An Alternative to Guided Meditation Apps
With the immediacy with which our culture functions, it is no wonder that even our most mundane tasks can cause such burnout. A constant flood of information, demands, and chores has most of us scrambling to make order out of our thoughts.
For most of us, we are stressed before we even get out the door, in the morning. A morning cup of coffee is often accompanied by the news channel, which bombards us with traumatic events and degrading adverts.
Or morning commute comes with angry drivers and almost-accidents, which sends our brains into a frenzy of fight-or-flight responses.
Work is work and usually comes with its own host of stress, further exasperating our already agitated brains.
Another commute home leads us to the stress of preparing dinner and tending to chores before we finally watch another television program that likely adds yet another layer of stress.
As a result, many people are turning to mindfulness as a way to combat that constant barrage of stress in their lives.
Not many people actually know much about mindfulness or meditation. Though meditation is a powerful resource to calm the mind, very few people actually understand the biological merits behind it. Mindfulness courses, workshops, and even apps have been popping up over the past few years to help solve this problem.
Excitedly, people have been attending workshops, purchasing how-to books, and downloading apps in order to reap the benefits of meditation. Unfortunately, those benefits don’t necessarily come with all of the best purchases. Before jumping into a pricey mindfulness program or app, be sure that you understand how meditation works.
Why Meditation Works
Understanding the mechanisms behind meditation can help you choose the best meditation practice for yourself. Meditation functions much like exercise for the brain. Rather than improving muscles, though, it improves neural functioning. Meditation strengthens and grows neural pathways throughout the brain so that overall cognitive functioning is faster and stronger.
In a similar way that a set of squats tears the muscles in your quadriceps so that they may repair themselves in bulkier, stronger muscles, meditation tests the neural pathways throughout the brain.
As you meditate, the brain must push itself to concentrate, firing neural impulses to maintain concentration. As more neural impulses are fired, the neural pathways are strengthened.
As you can imagine, there are certain techniques that help strengthen the neural pathways more effectively. Using your own affirmations, for example, will use the vocal area of the brain as well as the auditory area of the brain. This, combined with the practice of meditation, itself, creates a web of connections over three completely separate areas of the brain. By creating a meditation practice that is reliant on your own participation, you are strengthening neural pathways in a much more intense fashion.
Put simply: the more you meditate the stronger those neural pathways become. The very act of your meditation practice—whether it includes mantras, music, or props—is directly responsible for strengthening the neural pathways.
Though the entire brain mass increases with the practice of meditation, certain areas of the brain are particularly strengthened. Areas associated with concentration, memory, patience, and mood are among those most strengthened through a meditation practice. Each of these characteristics coincidentally helps you live a calmer, easier life.
Why Some Guided Meditation Apps Don’t Work
As research touting the efficacy of meditation began rolling out, smartphone apps naturally followed the trend. Within a few years, guided meditation apps ranked among some of the best downloadable apps on the market.
The guided meditation app became so ubiquitous that many of them virtually eliminated the entire meditation process itself, making meditation a timed chore managed solely by the app. As a result, many meditation apps on the market today merely provide pleasant sounds and timed chimes to imitate a meditative state without ever actually taking the app user into one.
All the hard work of meditation—the concentration, the mantras, the intentions—are replaced by the app so that the only thing you actually do is listen to someone else meditate. Though a few quiet minutes a day are surely appreciated, that’s all you’re getting with most meditation apps on the market. In the end, they actually prevent you from obtaining all of the major benefits of meditation.
How to Find the Best Meditation Apps
So, how do we find a guided meditation app that will actually garner positive results? By downloading an app that strengthens the neural pathways in the user’s brain.
Ideally, a meditation practice should allow the brain to build its own neural pathways. This is more achievable when the app integrates the user in the meditation process.
Remember the earlier example about incorporating three separate areas of the brain during your meditation practice? Look for a meditation app that allows you to do that.
Guided meditation apps that allow you to record your own voice and customize your meditation experience are more likely to help you strengthen your neural connections than those that don’t.
A perfect meditation practice varies from person to person. As such, you want an app that tailors to your needs and empowers you in your own practice. Look for the ability to record your own mantra or affirmations so that you can hear your own voice playing back to you. Add calming music that not only sounds good but guides your brainwaves into a steadier, lower frequency.
Imagine the ability to completely customize your meditation practice so that you use your own voice, your own intentions, your own ability, and your own music selection. Imagine the possibilities that come with empowering yourself to build your very own meditation practice.
Letting a meditation play in the background while you are in a seated position is relaxing, to be sure. But it does little to build the neural pathways that necessitate true change and improvement. A guided meditation app that involves you, as the user, in the entire practice from start to finish will prove to be infinitely more beneficial.