With the COVID-19 lockdown entering its third month, maintenance of sanity is a project on almost everybody’s minds. As social creatures, we don’t generally do well being socially isolated and cooped up for long periods of time. The COVID quarantine has many health experts talking about an unprecedented mental health crisis.
While mindfulness meditation has been around for thousands of years, it’s only recently that it’s gained currency in the west. But now they’re all the rage—thanks in no small part to an increase of meditation apps.
A full list of all the mindfulness, meditation, and stress-reduction apps would probably run into the hundreds at this point. So, here are some of the better ones out there.
TV journalist Dan Harris had a life-changing experience in 2004 when the stress of his life and career caused an on-air panic attack. In the years that followed, he dove deep into mindfulness meditation under the care of friend and guru Joseph Goldstein. Goldstein is one of the western world’s earliest proponents of the vipassanā tradition of Buddhist meditation. Harris has since written a book, 10% Happier, which he followed up with a meditation app by the same name.
The 10% Happier app features daily video lessons, guided meditation recordings and personal coaching from a cast of meditation experts. These include Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Alexis Santos, and others. It even features a Coronavirus Sanity Guide, which features podcast episodes with meditations specifically geared for the current stress-inducing reality.
Waking Up creator Sam Harris (no relation to Dan Harris) came to his meditation practice in a rather different way. A noted philosopher and neuroscientist, Harris spent a large portion of his life on silent retreat in India and Nepal. Here he learned meditation techniques from some of the wisest spiritual teachers on the planet. His 2014 book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion is credited for helping spearhead the current mindfulness craze.
Launched in late 2018, Harris’ Waking Up app is a continuing work in progress. With an array of mindfulness, loving-kindness meditations and easily digestible webinars, Waking Up invites learners to look under the hood at these practices. Waking Up is highly rewarding to anybody with a deeper, more scholarly interest in Buddhism. It’s ideal for those with a desire to really understand the rationale behind certain practices.
Calm.com was established in the stressed-out, overworked IT heartland of Silicon Valley by British IT wunderkind Alex Tew and game designer Michael Acton Smith. Neither had had any previous experience with meditation. However, both experienced more than their fair share of stress. The result of their meeting was the company Calm. The app was ranked “App of the Year” by Apple in 2017. It was also cited by Inc. as one of America’s fastest-growing private companies in 2018.
Calm forgos traditional spiritual practices in favour of more straight ahead relaxation. It features storytelling by celebrities like LeBron James, Stephen Fry, LeVar Burton, and Matthew McConaughey. Calm also includes soothing music courtesy of Johannes Brahms, Moby, and Sigur Rós. If the idea of a Buddhist retreat sounds awful, but you still need a dose of calm, this is an ideal choice.
Don’t let the silly name put you off; buddhify is an excellent app. It also comes with the added bonus that all of its content is free. British IT professional and renowned meditation proponent, Rohan Gunatillake designed the app as a way to blend his digital expertise with his meditation practice.
While buddhify lacks the star power of Calm, it features a cast of 14 meditation teachers, who offer many styles of guided meditations and tutorials. For people in a hurry and on a budget, buddhify is an excellent option.
Of course, meditation isn’t the be all and end all for all mental health issues. Meditation and mindfulness practices help. However, for the millions of people with serious mental health problems, there is no substitute for talk therapy, and medications. While there isn’t an app that can take the place of pharmacological interventions, the chatbot revolution is making its way into the talk therapy realm.
The brainchild of a team of psychologists and AI experts at Stanford University, Woebot is designed to help people manage their mental health on a day-to-day basis. Woebot uses daily chat conversations, mood trackers, curated videos, and calming word games. While it isn’t a full substitute for in-person therapy, at $39 a month it is a highly affordable option. Especially for those struggling to afford regular therapy.