Headspace? Insight Timer? – Sorry, I’m Not a Fan
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | October 7, 2022
The first thing I want to say is if you love Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm or of any of the other 2500 meditation apps out there then…who am I to steal your joy? Let’s stay friends. Stop reading now, have fun, and I’ll catch up with you next week.
It’s not that meditation apps aren’t useful – of course they are – many people swear by them. But, when you shine the light of yoga philosophy on the topic, there are a couple of fundamental problems – beyond things like coding glitches.
Meditation is ancient, apps are new – but somehow folks managed to meditate in the good old days. If you rely on apps to meditate, what happens when your phone dies, and you are in a kayak without a power source? What happens if your app gets deleted, or the developer pulls it, or the internet implodes? Does that mean your meditation practice disappears forever?
App meditation is dependent upon an external source, and so it actually misses the point of meditation – which is to use your mind to train your mind to get out of your mind. Apps can’t do that. Sure, they can help you relax, distract, and enjoy pleasant experiences, but they can’t do what your mind can, because they are not a part of the structure of you.
According to the yoga tradition, pratyāhāra, the fifth limb of yoga, is the gateway to meditation. Pratyāhāra means something like taming or quieting the senses and motor organs. There are various pratyāhāra techniques which are aimed at helping you calm the mind by turning the energy that is usually directed outward into the external world, inward towards your magnificent inner universe.
Two fundamental aspects of pratyāhāra in traditional yogic meditation are sitting still with legs crossed and hands folded to initiate the inward trajectory of the energy of the motor organs (like walking, working with your hands, etc.), and finding a quiet place where you can close your eyes (and your mouth) so that you don’t get distracted by noises, conversations, etc. and draw the energy of the senses within (of course if you have knee or hip issues, sitting in a chair is fine).
An ancient metaphor in the yoga tradition for pratyāhāra is the chariot. The senses and motor organs are like horses. Without reins they will run around, chew on some daisies, check out the river and get a drink, play with each other, and basically horse around whatever chance they get.
The mind, however, has the potential to act as reins for the chariot. And the driver of the chariot is the Buddhi, the discerning wise part of yourself that has the ability to see through the distractions in life and direct your mind towards a higher goal. The atman or unchanging, infinite awareness part of yourself is the passenger, who says, “Hey, I need to get home to my cosmic ocean of Oneness so take me there.” And basically that’s the journey that yogic meditation was developed for.
The tantric yogis would argue that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the daisies, the river, and the horsing around, as long as you remember that it’s all part of an ephemeral, passing show as you journey back to the infinite.
As for the senses, the yogis intuited sound as the most subtle and perhaps poignant of all the senses. Isn’t it interesting how sound can change everything – the body and mind can shift dramatically just by hearing a stunning piece of music, the sound of a loved one’s voice, or the pleas of a persistent cat.
When you are listening to a meditation app and someone is guiding you through a visualization, your sense of sound is fired up, that horse is not reined in. And while it can be a pleasant experience to listen to a lovely voice saying soothing things, it does not cultivate pratyāhāra – the point of which is to reverse the energy of all the external experience seeking senses and direct them towards the inner universe.
Pratyāhāra prepares for dhāraṇā, the sixth limb of yoga, which is the limb that trains the mind to concentrate. Yogis have used many techniques for dhāraṇā but probably the most famous is mantra. Mantra means “the tool (or technology) that liberates the mind.” A short mantra provides a tool to train the mind to concentrate and focus.
One researcher wrote, “…mantra aids in maintaining sharp focus of attention to the exclusion of incoming sensory stimuli and awareness of one’s own body.” (Fox, 2016) In other words mantra is a tool of focus for the mind that enhances pratyāhāra.
If you worry a lot, if you have trouble sleeping, if you spend a lot of time on what ifs, wouldn’t it be great to learn how to turn that stuff off? Apps might help in the short run, but it’s meditation old style that actually can make those important shifts happen.
Please check out my free ebook, 5 Ways Yogic Meditation Benefits Your Brain.