Meditation, an ancient practice of calming the mind, would seem to be incompatible with modern technology, with its emphasis on speed and connectivity. But as more and more Americans have embraced meditation as an antidote to hyper-connected lives, the world of technology has joined the movement. The result is a growing field of meditation tools -- from apps and podcasts to timers and online classes -- and a growing acknowledgment that, paradoxically, technology can help us to turn inward, still our minds, and shut out the many distractions around us.
It's hard to deny the toll those distractions are taking on our lives and health: Heavy technology use has been linked with stress and depression, and being too plugged in may leave us less focused and productive. A growing body of research has also suggested that many mobile users are developing addictive relationships with their devices.
At the same time, research shows meditation can help us focus, achieve balance and improve our overall well-being. Studies have shown meditation to be effective in lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, boosting creativity, focus and compassion, and improving emotional well-being and sleep quality, among other mental health benefits.
You don't have to leave the digital world behind in order to make meditation, and its benefits, a part of your life. Try one of these 12 online meditation tools to help you be more present, more mindful, and more effective.
Former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe founded Headspace as a way to bring mindfulness meditation to the masses. Headspace's "Take 10" starter program -- 10 days' worth of 10-minute meditations -- is a simple, straightforward introduction to starting a mindfulness practice. Through short animated videos, the app breaks down the basic principles of meditation and mindfulness, and the recordings take beginners through brief mindfulness practices and guided meditations each day. There is now even a Headspace channel available for passengers on board on Virgin Atlantic flights.
Available for free download for iPhone and Android at getsomeheadspace.com.
Mark Williams's Mindfulness Meditation Recordings
Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology and director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and author of Mindfulness: Finding Peace In A Frantic World, offers a range of free audio meditations for new and experienced meditators, and includes instructions for a number of variations on the practice, including a three-minute mini-break, a meditation for depression, silent meditations with bells, and a fun "chocolate meditation."
"[We must] get out of our heads and learn to experience the world directly, experientially, without the relentless commentary of our thoughts," Williams wrote in The Mindful Way Through Depression. "We might just open ourselves up to the limitless possibilities for happiness that life has to offer us.”
Available for free at franticworld.com.
Touted as the "urban meditation app," Buddhify offers a fun, gamified approach to creating a meditation practice. Buddhify uses bright, cartoony graphics and simple language (no Sanskrit or mention of Chakras), and it's designed to be used on the go. The app has different settings -- home, traveling, walking, gym -- so that you can squeeze in a meditation wherever you are, and offers audio and video meditations suited to your current setting. Buddhify "actually changes one's life in big-little ways. It's the Google Maps of the interior world," wrote one user.
Movement of Inner Spiritual Awareness Online Meditation Classes
The Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, founded by John-Roger, offers a 12-lesson online course on meditation and spiritual exercises for beginners consisting of readings, audio and video. MSIA's teachings consist of "active meditations," or spiritual exercises, with an emphasis on connecting with our inner source of wisdom and peace. The step-by-step guides include instruction on using a mantra, keeping a journal and meditative breathing.
Available for free on misa.org.
Chopra Center Meditation Podcast
Deepak Chopra's Chopra Center for Well-Being offers many resources for aspiring and experienced meditators, including a collection of 24 free meditation podcasts. The podcasts include inspiring talks and audio meditations for releasing stress, healing, gratitude, self-empowerment and more. Download the podcasts on iTunes and listen to them at home, during your commute or while out on a walk to bring more mindfulness to your day.
Available for free on iTunes.
Oprah & Deepak's Meditation Master Trilogy
Chopra joined forces with Oprah Winfrey on a series of 21-day online meditation challenges, which have attracted nearly two million participants. Now, the duo has made all three of their challenges -- on the subjects of desire and destiny, perfect health, and miraculous relationships -- available through Oprah & Deepak's Meditation Master Trilogy, a gift set containing 66 audio meditations and an interactive journal.
Available for $99 from chopracentermeditation.com.
Meditate while sitting in front of your computer on calm.com, the popular website that uses soothing music, meditation timers and video recordings of nature. Watch waves crashing, brooks babbling, snow falling and the sun setting while you enjoy a short, timed meditation -- without ever leaving your desk. Calm.com now also comes in app form so that you can enjoy a little zen on your iPhone.
Available for free on calm.com and free download for iPhone from the App Store.
Do Nothing For 2 Minutes
Donothingfor2minutes.com, brought to you by the creators of calm.com, is simply a full-screen video of waves crashing at sunset with a timer counting down for two minutes, along with the instructions, "Just relax and look at the waves. Don't touch your mouse or keypad for two minutes." If you do, a bright red flashing "FAIL" comes up on the screen -- perhaps not the most zen reminder to go back to your break, but effective nonetheless.
Available for free at donothingfor2minutes.com.
MeditateApp for Android
A comprehensive meditation timer and tracking device, MeditateApp allows you to create plans and schedules, select meditations for particular days and times, and view charts detailing your past activity.
Meditations can be timed and saved in one of three modes: Meditation, Meditation with Affirmation, and Fall Asleep mode, which fades out the sound of the meditation gradually.
Available for Android (free, or $1.99 for the full version) from Google Play.
The Mental Workout app and website aim to help you cultivate mindfulness, sleep better, reduce your stress levels and stay focused. Mental Workout's Mindfulness Meditation app, designed by meditation teacher and psychotherapist Stephan Bodian, provides guided meditations and a timer for silent meditations. It also features an eight-week program for beginners, as well as inspirational talks and relaxation instructions.
Beyond the Mindfulness Meditation app, Mental Workout offers several programs for use on Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and Android, including apps that use mindfulness-based approaches to help you reduce stress, enhance sleep quality and quit smoking.
Programs available at varying costs at mentalworkout.com.
A simple reminder to pause and refocus our attention can go far in helping us to become more mindful. Bells and chimes have traditionally been used in Tibetan Buddhist meditation, and now the Washington Mindfulness Community's online Mindfulness Bell allows you to enjoy a soothing sound as a reminder to still your mind and be more present. The bell -- which can be set to ring at regular intervals or at random times -- can be used as a meditation tool or a mindful alarm.
Available free of cost at mindfulnessdc.org.
Eckhart Tolle's "Music To Quiet The Mind"
If you'd rather listen to music than sit in silence, try Eckhart Tolle's "Music To Quiet The Mind," available on Spotify. The album is a compilation of Eckhart Tolle's favorite songs to inspire serenity and stillness. Listen to the relaxing songs when you need to calm down at work, or press play when you get home at the end of the day and want to simply experience the "power of now."
Available for free streaming on Spotify.