In a world where every glance at our electronic devices can send us into an inescapable endorphin loop of newsfeed scrolling, where every new Netflix series must be binged to completion the week it comes out, and where every online advertisement is memetically engineered to target our individual brainstems, we need a reliable way to snap ourselves out of the trance and take a fresh look around. Believe it or not, there are time tested, science-backed techniques to do just this, passed down over the millenia, and they are suddenly getting a timely resurgence of mainstream attention. As one might suspect, this snowballing popularity has already led to an explosion of Mindfulness books, articles, studies, podcasts, software and technology. The focus of this article, of course, will be the apps.
There are a number of mindfulness apps currently available, and probably many more on the way. Some are free, some cost money, and some even require a small membership fee. They range from simple timers, to guided courses, with constantly added content, and the ability to ask experts questions. I’ve tried a number of them, but my three favorites thus far are Ensō, Headspace, and 10% Happier.
Ensō, is an attractive offering from the minimal end of the mindfulness app spectrum. It is essentially just a meditation timer. You can set variables like “meditation time”, “interval”, and “preparation time”, and then you are all set. When your time is up, a relaxing chime sound signals you, much better than most standard alarm sounds. It also tracks your sessions over time, and can even be set to remind you to meditate at preset times. It’s a great app for both beginners and experienced meditators alike. I’ve used this app several times, and it will probably have a place on my phone for the foreseeable future.
An app I’ve spent much more time with over the last year is Headspace. It is a big leap forward in terms of content, but a membership ($12.95 monthly) is also required to access all of it. This full featured app allows you to progress through various levels of guidance, has a number of videos and animations, keeps track of your progression, reminds you to be mindful throughout the day, and has all sorts of specific guided meditations to try. It should also be noted that I found the instructor, who is featured in the videos and guided meditations, pleasant and easy to listen to. It may seem a trivial detail, but it might be hard for some people to be guided into meditation by a voice they find distracting. This wasn’t the case for me with this app, but I have heard some recorded voices that sent me tumbling down a 15 minute rabbit hole of thoughts like, ” Why would they hire someone with a voice like Bobcat Goldthwait to guide people towards a a state of inner peace?” Something to note before you pay a membership for any mindfulness app.
The I haven’t had quite as much time with 10% Happier yet, but over the last month it has quickly become my personal favorite mindfulness app. The app was launched, and is hosted(?) by none other than Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, Nightline, and Good Morning America, and assembles a growing who’s who of mindfulness and meditation experts for videos, talks, lessons, and guided meditations. The first course is led by Joseph Goldstein, a pioneer and leader in Western mindfulness, and introduces you to the basics. After that, the courses really dig in to deeper aspects of the practice. Like Headspace, this app also features instant meditation sessions that range from light to heavy guidance, and can be set for various lengths of time. Reminders, and daily insights are also included here. It also features guidance for focusing meditation on specific emotions, like anxiety, anger, or kindness. What sets this app apart for me is the fascinating video discussions on specific aspects of what mindfulness means, and how to apply it effectively to all aspects of life. Another great feature is that a personal mindfulness coach is available to answer any questions you have, all you have to do is send them a message through the app. At $9.99 a month you really can’t beat this app!