As a meditation teacher, I often hear various questions about meditation apps.
Which one do I think is best? Which one should someone use? Are they a good idea? Does the cost of the app matter? Are they just a crutch? Can they replace working with a teacher or going to a class?
The questions are valid. There are a ton of apps to choose from, all with different price points, aesthetics, and meditation offerings. It can be difficult to make a choice, if you’ve even made the choice to use an app at all.
Personally, I believe meditation apps have a time and place, but they can also do more harm than good in some cases. Let’s talk about their benefits and drawbacks so you can make the decision that’s right for you.
An app can offer accountability
If attending local classes doesn’t work with your schedule and hiring a teacher isn’t in your budget, an app can offer the accountability you would get from the class or teacher.
Most apps offer stats on your practice, showing you how many days in a row you’ve practiced, which days you’ve practiced, and often, which meditations you’ve done. You can even find how many minutes/hours you’ve meditated on some apps.
These same apps also usually offer some sort of reminder, a notification on your phone reminding you at a set time each day to meditate. This can be helpful when you’re trying to form the habit but haven’t yet. The reminder ensures you don’t miss a day or lose track of time.
Apps can ensure that you stick with your practice and truly make it a habit.
It can also give you anxiety
While the apps offer options that give accountability, those same options can also inspire a feeling similar to FOMO.
Seeing that unbroken streak of days on which you’ve meditated gives you a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to keep going. It gives you something to strive for. How long can you go without breaking that streak?
But what happens if you need to miss a day? You end up with a feeling similar to fear of missing out. You end up feeling anxious because you’re going to break your streak. You get stressed thinking about how you’ll have to start all over again. Suddenly, your meditation is no longer the stress reducing, relaxing activity you enjoy but an obligation that you must meet or else.
Apps make meditation accessible
I teach at a local studio that’s about 20 minutes from my home. I live in a rural area, but it’s a fairly quick drive to the nearby city where I teach. But there are lots of reasons why you might not be able to get to a local class.
Maybe you work an odd shift and no classes are offered a time that’s convenient for you. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home parent with no reliable childcare. Perhaps you don’t have reliable transportation and your town doesn’t offer public transportation.
Whatever the reason, an app makes meditation more accessible to you. While you can also work with a meditation teacher online, an app gives you the ability to meditate on your own schedule. No need to make an appointment, research the teacher, or figure out which style of meditation is right for you first (more on this later).
You can just grab your phone, open the app, and start meditating when it’s convenient for you.
It can lead to choice paralysis
The number of apps available to download is overwhelming in itself. Within each app, though, you usually have dozens, or maybe even hundreds or thousands of individual meditations to choose from.
Just deciding which app to download can hold you back from meditating. You could spend days or weeks reading the descriptions and reviews of each app and trying to narrow your choices to a select few.
Once you download an app (or two, or a dozen), then you have to choose a meditation for each session. This can also lead to spending hours scrolling as you read descriptions, reviews, session lengths, meditation style, and more. Some even offer the same meditation in multiple lengths, which can give you yet another option to consider.
With so many choices to make, you can spend far more time trying to decide what meditation to do than you ever spend actually meditating.
An app can offer guidance and specific instruction
If you’re brand new to meditation, an app can offer specific instructions and guidance on how to meditate. This can make getting started much easier for a complete beginner who’s worried about getting it “right.”
This can be particularly helpful if you’re exploring different types of meditation. You’ll get the structure you need to feel you’re getting a good grasp of each style without having to attend multiple classes or perhaps find multiple teachers.
Instead of spending days or weeks researching and questioning whether you’re doing it right, you can get started with an app and feel more confident.
It can become a crutch
While an app can be great to get you started if you’re new to meditation, it can also become a crutch that you rely on much too heavily.
You can become dependent on being guided through your meditation session, needing that external voice to help you do something that’s supposed to be an internal activity. You can also become dependent on the timers, background music, and reminders that many apps offer.
But what happens when the app changes? Or your phone dies? Or a reminder doesn’t get sent one day? What about when you forget your phone or you’re away from it for some reason?
If you become too dependent on an app to do your meditation, you may discover the only habit you’ve formed is the one of waiting for your phone to remind you to meditate.
An app offers variety
There are many styles of meditation. From mindfulness to Zen, loving-kindness to breath awareness, transcendental to heartfulness, there’s a meditation style for everyone. An app allows you to explore and experience your many options in a cost-effective and easy way.
While some meditation teachers teach a variety of styles, some specialize in just one or two. This means if you want to try styles a teacher doesn’t offer, you have to seek out another teacher — or possibly multiple other teachers. And classes are always style-specific, which means you’ll need to take multiple classes to experience multiple meditation styles.
An app gives you the ability to pick and choose among the many styles. You can choose a different style every day, or stick with one for a longer period. You can try different teachers who all teach the same style to find the one that resonates most with you.
Apps allow you much more freedom in exploring all the options that meditation has to offer.
Your phone also offers variety
Your phone holds your meditation app. But it also holds the apps for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and texting. It’s all too easy to pick up your phone with an intention to meditate and then decide to just check Facebook really quickly. An hour later, you’ve scrolled past a dozen cat videos and forgotten all about meditating.
It can also distract you during your meditation. Even if you put your phone on Do Not Disturb, you can be tempted to crack an eye open to see if there’s a new notification or how much time has passed. If you’re expecting an email or a phone call, this temptation can be even stronger.
Finally, it can distract you after meditation too. After meditating, you should take your time and ease back into your day while taking the calm feeling of relaxation with you. When you use an app, you’ll be much more likely to pick it up to tap a button to finish your session, add the session to the calendar, or even just close the app. Once you pick up the phone, though, instead of easing into the day, you’re more likely to dive back in by checking emails or returning phone calls.
Final verdict: Should you use a meditation app?
There are distinct pros and cons to app usage for meditation. My recommendation?
It takes 66 days to create a habit. If you’re a complete newbie to meditation, I would suggest using an app for those initial 66 days. You’ll benefit from the reminder the app offers, as well as being able to track how many days it’s been so far. You’ll also be able to get the structured guidance and instructions to help you feel confident you’re doing it “right.”
After the initial 66 days, I then suggest backing off the app. While you can still use it from time to time, once meditation has become a habit, you should begin to explore doing it on your own. While guided meditations and background music have their place, a completely silent meditation is a beautiful thing.
I would recommend using the app every other day, at most, after the initial habit-forming period. If you need a timer, consider buying a kitchen timer. You want to work on creating the habit of meditating without the app, or your phone, so that you can meditate any time, anywhere, regardless of whether you have your phone with you.
You should also choose your apps wisely. There are tons of apps available, but some are much more limited than others. Some also offer things that are labeled as meditations but are really not. In my opinion, the best apps are Insight Timer and Simple Habit.
A final thought: The best way to truly learn meditation is by working with a teacher. If you work with a teacher, even if it’s online rather than in-person, you have the opportunity to discuss your experience, ask questions, and offer feedback. The feedback you provide can allow the teacher to guide you toward meditation styles that are suited for what you’re looking to do with meditation, whether that’s increasing patience, reducing stress, finding compassion, or even simply sitting still for a few minutes.
Whether you use an app, hire a teacher, or head to a class, make meditation part of your life.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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