Is digital the path to enlightment?

Ask the person next to you and it’s likely they have at least tried a meditation app, if not using one regularly (this only works if there is someone next to you, but you get the idea).

More and more digital solutions like Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer are taking centre stage in our quest for inner peace.

And, unlike most health apps, which fail to engage us for the long-term (the vast majority of apps remain sad, unused or sometimes ever get uninstalled within 90 days of download), many of these big players seem to be here to stay. They are clearly doing something right, whether that’s to do with how they are designed or how effective they are.

But do they work as well as ’analogue’ meditation?

The answer seems to be… probably.

I recently came across a study that evaluated the effectiveness of a mindfulness meditation app in reducing stress and anxiety. The study designed a digital version of the standard MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) programme that is taught across the globe every day, and invited participants to try it out. What they found was that those participants who used the app for 3 months reported feeling less anxious and stressed than those who had not meditated or used a meditation app (and this was statistically significant).

This is consistent with:

study that found Calm to be effective at reducing stress in university students

study showing improvements in mental health with use of Headspace and Smiling Mind among university students

study reporting improvements in wellbeing and job strain among employees with an 8-week mindfulness app (and reduced self-measured blood pressure too!)

There’s more but I’ll leave it there.

Ok, so these are not huge studies and, importantly to our original question, don’t compare meditation apps head-to-head with an analogue meditation experience to really conclude that apps are just as good. But does it really matter?

Most of us either don’t have the patience to go at it alone, or the time or money to go to meditation classes or other meditation experiences. Many might even feel weird about trying meditation out. But we all have phones – 95% of us in the UK own a smartphone, a huge number of people who could potentially benefit.

Oh – in case you are wondering, personally, I prefer meditating sans app (although I do use Insight Timer to time my meditations). But that me and my preference.

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