Smartphone mindfulness and meditation
Is digital wellness truly an oasis of calm, or an invitation to yet more tech addiction? Melissa Albarran explores the smartphone mindfulness and meditation trend
Earlier this year, HBO released the trailer for A World of Calm, a mindfulness TV series featuring celebrity narrations of guided meditations. The show, based on the popular meditation app, Calm, appears to be the natural progression of a burgeoning trend toward ‘digitalised-wellness’.
Much like it’s contemporaries (the apps Headspace , Buddhify, and 10% Happier, to name but a few), A World of Calm is presented as the fast-track to unwavering calm; the dulcet tones of Harry Styles, Joanna Lumley and Stephen Fry bidding worries good day. The art of meditation sold in smart-phone-shaped packages, available to anyone with sufficient phone storage.
It is the readily-accessible format that makes such ‘yogi tech’ so inviting. Who can deny the blissful freedom that comes with mindfulness at your fingertips? Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. Hence the rise of the ‘mindful commute’, a constructive approach to the daily to and fro. Where ‘time-poor’ has become a personality trait, systemising each hour of the day is a must. Monotonous, mindless tasks are suddenly reconfigured as an opportunity for meditation: ironing, cooking, travelling (insert unwanted obligatory activity here) now accompanied by hushed reminders to ‘breathe’. No longer do we need to shell out £15 for a studio class; a meditative state is but a button away.
While I am all for increased access to wellness resources, I cannot help but wonder the long-lasting benefits of said apps. Are smartphones not the enemy of mindfulness? Designed so as to induce compulsive behaviours, distraction and mindless scrolling. What with targeted ads popping up between every meditation and the disruptive effect of blue-lit screens, it is worth questioning the genuine effectiveness of digital wellness.
When it comes to understanding the workings of the mind, one size does not fit all. Being mindful requires nuance, and attention to individualised tendencies and thought patterns. It is here where tech falls short, the scripted narrations unable to account for shifts in attention or a sudden urge to turn on the kettle. Dashing off to the kitchen mid-meditation is less likely when in the presence of a professional teacher, their trained eye sensitive to signs of distraction.
The mass-produced nature of such programs thus inhibits their effectiveness. Until we have developed Terminator-esque instructors, human teachers alone have the capacity to create tailor-made mindfulness classes, share personal experience and go through the challenges that come up during the practice.
Just like its smart-phone equivalents, A World of Calm sells mindfulness as a simplistic endeavour, obtained by switching channels or logging on to an iPhone app. In reality, the pursuit of mindfulness is often a non-linear one, fraught with setbacks and frustrations. The effortless calm promised by wellness tech seems, at best, an inadequate representation of the meditation process, instilling unrealistic expectations for success.
The inevitable failure that ensues most frequently results in despondency and an unwillingness to continue. It’s all too easy to switch off the TV or move on to Instagram.
The company of a mindfulness instructor, or indeed a room full of peace-seeking students, can be a motivating force during these more difficult moments. The presence of others creates a sense of accountability with which to push through the trials of meditation. In doing so, guided class settings cultivate the skills to develop a selfsufficient meditation practice, far beyond the classroom setting.
The innovation of digital meditations has propelled our awareness of the benefits of mindfulness into the forefront of public discourse. For a perpetually stressed-out nation, increased accessibility to relaxation techniques can only be a good thing. Whether it’s plugging into Headspace on the tube or switching on HBO’s latest series, our tech can now contribute to an improved sense of wellbeing.
Yet, as we applaud these innovations, it is worth questioning their long-term value. It seems somewhat ironic that the devices we use for mindless scrolling, quick hits, likes, mutes, follows, blocks and swipes can equally induce a lasting sense of being, of presence. Is digital wellness truly an oasis of calm, or an invitation to yet more tech addiction?
Melissa Albarran is an avid yogi and PR specialist for Yoga Alliance Professionals (yogaallianceprofessionals.org)