Can Your Smartphone Help You Meditate?
The profile and popularity of mindfulness and meditative practices have grown remarkably in recent years, among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, as more people seek ways to manage their stress levels as they navigate the breakneck bustle and noise of our complex modern existence. The paradox is that what may sound simple in theory—halting our racing lives and racing minds for a few moments each day to become fully aware of and familiar with the present moment—can be one of the most difficult feats to achieve in practice.
While meditation has historically been taught through highly trained teachers, our busy lives have left many of us starved for time and seeking easier, more immediate solutions. Exploiting the ubiquity of mobile devices, numerous apps are now being marketed as an easy way to experience meditation. While only a few have been designed in consultation with experts or experienced teachers, most focus on providing the minimum dose of meditation, promising increased happiness and a better life from just a few minutes of practice a day. So how useful are such resources in practice?
One of the most popular apps on the scene, due in part to its accessible teaching approach as well as the considerable media attention it has garnered as one of the sector’s most successful startups, is Headspace, co-created by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk with a degree in circus arts.
In his early 20s, midway through a university degree, Puddicombe’s sudden decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation marked the beginning of a 10-year journey around the world that culminated in his ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in northern India. As a monk, he then moved to Russia, where he lived and taught meditation for more than four years before reaching the end of his monastic commitment. Returning to his native England, Puddicombe continued to teach meditation in a lay capacity to ordinary professionals, many of whom had never considered the practice before. However, the people he was teaching found Puddicombe’s hour-long meditation prescriptions too much of a commitment, and even 30 minutes was too difficult for many.
“Eventually we tried 10 minutes and it made a difference. People’s lives are so frenetic, even just taking a short period of time out seems to have a really significant impact,” said Puddicombe. (LA Times)
The free version of Puddicombe’s app takes a similar tack, offering a 10-day, 10-minutes-per-session meditation journey to impart the basics of beginning a meditation practice. While a library of other content is also available through the app, it is only accessible through a paid subscription. As of January, the app had been downloaded 5 million times, although the company declined to reveal how many paying subscribers the downloads had generated.
While the measurable benefits of computer-assisted meditation may be debatable and few of us are likely to find enlightenment in our smartphones, the true value of making genuine mindfulness and meditation practices a cornerstone of our daily lives has been amply demonstrated by science and by thousands of years of spiritual tradition. Although undertaking such an endeavor at a serious level requires a significant degree of dedication and commitment, it seems feasible that virtual aids might act as agents of small change leading to positive habits that can engender a more profound perspective on life. If you have any thoughts or stories of your own experiences (good or bad) with mindfulness technology, please share them in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you!
Headspace app generates buzz as meditation turns ultra-trendy (LA Times)
Andy Puddicombe (Headspace)
Andy Puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes (TED)
Man Who Downloaded $2.99 Meditation App Prepares To Enter Lotus Plane Of Eternal Serenity (The Onion)