I have found modern technology to be surprisingly helpful for meditation. If I am taking one of my many weekly walks around Green Lake or sitting on the beach in West Seattle, I can easily quiet my mind and do a sitting or walking meditation to the natural sounds around me and a little “soham.” However, if I’m sitting in my living room, I find it much harder to meditate with the sounds around me – particularly because my mother’s instincts have a harder time shutting off and my ears are tuned in to a napping child. Plus, our refrigerator is terribly loud and it’s just not a pleasant sound.
When I first started meditating, I needed the help of guided meditation, of a soothing voice reminding me to “just be” and not follow my thoughts. It didn’t hurt to have gentle reminders that it doesn’t need to be perfect, it’s ok if I have trouble letting go and my mind keeps wandering to the 80 million things I want to do after this. Practice, practice, practice. (Still, some days are far easier than others.)
So I turned to the iTunes app store. (This is not meant to be an endorsement, it’s just that I have an iPhone so I use iTunes.) I searched on “meditation” and found many, many, many options. Here are a few that I’ve kept, after trying and using several times and that I find particularly useful:
Simply Being by Meditation Oasis: I love pretty much anything by the Meditation Oasis people. Mary’s voice is perfect and I always feel like she’s right there in the room with me. This is one of the first apps that I tried and I always go back to it. It’s very basic – you can choice voice only or voice with nature sounds or music. (For nature sounds, you have the choice of ocean, rain, or stream.) This is a guided meditation, but the most basic of guidance – she simply repeats the instruction to “just be”, reminding you it’s ok if it’s not perfect, if thoughts pop up – don’t follow them. I like that you can adjust the volume of her voice and the music or sounds separately. The only thing I don’t like is that the timer is constrained to 5/10/15/20 minutes. Though, to be fair, I rarely go over 20 minutes.
iSleep Easy: This is also be Meditation Oasis this app is incredible. I have struggled with insomnia and difficult sleeping since I was a teenager. I don’t do OTC or prescription meds, so those types of sleep aids are out. (Besides, back when I DID take OTC and prescription meds, they had a terrible effect on me.) I’ve since tried melatonin and Gaia’s Sound Sleep. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I had also tried GABA supplements, but I occasionally encounter uncomfortable side effects (I get horrendously itchy & flushed, all over – though they say there’s no “allergies” to this stuff, I beg to differ) that made me toss the bottle, finally. Essentially, no sleep attained through ingesting anything is really worth it, for me. So when I found this app, I was eager to try it. IT WORKS. And if my monkey brain is on overdrive, this app at least helps me to relax and feel less crazed about how tired I am or will be. This app is a little more in depth. It has pre-made playlists or you can make a custom playlist. There are varying levels of meditation – short, guided meditations to simply help you initially settle into bed, breathing exercise, longer guidance in letting go and getting yourself to sleep, and a meditation for when you wake up in the middle of the night feeling anxious and unable to get back to sleep. (I have trouble falling asleep initially and then I often wake up. This helps.) I made a playlist that includes the affirmations meditation (affirmations to “set the stage” for sleep), then the autogenic meditation (14 minutes of focusing on relaxing each part of your body from toes to head), then “relax into sleep” (“Guided meditation to help you let go and relax, so that sleep comes effortlessly on it’s own.”) Lastly, in this custom playlist, I chose to have the background sound of a lake continue for 20 minutes after the last guided meditation. (There are several sounds & music bits to choose from.) I find meditations to be FAR more useful and healthy, in getting yourself to sleep. If you can teach yourself to relax and settle your mind, that will only serve to make it easier each additional time, without the use of pills (natural, or otherwise.)
Learn to Meditate: Meditate without Borders by Meditation Oasis: I have this, but I have never used it because I already “know” how to meditate and feel comfortable with experimenting. But I recommend this because I love Meditation Oasis so I know that they give wonderful guidance and this would be good for any beginner. ”Without Borders” means they do not subscribe to or push any particular culture or style. It’s not overly Buddhist, for example – it focuses simply on the “ability of the mind.”
Breathe & Relax by Meditation Oasis: This app focuses on breathing techniques and “changing your breathing habits.”
Meditation by Red Hammer Software: I found this app a little difficult to navigate, at first and it has several features that I don’t use. For example – you can import and use songs from your own music library, which is nice. (Some day, I’ll do that.) But I like this app a lot and it’s the one that I use all afternoons that I’m meditating at home, in the living room. I have gotten really attached to the “leaves” sound option – for me, there’s something really comforting and cozy about the sound of leaves blowing around. If leaves aren’t your thing, this app has SEVERAL sound options, including the sounds of Buddhist monks chanting (which are pretty cool and I do use once in awhile.) The timer options are FABULOUS. There’s a timer option to choose a time (if you were using this at night, for example, you can set the time for it to shut off.) I primarily use the quick meditation timer, which gives you 5/10/15/20/30/45/60 min and the option to have the song/sound fade out.
There are, as I said, many many meditation apps out there. These are just the ones that I find most useful and like the best. I probably downloaded about 20 of them – I deleted half that I didn’t like and kept half that I really liked. Just do a search and find what works for you.
If apps aren’t your thing but you want to listen to something – Meditation Oasis has some great podcasts. They’ve done several guided meditations on a variety of topics.