Digital Disconnect: Why Meditation Apps Might Not Be The Best Option

couple using smartphone in bar

The meditation app market has exploded in the last couple of years. According to the US Department of Health, in 2017 over 18 million Americans were using them. And they’re hugely popular with the British public too. According to the Financial Times, there are over 1,000 different meditation apps available, with Headspace (the most popular) having been downloaded 11 million times globally. That was in 2017, so I would guess that number is now significantly higher.

Looking at the figures, it’s clear these apps must be working for thousands, if not millions of people. However, not growing up as a “digital native” myself, I can’t help but think meditation apps are somewhat missing the point of what meditation actually is.

Oh, the irony of meditation apps

As Scott Rosenberg puts it in this article for Wired magazine: “Peddling a mindfulness app via digital advertising is like depositing a temperance pamphlet at the bottom of a booze bottle. You’ve got the right target market, for sure. But it’s kind of an awkward place to put the message.”

There’s no doubt that, as a nation, we have an addiction to our devices. In a 2017 report by Deloitte, 55% of people said they check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up and 62% of people check their phones for the last time less than 30 minutes before they go to sleep. Even more worrying, 22% of people aged 16-24 said that they check and respond to social media notifications in the middle of the night (compared to 10% of other age groups).

I would argue that this “always-on” mentality is further perpetuated by the use of mindfulness or meditation apps. If you’re relying on your phone to prompt you when to meditate and to bring you out of your meditation, then what’s to prevent you getting distracted by other notifications?

I’ve written before about the value of stepping back from constant connectivity, and I believe that meditation time should be sacrosanct, and uninterrupted by technology. After all, if as a nation we aren’t properly disconnecting from the digital world before we go to bed, or allowing ourselves time to properly wake up and prepare ourselves for the day before we “plug back in”,  when else will we afford ourselves this opportunity?

Why disconnection from digital is important

Vedic Meditation, the technique that I teach here at MindMojo, is thousands of years old and works to cultivate a deep level of mind-body connection. When this is interrupted by external forces, such as digital devices, we end up feeling subjected to the exact pressure to be connected and responsive that our meditation is attempting to address. We want to bring ourselves out of the external world even for just a short time each day, and in doing so focus on our internal state. To do this, we need to shut out external stimulus: and that includes notifications from mindfulness apps, such as prompts to share “meditation updates” with our social networks.

In Vedic Meditation, there are no digital aids, no props, and no prompts. Your meditation is yours and yours alone. Twenty glorious minutes, twice daily, in which you can be alone with your thoughts. At first this might feel scary: and that’s exactly why it’s so necessary. When else do we spend quality time with ourselves? I teach my students all the techniques they need to give themselves this daily space, to gain the most from their time meditating, and to carry the benefits into all areas of their lives.

Take away the temptation of your phone

When you’re meditating, I would advise leaving your digital devices in another room so that you aren’t tempted to look at them and aren’t distracted by notifications. Even better, I was recently introduced to a product called DistractaGone which locks up your smartphone for a set amount of time, determined by you, so that there’s no way you can look at it until the timer is up.

I also have a personal rule that no digital devices are allowed in the bedroom, not even a digital alarm clock. This is because, on top of the stimulation we receive from constant notifications, the blue light from a screen disrupts our circadian rhythms as it suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.

In order to help you sleep better, it’s a good idea to put your screen on “night mode” from around 7pm (which makes the screen of your phone more yellow than blue), and take a complete break of at least 40 minutes, preferably longer, from technology before going to bed. This allows stimulating chemicals in our bodies to subside, giving us the best chance of a good night’s sleep. I believe it’s so important to honour your bedtime in this way, exactly as you would honour your meditation practice.

So, next time you reach for your phone as a relaxation tool, consider these points. If your phone is rarely out of your hand, and scrolling through social media has become a habit, what can you do to make yourself more mindful of taking time out? If you’re curious about how Vedic Meditation can help with this, join me for a free introductory talk in London.

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Anthony Thompson