Are you searching for a proven and accessible way to relax? Try mindfulness. As I explain here, just a few minutes of contemplation every day has been shown to reduce stress, improve attention, and more. What exactly is mindfulness? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) program that helped bring meditation into the mainstream, mindfulness involves paying deliberate and nonjudgmental attention to the moment. With this neutral mindset we can see our worries as mere thoughts and let them go.
There’s a ton of research out there showing the powerful effects of mindfulness. 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.
Want to benefit from the stress-busting effects of mindfulness but not sure where to start? Here are 5 smartphone apps to help you stay mindful.
Headspace was cco-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.
10% Happier – Meditation Guide
With a wide variety of options to suit all levels, the 10% Happier app comes from Dan Harris, the ABC news corespondent 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 this is all about – with no “woo-woo” element at all. Because he’s a news anchor, his voice is great – so the audible version of his book is terrific. It’s also my current favorite app – it’s free and has a ton of different meditations to follow, ranging from 1 minute to 60.
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.” Calm instructs users with sessions ranging from 3 to 25 minutes that emphasize relief from anxiety, stress, and insomnia. It features Daily Calm, a new 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.
Home to more than 2,000,000 meditators, Insight Timer is rated by users as the top free meditation app. The app’s creators believe a daily meditation practice should be a privilege, not a product, so when you became a member of Insight Timer you’re encouraged to meditate for as long as you like without monthly fees or lockdowns. Among other features, the app includes 5,628 free guided meditations, music tracks, talks and courses. It also boasts 1,226 of the world’s best meditation teachers and musicians.
Stop, Breathe, & Think
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. The idea behind Stop, Breathe, & Think is that taking a few minutes each day to feel the calm is as important as regular exercise. 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 to further the non-profit’s mission.
Once you’ve armed yourself with these mindfulness tools, go beyond your smartphone with my Simple 10-Day Meditation Course. Why not take this easy and effective step towards stress reduction and gain a bigger brain in the process?
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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.