If you doubt the mainstreaming of mindfulness, look no further than a key session at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, called Mindfulness Meditation.
It’s a new era, where technology can directly measure and influence our moods, attitudes and behavior, which when woven together into a societal tapestry, could be a Trojan Horse for a more sustainable ethos.
Mindfulness — the ancient practice of being entirely present in the moment, suspending all judgment and reaping transformational mental, physical and social results, has a new wingman — the rise of mHealth (mobile health) apps.
The first wave of apps with a social conscience focused on external situations. Greenmeter measures everything from fuel consumption to carbon emissions; Good Guide and How Good scan product bar codes for ratings of about 175,000 products across health, environment and society; and SeeClickFix, a sort of digital 311, informs the right people in charge about an ‘urban blight’ problem.
The current wave of apps is focused on individuals’ internal needs — but holds in it the seeds of broader societal change.
“As the unity of the modern world becomes increasingly a technological rather than a social affair, the techniques of the arts provide the most valuable means of insight into the real direction of our own collective purposes.”
As many of us can attest, constant connectivity can create anxiety of its own. Perhaps that is helping drive the popularity of several apps now targeting individual usage but portending collective change:
- Head Space, an early entrant, offers 10-minute sessions on the basics of how to meditate, “so that everyone can live a happier, healthier, more enjoyable life.” Free and available for iOS and Android, the app provides reminders to turn it on at set daily intervals while simple analytics offer inspiration for sticking to it. The first 10 sessions are free.
- Mindfulness App helps reduce stress and increase wellbeing as scientific research shows that 20 minutes a day of regular practice brings desired results. The Mindfulness App tops the App Stores lists in 11 countries worldwide and features renowned meditation teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron and Sharon Salzberg.
- Calm.com is best used daily, at the same time each day, for up to about 20 minutes. Fittingly, everything about the app is calming — voices, tones, advice such as “think about sitting somewhere where your back is supported well” or “concentrate on your body.” The sounds range from waves to rain. Free for iOS and Android, the pro version costs $10 a year but shorter subscriptions are available.
- Buddhify offers 11 hours of customized meditation audio tracks on work, sleep, stress, travel, walking, online, home, difficult emotions and pain (VIDEO). Meditations come in four flavors — clarity, connection, stability and embodiment — and are designed to be used in a set of four key ‘areas’ — quiet of the home, commuting to work, walking from home or even while at the gym. Available for Android and iOS.
“Mindfulness is how it has always been — knowing what is happening in our experience while it is happening. All that has changed in digital culture is that the ‘what’ is slightly different, but our ability to know and be free is not,” Rohan Gunatillake, creative director of Buddhify creators 21awake, recently told SB. “Our ambition is that people use Buddhify and learn some ideas and techniques that really work for them and then are able to use them whenever they want. In that way, the app is more like training wheels.”
When asked what he thought contributed to the widespread societal interest in apps such as Buddhify, Gunatillake said: “a) the scientific evidence base emerging around meditation and its effects getting new people interested, b) the fact that we as a culture have endemic wellbeing issues and people want stuff that works and c) the rise of the phone as a wellbeing device, not just a communications device.”
Another app called Joyable just launched to cure people of anxiety and depression, leveraging a team of coaches who motivate participants and keep them engaged with the app. Based on cognitive behavioral therapy, “it is very well established in terms of its clinical opportunity,” Joyable cofounder and COO Steve Marks told VentureBeat. “It works equally well without a therapist if you do the exercises. It works in self-help format.”
The therapy lasts 12 weeks on average, costs $99 a month, or $239 for a three-month package. Next up for Marks and cofounder Peter Shalek: taking-on web-based treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.
Meanwhile, AWARENESS promotes inner peace and emotional freedom, “building on 25 years of clinical psychological experience, modern advances in neuroscience, and ancient spiritual teachings, packaged into a mobile tool that goes with you wherever you are.”
As Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute, testifies: “The AWARENESS app is a sophisticated, effective, and wise way for just about anyone, anywhere in the world, to connect with their emotional intelligence, and to create a world-wide community of awakened people.”
Spafinder recently came out with its annual top 10 spa and wellness trends. Among them, the Japanese concept of forest bathing (“shinrin-yoku’), where mindfulness meets nature — sans water — availing oneself of phytoncides, chemicals that trees emit that positively impact our immune system; and the dawning of the “cannabusiness” market as the legalization of marijuana moves from dorm room to boardroom to wellness tourism. Also thriving is the “wellness living market,” where builders such as Delos Signature Homes “bake in” wellness features such as air/water purification systems and circadian rhythm lighting.
As Elon Musk, infamous innovator and iconoclast behind PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla and now Hyperloop, once said: “In terms of the Internet, it's like humanity acquiring a collective nervous system. Whereas previously we were more like a collection of cells that communicated by diffusion. With the advent of the Internet, it was suddenly like we got a nervous system. It's a hugely impactful thing.”
The rise of mindfulness apps adds a heartbeat and a consciousness to our overstimulated nervous system.