Tech-assisted meditation vs. the human experience
Michael Apollo, Corporate Mental Health Lead, The Centre For Mindfulness Studies
Published Thursday, March 10, 2016 6:00AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 10, 2016 6:09AM EST
Our daily lives are becoming more complex, connected and challenging, putting our general population under an immense amount of pressure. The result is more stress than we’ve ever faced before. So what can we do about it? Enter meditation.
Meditation in short means "mind training". It is a practice that helps us better understand our own mind and strengthen skills like attention and compassion. There are many forms of meditation out there. Some are rooted in ancient practice and years of research, and some have been created more recently. When starting meditation it’s important to know which practice you are doing.
Historically, meditation has been taught through a highly trained teacher, whereas today, the fast pace of modern life has left many time-starved and looking for more efficient and easily accessible options. This is where mobile meditation apps come in. While both ways of exploring meditation have their benefits, there are a few key differences.
Apps are emerging as an easy way to experience meditation. Most focus on giving the minimum dose of meditation, suggesting that from just a few minutes of practice a day, you’ll have increased happiness and a better life. Some apps have been built with the expertise of researchers and experienced teachers, while others have not. While there isn’t yet a large amount of research on the long term effect of apps, many users report feeling the benefits like reduced stress, greater clarity, enhanced attention, and more.
Here are my top meditation app picks:
- Stop, Breathe Think
- Insight Timer
- The Mindfulness App
From my experience, the difference between using a meditation app versus learning with a teacher or group is significant.
For example, a teacher can share their experience with you. They can listen to the challenges you are having and share advice. When you meditate in a group, there is a feeling of community that can help motivate you to practice. All of this is important to help us maintain a meditation practice. Meditation programs are available in most major cities. In these programs, participants develop a practice over time by meeting weekly in a group with an experienced teacher.
One of the most researched meditation programs called MBSR or the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program is delivered over eight weeks. Research is pouring out about the health benefits of taking this program, showing outcomes like reduced stress and chronic pain, increased immunity and even enhanced cognitive abilities like attention and memory.
To develop positive habits, build new skills or simply just to take care of ourselves, in my opinion, nothing beats an experienced guide and a supportive community.
However, apps can be a great introduction and start to the journey of finding a teacher or community you connect with.
Either way, whether choosing to practice through a meditation program or an app, it is important to research the experience of the teachers. Just like with exercising the body, you need a skilled trainer to exercise the mind.
My Tips for using Meditation Apps:
- Carve out a time in the day that works for you to practice, even if it’s a few minutes in the morning or before bed.
- Create a beautiful space in your home to practice - it can be as simple as clearing a small area for a chair or cushion and a candle
- Clarify your your intention and ask yourself "Why do I want to meditate?"
- Try out a few different meditation apps, read the bios of the teachers and get to know the intention behind the practice to see if it is the right one for you.