“As countless people have discovered over the past twenty-five years, mindfulness is the most reliable source of peace and joy.” -Tich Naht Hahn
The term mindfulness is heard everywhere, including corporate boardrooms. So, what is the buzz about mindfulness? Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing awareness to what is happening in the present moment. Despite its recent popularity, people often wonder what the difference is between mindfulness and meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., a well known mindfulness researcher, indicates that practicing mindfulness is actually a form of meditation. Mindfulness meditation training is one popular method of mindfulness which involves bringing your full mind and attention to an object, such as your breathing. Modern mindfulness practice is generally defined as, “Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Jon Kabat Zinn, 2013). The non-judgmental element is what differentiates mindfulness from other types of awareness.
Scientific research clearly supports the wide ranging benefits of mindfulness and meditation including: reduction of stress, improvement of attention, focus, and memory, as well as the increase in emotional regulation and empathy. There is evidence supporting that mindfulness meditation also has positive effects on anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) conducted studies indicating that mindfulness meditation can change the brain’s gray matter and brain regions linked with memory as well. According to Malinowski and Lim (2015), employees who were more mindful demonstrated increased resiliency, optimism, hope, self-efficacy, and overall well being. Ellen Langer is also a key researcher on mindfulness. Her research over the years indicates that by paying attention to the present moment, instead of falling into a default mode of operating, we can reduce stress, foster creativity, and boost performance.
While learning basic mindfulness meditation techniques sounds “simple,” many find it challenging to integrate it into a daily practice. The development of mindfulness apps has made learning such meditation accessible, affordable, and practical. Meditation apps can provide education and insight into meditation, teach new strategies, and help establish or reinforce daily habits of meditation. We have provided a brief review and overview of several popular meditation app options.
Price: Free trial, options to upgrade subscriptions (up to $12.99/month)
Headspace is a market leader and is one of the most popular meditation apps available. A common offering is the much utilized 10 day free trial period. Headspace is primarily recognized for helping users establish a new daily habit of meditation. It is straightforward, user friendly, and informative. The app also features animations that bring an upbeat tone to the content presented on meditation. A highlight of Headspace is its focus on fostering a regular meditation routine. It provides various exercises with differing formats for meditators to explore during the trial. Key features include habit tracking and a reward system for continual practice. The app also offers a personalized project page and options for a buddy system to enhance new habit formation. Users can select additional premium features for extra cost.
Cost: Free trial, options to upgrade subscriptions ($4.99/month for one year)
Calm is another well recognized mindfulness app that is a crowd pleaser. Unique features of Calm include its appealing design and visuals. Calm provides a relaxing sensory experience by integrating calming sounds including nature, white noise, and background music. The app offers 16 mindfulness meditation options, all varying in length and content. Sessions range from 3 to 25 minutes of guided meditation. Calm has also expanded its offerings to include interesting sleep “stories” to provide an unwinding experience at bedtime. Another popular selection is the Daily Calm, a 10 minute program designed to experience at the beginning of your day. The app offers free guided meditations with initial trial, and options to upgrade to a monthly membership.
Stop, Breathe & Think
Cost: Free trial, options to upgrade subscriptions ($9.99/month or $58.99/year)
Stop, Breathe & Think is a friendly, engaging app highlighting emotional health. The 55 guided meditation offerings are organized by category, addressing topics such as compassion, sleep, depression, and anxiety. It also provides a helpful introductory session providing education on mindfulness and its benefits. A differentiating feature of Stop, Breathe, and Think is the focus on emotional awareness and regulation. It provides techniques to moderate and control your feelings. The tracking portion of the app allows you to record current emotion, intended to gain awareness and insight. There are numerous options for soothing sounds as well as progress recording features. This app provides a fun, whimsical sticker based reward system to increase engagement with the practice. Offerings also blend yoga and acupressure video options. Similar to the other meditation apps, additional material is available with premium subscriptions. Another level of subscription is offered, including the Think Kids program.