Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Problem with Meditation Apps. Do We Really Need Them?

De we need meditation apps
Photo by processingly on Unsplash

I know, there is an app for everything, but do we really need an app to meditate? I've always had my reservations to use or even recommend any meditation apps, and I have very good reasons.  But nowadays I might be changing my opinion. Let me explain.


The problem with meditation apps


When I've been asked in the past if I would recommend using meditation apps my response was usually a bit conservative.

NO! Lol.

That's because using a meditation app seems to go completely against everything that I've learned about meditation from my teachers.

On the spiritual path, and particularly when practicing meditation, one of the goals is to become free and independent. So the thought of depending on a smartphone app to practice meditation sounds quite absurd to me.

What if you have no connectivity?

What if you forgot to recharge your smartphone?

What if the app stopped working after one of those typical software updates? 

How can you meditate then?

Not only that but having the option to choose from a vast variety of meditations seems completely counterproductive.

Meditation is all about training the mind and making it one-pointed. If we simply go on moving from one practice to another one, according to our mood on a particular day, then the question is, who is training whom? Are we training our mind or is our mind training us?

And how can we possibly achieve a more calm, peaceful, and focused mind while scrolling through thousands of meditation practices, not knowing what to choose for the day?

That's why, to achieve a one-pointed mind, the advice of the ancient yogis is to choose one meditation technique that is appropriate to your character and temperament. Then simply go on practicing that same technique over and over again, in a systematic way, for a very long time.

That is years, or perhaps even your lifetime.

This is the way the mind is trained, little by little, towards stillness and stability.  

So these were the concerns that prevented me from recommending using meditation apps in the past.  But today I have somewhat changed my mind.


Why I've changed my mind about meditation apps


It has taken me a while to realize that I was wrong.

Well, not exactly wrong, everything I said above is 100% correct. But there is another point of view, a little bit more open-minded.


1. People want something accessible


Whenever I have expressed my reservations in recommending a meditation app, there is always someone in the audience that is eager to share the many benefits they have experienced using these apps.

Perhaps you are one of them.

This has helped me realize the obvious truth. We are all different and everybody has their own goals and interests.

People like me might prefer to explore the depths of meditation through authentic traditions and original texts.  But the vast majority of the population just want to experience some peace and calm in the most practical and accessible way.

Right?

Some people don't even want to bother searching for a meditation course or a teacher. They think, “Just give me something to listen to now that helps me stay calm and focused. That's all I need. And I only have ten minutes!”

That's why meditation apps exist and why they have become so popular today.

According to SensorTower.com, the top 10 meditation apps in 2019 reached in total 57.4 million downloads, and only in April 2020 the top 10 mental wellness apps accumulated close to 10 million downloads thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.


2. Different situations require different methods


I've also realized that although I've been practicing pretty much the same meditation technique for more than a decade, different life situations sometimes do require different approaches and methods.

As a long-time practitioner, I do this in a very natural and spontaneous way but people with no training or experience do need some guidance. 

An easy way to find this guidance is to do a search in one of these apps.  

That could be for instance, “meditation for heartbreak,“ or “meditation to deal with fear,” or “meditation for better sleep.”

These might not be traditional meditation practices.  But that doesn't really matter.

Sometimes listening to someone's soothing voice is enough to induce a state of calm and relaxation, regardless of what they say.  Ultimately, that's what's most people are really looking for.


3.  Meditation is a broad topic


While the concerns I mentioned before are valid for a strict meditation practice as taught in the yoga tradition, that is not the only way of meditation.   

Meditation means different things to different people.  Nobody owns the right or correct definition.  It all depends on the context.

For some people entering into a deep state of relaxation is meditation.  For others, it might be feeling positive emotions or visualizing their perfect day.  Yet for some is just to sit still and quiet for some time.

A meditation app is an easy way to access all these modern or ancient meditation practices whenever you need them.


4.  Meditation apps can indeed work


Several studies quoted here by Fast Company prove that meditation apps' programs can help reduce stress, alleviate feelings of loneliness, and even improve your memory.

But notice that they didn't just give a smartphone to the test subjects and ask them to choose whatever meditations they like.  

Each of these studies chose one app and one particular program within that app. And they focused on 20 min sessions daily for a couple of weeks or more.  


5. Meditation apps are more than a meditation app


Another important point is that, although all these apps started as meditation apps, today, in order to stay competitive and relevant they are much more than a meditation app. 

They now also offer sleep stories, music tracks, inspiring talks, yoga classes, and even workouts.

So you can be an active user of any of these meditation apps and never actually use them for meditation. 


All these facts have changed my mind about meditation apps, especially nowadays when we are going through a pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

Not only that.  This has also helped me overcome some of the reservations I had to create a teacher profile and upload my own guided meditations in one of these apps, Insight Timer.


What motivated me to share my own guided meditations


I started using Insight Timer years ago when it was nothing but a timer. That's all I needed, a timer for my meditations.

Over the years, however, without me even noticing it, the app has been constantly improving, adding more and more features.

Today the app offers, besides an active community, free guided meditations, audio courses, talks, live events, and more recently, yoga classes.

I think this app is becoming the largest market place for spiritual wisdom and teachings. You can find talks by prominent figures like the Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, and even Wim Hof.

But what's more interesting is that in Insight Timer any experienced meditation teacher can share their own guided meditations and courses.

With over 18 million users it is an incredible opportunity for teachers to reach a very targeted audience, to make themselves known, and even to earn some money from it.

All this of course has called my attention. How can I ignore this opportunity?

But the main reason and what originally incited me to consider publishing my own guided meditations on this app was my students asking me to do so.

It took me a while to overcome my resistance.  But now that I am a bit more open-minded towards meditation apps, and knowing that I can share different types of audio recordings, I finally did it.

And you know what, as soon as I published my first guided meditation it felt that it was indeed the right thing to do.

In no time I received feedback from students telling me how happy they are that I am now contributing to the community and the app which they love to use.

This is really important. It is the advice marketing experts give today. 

“You have to go where your audience is, rather than forcing them to come to you.”

So instead of trying to change the mind of 57 million users, I better be more flexible and be present where they already are.


In conclusion, do we really need meditation apps?


Obviously, meditation apps do play an important role for many users, especially now during this pandemic.

Would I recommend using meditation apps?

I think it all depends on what you are looking for and how deep down the rabbit hole you want to go.

If you want the quick pill, an easy and accessible solution to manage your stress, anxiety, and experience some calm, then I think you might find meditation apps useful.

However, you have to be mindful not to add more distractions and restlessness through constant scrolling.

My suggestion would be to choose one app, or to choose one or a handful of teachers to follow within that app.

If you want to take meditation seriously though, perhaps as a spiritual practice, then I would rather suggest finding a teacher within an authentic tradition to guide you on this path.

You can always use meditation apps as an additional source of inspiration or education.  But most importantly, you want to establish your own daily meditation practice, without depending on external devices.


Which meditation apps do I recommend?


Honestly, I don't use meditation apps for meditation because I have an established practice, but if you want some recommendations, these are some of the apps I have played with:

Apps like Headspace, Calm, and Balance offer free introductory progressive courses where you learn the basics by investing just a few minutes a day. You'll need a subscription to access additional guided meditations and other premium features.

I think one of these introductory courses it's a really good starting point, and that might be all you need. The different meditations are usually just a breakdown into sections of the whole meditation process.

I like Headspace because it was created by an ex Buddhist monk who studied for years in many different Buddhist monasteries. I also like Balance because of the friendly user interface and tailored programs. Calm offers awesome sleep stories told by famous actors.

The Insight Timer app offers access to an active community and their whole guided meditation library, for free.

They offer a free 7-day beginners course and you can get access to many other courses with a premium subscription. 

I use the timer on a daily basis, and I love the personal meditation stats and community features.


What is your opinion?


I hope you've found this useful and informative, but I know my opinion is still a bit conservative.  

So if you use any meditation apps I would love to hear about your experience.  Which app do you use and how do you use it? Do you find it beneficial?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

2 comments:

  1. Awesome Marco! Great article. Being open to the new ways of giving access to everybody to Meditate while understanding the real meaning of practicing it. A pill can be taken and perhaps for some seeking for a deeper experience it may lead to stablishing a daily meditation practice.

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    1. Yes Katiayogini, you are absolutely right. This might be the stepping stone into a deeper journey for many. Thanks for your comment 😊🙏

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