For an overview of popular meditation apps scroll down to *****.
Why meditate? In numerous studies, meditation was proven to
- Reduce stress: meditation helps to reduce cortisol levels, thus reduces stress-induced inflammatory responses
- Decrease blood pressure: both focussing on a silent mantra and Yoga Nidra relaxes the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, thus reducing blood pressure. Combined with slow, deep breathing and an emphasis on a long exhale, this is one of the secrets to “hack” your Vagus nerve, thus calming the entire system
- Control anxiety: regular meditation helps to reduce anxiety levels and related impulses and negative thoughts
- Promote emotional health: long-term high-stress levels can bring our hormone and neurotransmitter system out of balance, meditation helps to reduce cytokines; meditation teaches self-control and self-awareness thus helps us to be aware of triggers, of unhealthy habits, and find the willpower to change for the better
- Prevent and reverse age-related memory loss: meditation improves focus and increases attention span, this can turn into more clarity and improved memory. In fact, several studies have shown that especially Kirtan Kriya, a tradition that combines mantra, chants, and finger mudras, dramatically improved mental activity in elderly persons
- Improve sleep: nearly half the adult population struggle with insomnia at some point. Meditation helps to calm the mind, relax the body, and thus supports falling and staying asleep.
- Control Pain: Meditation affects the pain center in the brain, thus reducing the perceived pain by calming the brain.
There are many different schools and techniques:
- Silent meditation – all about emptying the mind
- autogenic training - all about learning to control involuntary aspects (hand warming, feet warming, heartbeat)
- Progressive muscle relaxation – great preparation before Savasana
- Guided imagery – for those who relax through daydreaming (switches the brain from beta to alpha mode)
- Positive affirmations/mantras – has shown incredible results, people healed themselves from cancer, IBS, PTSD and more
- Chanting – great spiritual practice, for those who like it, that has dramatic effects on the brain (all the way to theta and delta waves while staying aware of it), in yoga these ancient Kundalini techniques are considered the Bliss-practice
- Focused-attention meditation – concentrates attention on a single object (candle), thought (affirmation, intention, mantra), sound (bird), or visualization. Other methods focus on the breath.
- Open-monitoring meditation – encourages broadened awareness of all aspects of your environment, train of thought, and a sense of self. This may help to become aware of thoughts, feelings or impulses that you might normally try to suppress.
- Loving-kindness meditation – also known as Bhakti yoga teaches to extend compassion to oneself and others, it teaches to soften the heart, let go of anger, and cultivate a lasting attitude of kindness toward all
- Walking meditation – is an old Buddhist tradition but also known from Christianity (think colonnades in monasteries).
So, there are traditional teachings that are both timeless and effective, yet our modern lifestyle always seems to find excuses as to why we don't have time to meditate. So, now there are also branded programs that teach you a step-by-step approach and there are mobile apps that allow you to take your meditation teacher with you wherever you go. Before you decide which approach you want to try, take a moment and think about why you consider meditating. What do YOU want to get out of it?
- Do you want to learn to relax and cope with stress in a healthier way?
- Do you want to live more mindfully?
- Do you want to make this part of your spiritual life?
- Or do you want to support long-term brain health (memory, focus, learning)?
And while sooner or later a regular meditation practice supports all of the above, I recommend picking a starting point that suits your personality and schedule best.
There are countless videos with guided meditations available on YouTube. I'm very picky. YouTube can be a great and affordable source but it can also feel like a jungle.
***** Meanwhile, there are dozens of apps available – both free of charge and for a fee/subscription. I have tried some out and want to share what I found:
Calm offers support with relaxation via guided meditations, with disrupted sleep patters via sleep stories, coaching for focus, relationships, anxiety, and more. Once you download the app on your phone, you can try it out for free for 7 days. If you like it, you can purchase a subscription to access the full library. It is an advantage that everything is on your phone and you don’t need internet access to use the app.
I personally liked some of their guided visualizations but didn't like the sleep stories at all.
Muse is the technology I'm currently using. I love it! Muse is more than just an app. Muse is a wearable headband that uses electroencephalography—or EEG—to detect electrical activity in your brain. The goal of Muse is to make you aware of your brain’s activity and to train your brain via audio and visual cues such as the sound of waves or chirping birds.
The Muse headband has seven EEG sensors that are grouped into five points—three on the front of your forehead and one behind each ear. So one needs to purchase the headband-device and download the app. The headband transfers the data via Bluetooth to the phone.
Through the app, you can assess your progress in remaining calm. The device also records when you move, fidget, or open your eyes. Reviewers of Muse have noted that it’s useful for beginners or those inexperienced with meditation and mindfulness. The app is very detailed, it pairs with any iPhone or Android, and charges quickly. It lets you track your progress in how long you can maintain to stay very calm – it works basically like Biofeedback - with simple cues that train your mind to maintain a certain state of calm.
When working with my private clients, I'm connecting the headband to additional measuring apps, and it allows to track not just a basic EEG but monitors each brainwave, the heart rate, and the breathing rate. This allows me to combine guided meditation with heart variability training, breathwork, hypnotic trances, and mindfulness exercises. One of my small research projects is to offer Reiki (a Japanese form of energy healing and guided meditation) to clients with acute or chronic inflammation in the body and using an Infrared-camera to measure how well we were able to bring the inflammation down.
Muse is the right approach for all who long to support brain health, who do want to feel calmer and cope with stress and anxiety but at the same time like a scientific kind of approach.
Btw: Muse and Calm cost almost the same – and with that in mind, I think that Muse offers the better value.
Inner Balance Trainer
So here is one version of HRV training: The inner balance technology works by analyzing your heart rate and understanding the emotional condition of your mind. It trains you to generate a highly efficient physiological state called the HRV coherence (HRV = Heart Rate Variability). This helps you clearing your mind and increasing your emotional composure. This one also requires the purchase of an additional device plus the app.
You can either download this app on your smartphone or signup online and start meditating today. The guided meditations have been developed by former Monk Andy Puddicombe and many like them for reducing stress and anxiety, or simply erasing feelings of restlessness.
Omvana is part of a comprehensive platform for online learning and connecting with a global spiritual network of students and thought leaders, called Mindvalley. Their recorded meditations are great, many are done by well-known thought leaders and authors of spiritual guidance and self-help books. A disadvantage is that you do need the internet – no offline use. Some of Mindvalley’s online courses are great – I personally love Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Carolyne Myss. This is especially true when you don’t have a lot of time to read all these books. Some of their ideas are inspirational … and after reading hundreds of pages for work, it may be nice to simply listen to someone else reading to you. However, some of Mindvalley’s online classes promise deep insights but deliver beginner level … this is a good community to connect with when you are interested in networking, personal growth, spirituality, self-realization, and everything down those lines.
This meditation app is insofar unique that it does not ask for any of your extra time in the already busy days. Like other meditation apps, you do not have to separate your meditation time from your work time. Because you can use this app anytime you want and at any pace that you are in (meditate on the go).
You also do not have to pay any subscription fee to use this app. It charges you a one-time, very affordable fee.
You can download this app on your iOS or Android device as it is available for both OS.
The Mindfulness App
Last but not least one more very affordable option. The guided meditations are well done, mindfulness-based, and the app offers easy access and reminder functions from anywhere.
What if plugging in my earphones and listening to some guided meditation is all fine but sometimes I feel like putting all technology to the side?
Then may be the time for you to simply find a quiet spot to sit down, bring your awareness to your breath, focus on the light of a candle, the sound of a gong, a positive affirmation, or whatever suits you best - and be still.
Prayer is when we talk to God. Meditation is when we listen to God.