Have you ever noticed how still the world seems when you’ve been in a noisy environment that suddenly goes quiet? Perhaps you’ve been around industrial machinery that’s been switched off after major noise pollution. Maybe you’ve noticed how quiet the house is when all your guests go home at the end of a party. Isn’t there something deeply peaceful about it?
But even in absolute silence, a lot can be going on. Smartphones have given us the ability to carry a huge library of books, a wide variety of games, and several news-stands full of newspapers and magazines, all in our pocket. When we’re waiting for a bus, or doing household chores, we can occupy our minds with any number of things. Sometimes, we get so overloaded with it all that we can read something and take in very little of what it is we read.
There’s something calming and grounding about stillness, yet true stillness, the kind of stillness that fills your mind with a sense of tranquility, is very hard to come by.
We’re told by all the experts how important it is to take care of our bodies. We know we have to eat properly and exercise regularly. Increasingly, science is proving conclusively that taking time out to look after your mind is equally important, and brings many tangible benefits to one’s physical as well as mental well-being.
There are many books available today discussing the concept of mindfulness. Just search your favourite book repository for “mindfulness”, and I guarantee you won’t come back empty-handed. Mindfulness is about being in the moment, being conscious of your surroundings, what it is you’re doing, and how you’re feeling.
While I certainly have a long way to go, I used to spend a lot more time not being mindful than I do now. I’d take a shower, and spend the time thinking about events in my past, some of them replaying like a tape recording. It’s an absolutely wasteful and futile thing to do because the past can’t be changed, no matter how many times you play it back or wish you could say or do things differently. I’d think about things upcoming in my future, including worrying about things that ultimately never happened. I’d totally miss the very pleasant experience of taking the shower, because I was so wrapped up in my thoughts. I can’t tell you it never happens to me now, but when it does, I know to gently bring myself back to the present, and focus on the one thing I’m doing now.
One technique for being mindful is to meditate regularly. I’ve heard the practice of meditation being described as “new age”, which makes me smile since we can trace meditation as least as far back as Buddha, who was born six centuries before Christians say Christ was born. I guess “old-age” would be a more accurate description. I’m very much an evidence-based person, and one of the things that intrigued me about meditation initially was the collaboration between scientists and those who practice deep meditation, to establish whether it had measurable benefits, or whether it was all just a bunch of hocus pocus. By putting people capable of going into a deep meditative state through an MRI scan, scientists have been able to see the real and positive physical alterations in the brain that meditation can cause. There are a number of informative books on this subject, and a good place to start is “Destructive Emotions” by Daniel Goldman.
Meditation isn’t specific to any one belief system, and it’s being used increasingly by medical practitioners assisting their patients with stress management. It doesn’t necessarily involve sitting on the floor in a complicated position for hours on end chanting. It’s simply about focus, whether that focus be on your breath, an object, or thought.
People who’ve been meditating for a while can do so in silence, for very long periods. But for those of us who have busy minds and are used to being bombarded with information, guided meditations can help. There are a number of accessible ways to learn about meditation.
A great way to get started is with the Headspace app, provided as a companion to the website at HeadSpace.com. There are a few unlabelled buttons in the app, but it is useable with minimal effort. When you first get the app, it will take you through a 10-day introductory course on meditation. If you’ve never tried meditation before, it will show you how. Absolutely no prior experience is necessary.
Once you’re past that initial stage, there are numerous resources in the app to help you continue your practice.
The Meditation Oasis Podcast offers free guided meditations for quite general and very specific use. The couple who produce this podcast are experienced in the field, and they offer a range of apps including one you need to pay for that gives you an introductory course in meditation. Another is called Simply Being, which offers meditations with a range of soundtracks, or just with voice only. You’re able to set the length of the meditation, so you can customise it to fit how much time you have available. It’s amazing how stopping to take a quick five-minute meditation break can calm you down and help you focus.
The Mindfulness app offers guided meditations, and once you become more experienced, meditations with the ringing of an occasional bell to help you bring focus back to your meditation if your mind wanders, which it is bound to do.
Meditation is about focus, but it’s also important to switch off and relax. Some of the tools I have for this are purely designed for relaxation, while others also involve hypnosis.
In the relaxation-only department, one of my favourite apps is the Pzizz Energiser. You can use this to take a quick power nap. I look at a lot of this stuff like an investment. Sometimes you have to invest a little in yourself so you can be at your best, and taking a power nap can do wonders for your energy and concentration levels.
If you need assistance sleeping at night, Pzizz also have an app for that.
Both work with a combination of soothing sounds and voice guidance.
You can also take a little time out, or be helped to sleep at night, with tools designed to put you in a state of hypnosis. I’ve been using hypnosis for about 7 years now, and I found the benefits so profound that I took a course and trained as a hypnotherapist. Who knows, if the technology work dries up, maybe it can be my new career.
When I’ve mentioned hypnosis to a number of blind people, the most common reaction I’ve had is, “don’t you have to be able to see to be hypnotised”?
Hypnosis is probably one of the most maligned and misunderstood interventions around. We’ve seen movies where the bad guy hypnotises people to do what they want, and then there are the stage hypnotists. Hypnosis is all about reprogramming your behaviour through repeated suggestions that make it to your subconscious. If you receive suggestions you consider not to be in your interests, your subconscious will reject them. While some may benefit from visual stimulus to induce the hypnotic state, it’s not essential. Indeed, one of my favourite hypnosis resources offers their work in MP3, no visuals at all. Hypnosis Downloads offers an extensive range of MP3 files for purchase, to assist with everything from overcoming anxiety to being more positive to losing weight and much more. A number of people who were very skeptical, and who insisted they couldn’t benefit, have come back to me surprised by how helpful the files at HypnosisDownloads are.
On the iOS side of things, my favourite hypnosis-related apps are produced by the Scottish hypnotherapist Andrew Johnson. Just search for his name in the App Store and you’ll find a bunch. These apps are accessible, and very well put together. Many offer the ability to vary the length of the session, choose between a short and long induction, and adjust the balance between the voice and background music, turning the background music off altogether if you prefer. Andrew offers a wide range of subject matter, and he is excellent. I often use his relaxation and sleep apps to drift off at night.
As I’m fond of saying, we can’t always control the hand life deals to us, but we do have control over how we play the hand. It’s great that we can tap into a wealth of information and entertainment, but just as we can use our mobile devices to count our steps, measure our carbs and track our weight, we can also use them to find serenity, mindfulness and relaxation. If you try any of these apps, I’d love to hear how you find them.
Do you have any other accessible app recommendations in the areas of mindfulness and relaxation? Share your recommendations with readers by leaving a comment.