Regular readers of this blog are likely familiar with my passionate belief in the power of mindfulness. When it comes to keeping your stress levels in check—whether at work or elsewhere —mindfulness meditation has been scientifically proven to be effective. In one study, people with generalized anxiety who followed a stress-reduction program based on mindfulness were considerably less anxious than those in a control group who were taught other stress management techniques. Other studies involving brain scans of meditators found people who had been meditating for a long time had increased grey matter in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with memory and decision-making; meditators in their fifties had the same amount of grey matter in one part of the prefrontal cortex as people in their twenties in spite of the fact that the cortex is known to shrink as we age. Mindfulness has even been used to treat serious mental health issues like obsessive compulsive disorder and addiction.
Intrigued by the compelling research on mindfulness but unsure where to start? One of the best things about this practice (aside from how well it works) is its simplicity. Just a few minutes of quiet contemplation every day can make a huge difference in your health. And there are some excellent resources out there to help you learn, including many you can access with your smartphone. Here are the mindfulness meditation apps you won’t be able to live without.
10% Happier is my current favorite app—it’s free and has a ton of different meditations to follow, ranging from 1 minute to 60. With a wide variety of options to suit all levels, the 10% Happier app comes from Dan Harris, the ABC news correspondent and author of the best seller, 10% Happier, which is his terrific book about his investigation into the benefits of mindfulness after having an on-air panic attack. Dan was a real skeptic before looking into what he could do to decrease how much underlying stress was affecting him at work and in his life. I highly recommend the book as an accessible way to understand what mindfulness is all about with absolutely no “woo-woo” element. Because he’s a news anchor, his voice is great, so the audible version of his book is terrific.
Calm instructs users with sessions ranging from 3 to 25 minutes that emphasize relief from anxiety, stress, and insomnia. It features Daily Calm, a 10-minute program to help ease you into the day or unwind with before bed. While the app is excellent for those just beginning to explore mindfulness, even expert meditators may find it useful. According to app cofounder Michael Acton-Smith, calming the mind “is a superpower that rewires our brains, changes the way we see the world and helps to unlock our true potential.”
The idea behind Stop, Breathe, & Think is that taking a few minutes each day to feel the calm is as important as regular exercise. This app is useful for beginners because it features a section, Learn to Meditate, with information on the benefits and neuroscience of mindfulness as well as what to expect when you get started. It was born out of Tools for Peace, a non-profit dedicated to teaching the skills of mindfulness and meditation to inner-city teens. While the app has grown to reach a much wider audience and has since connected with people of all ages, Stop, Breathe & Think continues to support Tools for Peace by sharing 10% of all net revenues with the non-profit.
The tagline for Headspace is, “Brilliant things happen in calm minds.” Headspace was co-founded by Andy Puddicombe, who spent over 10 years studying meditation before becoming a Buddhist monk. This highly-rated app offers guided meditations for all experience levels, allowing you to browse their collections and pick sessions to suit your mood and lifestyle. You can choose your session length, replay your favorites, and learn how to apply mindfulness to your daily life. The app features an introductory series called Take10 that can teach you to meditate in 10 sessions of 10 minutes each.
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Myles Spar, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Officer of Vault Health, a national medical practice specializing in care for men, and Is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.