So, maybe you have read or heard a bit about mindfulness, and have become curious. Not just, “What is it?” but also “How is meditation done?” Seeing yogis on the news or in movies or t.v. shows, sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, in total silence—you can’t help but think that’s what the goal is. But, truthfully, even long-established meditation practitioners admit that having the experience be guided, makes it easier and more accessible. Yes, many meditators do focus solely on their breath entering and exiting their bodies, while they sit in silence, but this is not necessarily a good beginner’s practice, and so much depends on how a person is feeling physically and psychologically in terms of what type of practice might be best. There are forms of walking meditation, and one can meditate while eating or taking a shower. But for now, I’m going to review some basic guided meditation approaches that utilize new-fangled technology—namely, a smart phone.
There are now hundreds of apps available to help people meditate, sleep, relax, etc. I have found a few that I and my patients have liked and used. In this first blog, I will talk about 3 free apps (all with options to “upgrade” for a price), and one paid one, but would welcome feedback and input, and may review more in the future.
One of the most entertaining apps I’ve found is TaoMix. It is a visual and sound app, which you can set up to make up to three simultaneous sounds, each of which gets louder when a moving cursor bounces over it. You can choose how large or small each disk-shaped sound icon is, as well as the speed at which the cursor travels around the screen—it bounces off the sides like an air-hockey puck in very slow and mesmerizing motions, as the sound lulls you into a relaxed state. You can upgrade to add more and different sounds.
Another good app is Take a Break. The “Instructions” provide some good information about using the app and tips on meditation (how to listen, what to do with your thoughts, what posture you should adopt, etc.) Then you choose one of two meditations, a 7-minute “work break” or a 13-minute “stress relief” program. You can choose to have calming background music playing as a woman’s voice talks you through the meditation, or you can silence it to focus only on her voice. You can update for $.99, to get nature sounds, more music, and advanced volume controls.
Calm is another good basic meditation app. You choose the background settings of picture and sound: rain on leaves, sunset beach, mountain lake, or “silent” clouds. The “Program” setting has you go serially through 7 days of meditation, starting with the basics of mindfulness, and progressing from there. Alternatively, you can choose free “Guided” programs aimed at more awareness and attunement with your body. The “Calm” set ranges from 2-20 min, and provides a selection of 8 different meditations between volumes 1 and 2. The “Body Scan” set moves through sections of your body, prompting you to relax them, and has 6 meditations that last from 3 to 25 minutes. (I’m not really sure how the “Calm” vs the “Body Scan” programs are actually that different, since they both focus on awareness and relaxation of your body.)
The meditation app I like best so far, however, is Buddhify, which costs between $4.99 and $7.99. I like it because there are over 100 separate meditation options, read by 4 different people (one British woman, one British man, one American woman, one American man). The interface is nice—a colorful pie, with each colored “wedge” dedicated to a different situation. By touching a wedge, you can choose options such as “Can’t Sleep” or “Eating” or “Difficult Emotions”. Once the wedge is tapped, more choices within that option fan out. For example, under “Eating”, you can choose either the “Chew”, the “Taste”, or the “Grace” meditation. The meditations range from about 4-20 min each, and people tend to repeat their favorites, or they look for the meditations with the reader they like best.
I’d encourage you to try all of these, to see what types of approaches work best for you, individually. Once you’ve found ones you like, try to put in about 10 min a day if possible, and see how you feel, not only after the meditation, but in general, in about 2-3 weeks. Most people find they feel calmer and a bit less reactive over the course of their day, and they tend to look forward to the meditation and the way they feel afterward. These programs also come in handy when you find yourself distressed or distracted. I’d be interested to hear how these work for your, and to know what programs you have tried and liked.
Contributed by Sharon Cannon, PhD
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