Meditation is powerful psychological tool, and research shows it has mental (and spiritual) health benefits. While the term is usually associated with religion, mainly Buddhism (although Christianity has a strong tradition of “contemplation” that is a form of meditation), meditation doesn’t have to be religious.
I wrote about one type of meditation called Open Focus in a previous post that many people use to relieve pain and increase creativity. Also, a type of meditation called “mindfulness” has been studied extensively by modern psychologists and is utilized by people with no religious background at all.
Since people from all walks of life are interested in the health benefits of meditation, including stress reduction and increasing relaxation, apps have popped up that aid in the process. After looking through various apps over the last few years, I have found my favorite: Insight Timer, which is available for both Android and IPhone.
I’ll start with my favorite aspect of Insight Timer, which makes it unique among the different meditation apps: the social component. You set up a basic profile, including a place for a brief bio, a photo, and a list of your recent meditation activities. You can control the privacy of your profile. The app also allows direct messages, adding friends, and joining groups based on locations and meditation interests.
After you meditate, you can see people who meditated “with you,” and send them brief canned messages like “thanks for meditating with me.” You can also view nearby meditators based on the location you provide. So, people within about a 50 mile radius will see my profile if they search nearby. This allows you to connect with others who are trying to improve their lives through meditation. So if you live near me, look me up and add me as a friend!
In terms of the actual meditation aspect of the app, it is one of the best. While I have used Stop, Breathe, and Think, as well as Buddhify (both great apps by the way; my preference for this app shouldn’t be seen as putting down those apps), I like that this app includes a lot of guided meditations as well as a way to set your own meditation timer.
The guided meditations (under the “guide” tab) include over 2000 recorded meditations from a variety of spiritual traditions (including Christianity – there is a Lord’s Prayer one, for example), as well as ones that are purely psychological in nature, such as ones designed to help you sleep or de-stress.
You can also create your own meditation (so to speak) through the timer section of the app. Here you can change the length of the meditation, the starting sound, if you want a sound at a particular interval, the background music (or lack of it), and the sound at the end.
You can also set it so you have none of those features. You can also designate the type of meditation, if it is prayer, yoga, etc. You can then save your settings to presets for future use.
You can even log your own separate meditation outside of the app. For example, some mornings I use a brief prayer service I created on my own. I set the insight timer app to run to infinity with no background music and no interval bells. This allows me to log this prayer time on the app.
The timer is geared toward a more Buddhist and Eastern understanding of meditation, since it uses traditional Eastern bell sounds (or the sound of wood blocks hitting) as sound choices. This may be a drawback for those wanting to avoid this connection. The background music choices are kind of “new age” type of music or nature sounds. You can purchase other types of bells as well as different background music packages. It doesn’t seem like you have the ability to use your own music in the app.
Every meditation is tracked and logged, unless you choose not to log it at the end, which is an option. Because of this it keeps track of streaks and milestones. I have various “streaks” and “milestones,” including a 50 straight days streak. Keeping streaks is a great motivation to remember to meditate every single day.
The great news is that all of this is free, unless you want to add extra music or bell sounds.
The main drawback I have noticed is that it lacks some customization as far as using your own music or background noise. It also is geared more toward Eastern traditions so those preferring a Christian experience might be disappointed.
Overall, I like Insight Timer, and recommend this app for a meditation experience that offers a lot of variety as well as a social component.