I used to get irritable whenever anyone would suggest I try meditation. I’d already decided it didn’t suit me: I get distracted easily, fidget intensely, and look nothing like Sting. In conversation, the subject of meditation turned people I thought I knew into preachy, new age jerks. A friend of mine once said something to the tune of, “I think it really changed my life; it’s enlightening,” and at the time I was hoping she’d fall through a loose sewer grate.
I came around to it on my own time — out of the right combination of curiosity and boredom and not feeling like someone was jabbing me in the ribs saying “Have you tried it aren’t you calm now how about now?” Free guided meditation iPhone apps come in handy: You have nothing to lose downloading one and, believe it or not, you don’t even have to tell anyone about it.
But, of course, here I am, telling you about it. Why? Because I downloaded a few of them and they’re not all great. In the process, I developed some arbitrary criteria: Is the voice British enough? Is the brook in the background babbling enough? Can I make it ten minutes without eating rosemary Triscuits? The answers, coming up!
The name alone. Say it out loud; it sounds like the meditating cousin of Count von Count. If I was another meditation app and I heard there was one with the name Calm.com, I would pack my bags and go the hell home. The voice is pleasant and the design is really simple. It also lets you choose a background sound/image, whether you prefer a lake in the mountains, a beach at sunset or leaves in heavy rain.
“Leaves in heavy rain” made me have to pee, and it's hard to meditate while trying not to piss the bed. Two background options is still A-okay, though. It sends little midday reminders like, “Ready for some calm? Come and enjoy a five minute break.” Receiving that notification during the workday is infuriating, so maybe the app has a point. Anyway, I’m sure there’s a way to turn that off.
The guide, Andy Puddicombe, is a British former Buddhist monk who manages to explain meditation in what is possibly the clearest way I’ve ever heard. By the end, I actually understood why I was doing this instead of taking a nap. After a few days, he starts talking to you like, “Oi look at you, mate, you’re getting quite good at this.” It’s lovely, even if you ate a Triscuit, making it not true.
Again, points for the name. I mean, Puddicombe, come on.
Once you’ve enjoyed a few days of free guidance, it starts sending sales-y emails about unlimited meditation packages and this and that. Something about buying meditation feels kind of fundamentally anti-meditation, but I guess our guideman’s gotta eat.
The app comes with specialized tracks, “Good Morning,” “Good Night,” “Energy Booster” and “Centering Exercise” that vary in length from 10 to 30 minutes.
There’s a ticking noise in the background that’s there intentionally, but to me, it was so distracting I spent the session figuring out what it sounded like: hyperactive mice running in the walls, my building beginning to collapse, a Cuisinart breaking in the distance… ultimately I went with “a woodpecker having a seizure against a tree, muffled by an oven mitt.” Then I deleted it.