The 800-pound gorilla in mindfulness apps is Headspace. I confess I haven’t tried it. I tend to go for underdogs anyway, and I’ve found some lesser-known players in mindfulness that have helped me build a regular practice of meditation.
First, if you haven’t heard, meditation is good. It increases your level of focus, helps you yell at your children less often, encourages you to breathe through the shitstorm of the incoming administration, and to reasonably calculate rebellion, including how to get started on the impeachment process. Leveling out the emotional tornado that is our endocrine system helps encourage more compassionate behavior. So if sitting still for ten minutes, or even twenty minutes a day, can do all that, why not give it a try?
Meditation appeals to the minimalist. You just need something to sit on, and maybe a timer. You breathe, and maybe internally say “breathe in” and “breathe out.” Quieting the mind is the usual phrase that creeps in here, but really what you are doing is lowering the cognitive load on that big processor in your head. When you let the mind take a break and focus on breathing, amazing things happen.
You might have all your great ideas in the shower, or while walking. That’s no accident. In the shower the cognitive load on your mind is reduced, and the good stuff can come through. There is lots of research suggesting that walking and moving brings out creativity. Beethoven and Steve Jobs were advocates of walking. They did pretty well by themselves, right? If you are having all your great ideas in the shower, when you’ve reduced the cognitive load on your mental processor (your brain) then imagine how much more creative juice you’d have if you meditated. Plus, you wouldn’t have to get waterproof notepads to write things down in the shower. (Don’t laugh; I’ve considered it.)
Insight Timer is a free, minimalist app that gives you basic timed and guided meditations. You get to see how many people have been using the app at the same time, and see who have been meditating along with you. There are usually about 2500 when I meditate in the morning. Calm is a sleek and sophisticated app that has great sound effects, breathing meditations, and guided meditations that are refreshingly light on the chatter. They hit the right note of moving you into the meditation space, letting you meditate, and then moving you out.
Aura is a brilliant app that riffs off of your moods and offers up meditations based on how you’re feeling. It was developed by a 20-something entrepreneur with an engineering mind and the degrees to go with it. His name is Steve Lee, and you can meet him in a podcast I did with him about the value of mindfulness. We talk about the human engineering experiment that is involved in getting people to meditate using an app, and also the benefits of meditation, backed up by research. Aura offers guided meditations that are three to seven minutes long. You’ve got three to seven minutes to devote to being better, trust me. Aura also encourages you to log what you are grateful for each day.
At the top of my list of things to be grateful for? Mindful focus for about 20 minutes.