Apps for practice
With millions of mobile apps now available on smartphones from the tech giants Google, Apple, and Microsoft, it’s no surprise that at least some of these apps would have a contemplative focus. The apps in question come out of the collision of the inner technologies of the East and the revolutionary external technological advances that began during the Western Enlightenment, representing a global, modern confluence of inner and outer technologies.
Finding the best of these contemplative apps is a laborious process, so I’ve reviewed several gems I’ve found that support the development of meditative practice and offer novel ways of meditating with the help of your smartphone.
The buddhify app takes the usual formula of meditating while sitting still, with minimal distractions, and flips it on its head. Instead of practice with no distractions, the focus of buddhify is meditation on the go. The app includes several contexts you can choose from, whether commuting, walking, or working out at the gym, and then serves up a selection of bit-sized guided audio practices tailored to those particular environments. This app is great for urban dwellers and for folks who are newer to meditation, or for those who would like to experiment with meditating in new environments. I also hear that kids love it—which probably has something to do with its funky orange design.
Available for iPhone and Android
Inspired by meditation teacher Shinzen Young’s “Noting Vanishings” technique, the ReWire app uses your music as the starting point for an “interactive meditation experience.” During a ReWire session you load up the music you’d like to meditate with—from the library on your mobile device—and then during the session the music will periodically vanish, or drop out, during which time you are asked to tap the screen to “note” the vanishing. ReWire uses this noting system to give you feedback on how well you’re doing staying with the flow of experience. While this isn’t an app I imagine most people would use exclusively for practice, it’s definitely a fun way to build the muscle of attention, by making practice more interactive. My favorite place to ReWire is at 30,000 feet, while flying across the country.
Available for iPhone
If you’re already timing your meditation sessions, you may want to try using Insight Timer. In addition to the basic function of timing your session and having a bell ring to let you know when you’re done, Insight Timer adds a host of other useful features. Some of the most noteworthy include the ability to track data from past sessions—knowledge really is power—as well as some cool social features like being able to see everyone in the world who’s currently meditating using the app. They’ve also recently added a Groups feature, which lets you connect with your online or in-person practice communities. The main downside of Insight Timer is that it lacks a polished design; the interface can be quite clunky compared with many other apps.
Available for iPhone and Android
Lift is an incredibly simple habit-building app that is built around the understanding that “the secret to success is paying attention.” Lift works by allowing you to choose regular habits that you’d like to develop, and then gives a dead simple way to track how well you’re doing with them each day. It also uses gaming mechanics, self-tracking metrics, and social connections to help reinforce these new habits. While Lift isn’t exclusively focused on meditation, that is one of the most popular habits listed in the app, with over 19,000 participants working to make it a daily habit.
Available for iPhone (Android version coming soon)
Vincent Horn is cofounder of the media company Buddhist Geeks. His work focuses on the fusion of nascent technology and contemplative wisdom.