Old engraving of cuckoo clock

Headspace and other mindfulness apps reviewed

In All articles, Reviews by Norman Lamont

There’s lots of interest now in mindfulness and meditation apps.  These seem to fall into two categories – simple tools for timing and libraries of guided meditations to act as a teacher when you’re not in a class.
This Lifehacker article gives a detailed rundown on on some of the best-known paid apps – Headspace, Buddhify and Calm.

Old engraving of cuckoo clock

It concludes that they either guide you through a set programme (Headspace), let you dip in and out when the mood takes you (Buddhify) or offer a combination of these two approaches (Calm).    I think these things can provide a helpful scaffolding in the early days to familiarise yourself with the practices and, more important, to encourage you to develop a regular practice, which isn’t easy. I see guided meditations as like training wheels on a children’s bike – they’re there to get you started but they’re not the real thing. The real thing is silence.  That’s not a criticism of guided meditations, just where I see them fitting in.  If it helps you gain confidence in the practice and helps you to sit down and do it, it’s worth investing in.  Later, when you get onto just sitting in silence, you wouldn’t pay for 15 minutes silence. Or maybe you would?
I’ve used two apps that aren’t mentioned in the article.  Insight Timer  is, as it suggests, primarily a timer that lets you choose from a wide selection of sounds from different Buddhist traditions to start and finish your meditation, from harsh Zen clackers to a huge Chinese gong. As well as starting and finishing, you can divide your session into phases using these bells. The app also invites you to join discussion groups and local meet-ups, and offers a sense of community by telling you who else is meditating now across the world using the app. There’s a library of third party guided meditations too, should you want to try them.  I use it daily and have done for years but just as a timer, as it’s more pleasant than the harsh buzzers or awful music of the built in timers on my phone.
The other app I’ve used is the Mindfulness Bell (Android, IOS) which you set to ring periodically during the day to encourage you to return for a second to the here and now, perhaps to sit back and engage with your breath for a few seconds. I set it going some days when I’m working at home and know I’m going to be tightly focused, but I tend nowadays to achieve the same end by working in 25m bursts with a break when I get up and move around a little. It’s well worth spending a few days trying something like this if your working environment will allow you to do without annoying those around you.