Meditation Apps; Good or Bad

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Anyone with a smartphone and has an interest in meditation knows that there are a great many "apps" for meditation available and new ones seem to be showing up all the time. So, is using an app for meditation good or bad? 

The answer, at least from my point of view as a teacher, is "it depends". 

So first, some pros and cons of meditation apps.

Pros: Apps are convenient and generally easy to use. For someone new to meditation, it is an easy way to begin a practice. You can select a guided meditation from a large list and follow along. Simple. Another advantage is that apps give you easy access to not only guided meditations but also some apps have lectures by various teachers. This can also be a good learning tool. Most apps also allow you to set a reminder which can be helpful and the apps will track your progress which can help with motivation. 

Cons: One of the purposes of meditation is to learn to quiet the mind and all the thoughts that come with our busy day to day activities. Nowadays, a large part of our busy day is our attachment to technology; we seem to be constantly checking our phones; at the dinner table, during meetings, even when in the middle of a conversation with someone. It has become a habit. There are many people talking about our addiction to our devices and recommend that we cut back, even just a bit. Put that phone away at dinner, and don't automatically grab it just because it pings; that new Facebook comment really isn't all that important, is it? So using an app for meditation may be just another way of keeping us attached to our tech devices. Perhaps not such a good idea. 

The other thing that may be a concern with using an app for meditation is that there is no feedback; you may finish a session and wonder "is that how I should have done that?" or "what was I supposed to get out of that?" or more often "I'm not sure that was really something I'd like to keep doing". Meditation has many variations. Saying you "meditate" is like saying you do "sports". That could cover a great many things. Some people like to do mindfulness, some like more concentrative practices, some want insight meditation, some may be drawn to centering prayer. Just using an app, especially as a beginner, may not expose us to the wide variety of practices and without having someone to talk to about which practices may be right for you, you may feel meditation is just not right for you. Moreover, it is very helpful to have someone to discuss your experiences with as you get deeper into your practice. Having a teacher can be extremely valuable in this regard. A teacher can guide you into a practice that is right for you, introduce you to a wide variety of techniques, and discuss with you and clarify your experiences during meditation. Using an app where all the sessions are guided or have music, makes it difficult to get used to meditating without any guidance or sound. Simple quiet meditation techniques can be the most effective at times. Teachers can also motivate you to keep with a practice. Results show that app use is very high at the beginning of the app availability, but then drops off rapidly. Many people have meditation apps on their phone or tablet that they no longer use. 

So should you use a meditation app? There is no simple answer. My recommendation is to use them sparingly and to use them in conjunction with a teacher or a class. Have a teacher recommend an app and specify sessions just for you that will complement or enhance your practice. Or just decide to not use an app at all. If you have a teacher or attend a class, you will learn many practices that will help you progress. If you do use one, and have a teacher, then let your teacher know which app it is and what sessions you use. Your teacher can use that info to help you chart your course though the myriad of techniques available. If you don't have a teacher and there are no classes nearby, then by all means, use an app. Especially for beginners, if you have no other resources, an app can help you get started. Moreover, some users may jump between different sessions on an app each time they sit to meditate. That's probably not the best idea. Consistent practice in a particular method can be of the most benefit. That is where teachers or classes can be very helpful.

In conclusion, apps for meditation may be helpful but don't rely on them exclusively. Try different ones in order to find the one that works for you. And remember, an app is no substitute for a qualified teacher or class. 

Do I personally use an app? On occasion! I do this sometimes just to use the timer and to keep track of my sessions. And as a teacher I want to always keep up with as many of the various techniques and methods available, and so I use apps as part of my on-going learning process. 

Remember the most important thing is to establish a daily practice and to stick with it. Even a few minutes a day is valuable!