I’ve been acquainted with meditation for 18+ years now. It first came to me through my dad —’cause my dad is awesome. Although he didn’t really have a formal practice, he has always been very mindful. He was always present. There. With you. In the moment.
Throughout my life, he would tell me how important it was to control my mind —as opposed to believing whatever it said— and to simplify my life. I didn’t quite get this for a long time… “Don’t overcomplicate things”—he would say. But I had other plans. I used to get worked up easily when growing up, the silliest things frustrated me and I would cry over them for days if I didn’t get my way. Blame that to being a teenager… Now I wish I had listened! Back then, I didn’t care much for my dad’s advice, nor did I understand what meditation really entailed and how beneficial it was or what that sentence “control my mind” was all about. I didn’t really listen.
Further down the line I did enrol in Kundalini yoga classes, in search for an escape from the busy uni life. I’ll never forget my first teacher, Johana. She introduced me to my first Kundalini meditation. Even though chanting felt a bit awkward to me, I got curious. I learnt more about meditation and its benefits, but I had a very hard time with the concept of “not thinking”. I don’t know about you, but I’m always thinking! Focusing on simply being can be challenging— what does that mean anyway?
I learnt more about meditation and its benefits, but I had a very hard time with the concept of not thinking.
Life got busier and I left it for a bit… Are you familiar with that ancient Zen proverb? “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day —unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” How ironic that it’s actually true.
More recently, I wanted a do-over, because I had kind of been practising on and off and I was sick of that. I started looking into different ways to improve my meditation technique, and I was determined to stick with something and make it work. I’ve used a few different apps to help me in both habit-building and accountability. They worked well as a starting point, and even though I no longer use them regularly (because I prefer other practices now) they were a great way for me to re-start my meditation practice.
What I was looking for was something that could help me with habit-building and accountability.
So, without further ado, here’s my humble review of the meditation apps I’ve used. These are all available on iOS and Android phones:
• Calm –
Calm’s emphasis is on relaxation and mindfulness. It uses nature sounds and calming scenes to take you through a 7 day process called “7 Days of Calm”. The sessions start short, with 5 minutes, building up to 15. Each session focuses on one single habit or skill to practice such as attention, awareness, deep concentration, etc. During the meditation, there are prompts to help you get back to centre when your mind drifts – if you’re only starting, you might need the extra help.
After you’ve finished the 7 days, you can subscribe on a yearly or monthly basis, gaining access to guided meditations, articles and a 21 day challenge. The monthly subscription is $12.99 or you can pay $49.99 for the whole year. There are a couple of guided meditations that are free, and you can customise their length by setting the timer to 10, 20 and up to 30 minutes as you advance in your meditation journey. If you purchase the pro version, your meditations can go up to 240 minutes. I’m not sure if the prompts stop once you are more experienced and can do longer meditations. I personally find it very disruptive if after 10 minutes I’m still hearing a voice that tells me to centre… but that’s just me.
• 1 Giant Mind –
Here, you start to learn meditation through sessions that build up your technique. I like this app a lot and can say it’s one of the best apps for learning meditation. The idea is to learn meditation with a 12 step process, and at the end of which you can access a 30 days challenge to make meditation a daily habit.
The initial 12 steps teach you a particular technique that uses a mantra. It’s cool because as you go through each step they explain to you why mindfulness meditation is not about controlling the process, but about letting it unfold… The sessions are detailed in their explanation and are made for first time learners or beginners that would like to expand their knowledge of meditation. They all start with a short video with explanations and tips about issues you might be encountering as you get more familiar with your practice, and it also asks about your state of calmness before and after the meditation as a way for you to notice what is unfolding for you.
At the end of each session, you can choose between (many!) different options on how it felt for you, and depending on the one you choose there’s a short video elaborating on what you can learn from that particular experience As you move through it you also unlock materials from the library to read and learn more about mindfulness. You can also keep a journal right there, and the app incorporates a meditation timer for you to use when you don’t need the guided meditations any more. I find that 1 Giant Mind is a lot less “intrusive”. It only prompts you at the beginning and at the end of the meditation, which I love! It’s all about surrendering to your practice. If you prefer a bit more guidance during the meditation, then one of the other apps might be better to start with.
• Headspace –
Andy is your guide on the journey to build up your meditation level through fun and easy to digest cartoons that show you how your mind works and the steps you need to take in order to learn to manage it better. The app takes you through 10 days of mindfulness called “Take 10”, and after that you need to subscribe to one of the programs that are actually quite affordable — they start from a monthly subscription ($12.95) and can go until forever! ($420)
They treat the app as a mind-gym. As you advance the meditations get longer and you can customise them to your needs and follow your progress in different areas such as creativity, focus and stress. However, I don’t know much about that part because I never subscribed. I find Headspace is a great app to get started, and people usually say they find Andy’s voice very soothing —so if you love the first 10 sessions, you might find that the best option is to subscribe for a month and see how you go. If you do, let me know how you found it 🙂
• Smiling Mind –
This app has a regular and a corporate version. I haven’t used the corporate one because it can only be accessed through a license, but it seems that the emphasis of the program is on mindfulness for the average work environment.
The regular Smiling Mind app however, is quite interesting. The programs are divided by age and there are bite-sized as well as extended meditation options that you can download according to your preferences. The longest meditation is 45 minutes. The focus of the app is mindfulness and you go through a small program as you advance with Mindfulness 101 being the first step, which includes a few guided meditations and a daily mindfulness guide, up to Mindfulness 105 which gives you daily activities, longer meditations and a more profound guide to mindfulness.
I like the fact that this app is very thorough. Before starting a meditation session, it asks you how you’re feeling, but it doesn’t just give you 2 options… it asks whether you’re stormy or calm, energised or tired, curious or disinterested, negative or positive… and more. Smiling Mind also has interesting collaborations that focus on different groups. For example, they developed a series of sports based meditations, and meditations to incorporate specifically to your tea ritual which I’m totally using this winter! The one thing I’m not thrilled with however is that it still interrupts you half way in the longer meditations. This is just a personal preference and you might actually like and appreciate the nudge to get back to your body that prevents you from drifting away into sleep —or your to-do list.
• Coach.me –
I’ve used this app mainly for accountability, but it’s awesome to track your meditation goals as well. It lets you choose the activities you’d like to be accountable for —in this case meditation— with as much or as little pressure as you want. You can choose to receive reminders, emails or just in-app notifications. It also shows you a record of how many times you’ve checked in with your goal in any given week. It keeps you both motivated and inspired. You can even chat to your fellow coachees and share some tips about the specific goal you’re trying to achieve. You can also hire a coach to help guide you through the process, to keep you even more accountable, and to ask any questions you might have.
I love all these apps! They’re all quite different, so it really depends on personal preference; you have to find the app that fits with your lifestyle and motivates you to keep going. Meditation is an intensely personal experience, so choosing your meditation technique should reflect this too. Once you know your preferences you can just use them all!
Meditation is an intensely personal experience, so choosing your meditation technique should reflect this too.
So, what can you do if —like me then— you’re only just beginning meditating and have no idea where to start? If you truly want this, start training. Choose one app. Perseverance is the key.
Once I got in the flow, it was much easier for me to move onto different meditation practices. These days, I mostly meditate on my own with techniques I learnt from Santiago Martinez. Ever since I discovered his Alma Works meditation techniques I haven’t looked back. These techniques are also very simple, however, they allow you to go deeper much quicker —if you trust yourSelf that is.
I can emphatically say that meditation has changed my life. Without a doubt. I let go of things much faster. I can pivot from bad situations. I am happier. I am calmer. It’s been the gateway to my Soul. It’s been worth the try, and the effort. And the best part is that I keep on learning every day.
I can emphatically say that meditation has changed my life. Without a doubt.
I can’t wait for more to unfold. Meditate, it’s good for you. Expansion is the only way forward…!
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