put together, its subscription options look expensive compared with the competition. The app is divided – using a wheel mechanic – into guided 5-minute meditations for specific situations such as “tough day” or “good night’s sleep”. There is also a library of mindfulness content from professional teachers.
This one has certainly gone full steam ahead, including yoga, mindfulness and self-help options plus a teen section called ‘Grow’. The yoga section in particular is beautifully rendered, but despite the slick execution, this app was the least satisfying to use.
Despite offering a free 7-day trial, certain areas within the personal development section were inaccessible. The experience was akin to eating what looks like substantial meal but feeling hungry 20 minutes later. It may be worth a go if you feel many areas of your life need a spring clean, but I’m not convinced you’ll get value for money.
Feature image credit: Photo Dharma
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