It’s a common topic of conversation how distracting our smart phones, tablets and other electronics can be, especially in contrast to any yogic goals we may have — but they can also be incredibly helpful. Could technology actually be capable of helping us in our spiritual quest? I would say yes.
As far back as the 1960’s innovators began experimenting with somewhat clunky technology to help with meditation and altering states of mind. While some took the route of pharmaceutical intervention, others experimented with sound and light or alternatively, withdrawing the senses entirely. Fast forward a few decades and our tech has now got extremely small, super-fast and very well connected. I spoke a few weeks back about the top ten āsana apps but what about the other seven limbs of yoga?
Basic Tools For Meditation
At its most basic, apps on mobile devices are available to help with logging and timing your meditations. They vary from a simple timer — sometimes with cool art like this calligraphy style zen circle — through to a loop of atmospheric sounds. You could also potentially be brought to the end of your sojourn by bells, bowls or birdsong. A good meditation log will automatically note the date, graph your activity over time and allow you to write a description of the session. Some will even offer you encouragement and reminders to keep regular practice.
So what are the best tools to helping your meditation routine? For Apple products, check out Insight Timer and ZenFriend. For Android, I’d recommend Bodhi Timer, Guided Meditation Mindfulness and the Sattva Meditation Timer.
If you’re just starting, one of the best mindfulness meditation training apps out there is Headspace. This app has complete programs geared towards specific goals, from beating addiction through to increasing your general happiness. You can choose your sessions to suit your mood, available time, or general approach to meditation. You can also tie in social activity, form friendships and help motivate each other as you go. A particularly nice touch from Headspace is the “get some, give some” idea, in that if you do subscribe they will give a membership away to someone in need.
Headspace is a great example of how the new Web technologies can educate. Other apps that offer meditation training include Yogaglow, Online Meditation and Art of Living, although probably not quite with the same flair as Headspace! Don’t forget YouTube either! Sometimes it’s worth wading through a bunch of videos to find a great quality guided meditation.
What’s This About Mind Machines?
Another technological mindfulness assistant which has now come into its own is the mind machine. Mind machines are devices about the same size as your smart phone that take the user through a programme where the brain is stimulated and finally taken to the desired state, be it sleep, meditation, or extreme focus. They accomplish this through a combination of flashing lights, pulsating colours and synchronised sound.
Where’s the science behind all this? It’s a technique called brain entrainment where the brain’s waveform starts to track the sound and light. It’s effectiveness is measured using three main types of brainwaves:
- Delta Waves present themselves in a nice deep sleep, or even loss of consciousness.
- Alpha Waves are more present when you’re relaxed but reflective. You may have heard of this as the REM part of sleep.
- Beta Waves which pop up when there is active thinking, alertness, anxiety or paranoia!
A predominance of REM-style Alpha waves, where there is focus but relaxed awareness, are the signature of a strong meditation practice. However, the Delta deep-sleep waves also happen in very experienced practitioners of meditation and are also present when people are in a state of ecstasy. If you want to test drive brain entrainment without buying a mind machine, try the Brainwave apps for iOS by Banzai Labs, or Binaural Beats Therapy by Giorgio Regni for Android.
All this is great and you may actually be feeling benefit from those sessions on the mind machine, training videos and instructional web sites but how close are you really getting to those much valued mental states of advanced gurus and Buddhist monks?
Measuring Your Brainwaves
Only a little while ago it was necessary to have a bundle of electrodes strapped all over your head to pick up what your brain was up to. Now, with super-fast chips, Bluetooth and clever headgear, the whole process has become fast, compact and wireless.
One of the best devices for measuring your meditation is the NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile. Team this amazing headset up with Meditation Journal, Art of Zen or Sunlight Meditation which will analyse and log your progress. There are also many apps available for both Android and iOS which include games that allow the brain to be trained to interact or reach specific states.
When I tried the various equipment I found that seeing my brainwave patterns recorded allowed me to discover what meditation techniques worked best. For example, visualisation and imagination techniques (I prefer a garden journey if you must know!) allowed me to enter a sustained Alpha dominated meditation much more easily than simply counting breaths. This will vary from person to person, which is why it’s useful to measure and refer back to see what’s working.
Keep Up Your Meditation Practice
The thing to remember with meditation techniques is to be consistent and routine about your practice. If you jump from one technique to another perpetually it’s quite likely your monkey is tying you in knots, just as it ever does!
Have you ever used a mind machine? What’s your favourite programme on Headspace? If you’ve had experiences with mind machines and technology to help you enhance or train for meditation, we’d enjoy hearing about them in the comments below.