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Review: Headspace, the App

March, 2018

Headspace: Everyday Mindfulness

I decided to continue on my mindfulness mission by having a go with Headspace, an app with the tagline ‘A few minutes could change your whole day.’ This app focuses on the practical benefits of short meditations: reducing stress, improving focus and sleeping better. Just like with my Calm review, I’ve only reviewed what content I could get for free. The financial commitment for Headspace is pretty hefty. UK prices, you’re looking at £9.99 a month, or a one-off cost of £71.88 for the year. Want to unlock all features permanently? That will be £299.99 please. I just think these prices are very off-putting, and will stop people even trying the app for free in some cases, as they know that if they like it, and it works for them, they are going to be shelling out a huge amount of money.

Actually using the app is a doddle. It starts with a ‘meditation basics’ program, which is actually really useful. The speaker is male, British, with a calming and down-to earth tone. He speaks about meditation as if it’s a daily requirement like brushing your teeth, and makes it seem easy and accessible for all. For the first time in guided meditation like this, I am told to start with my eyes open. Each meditation session can be tweaked to reflect how much free time you have in your day. You can meditate for as little as three minutes, and as much as ten in one go. I found the ten-minute sessions were useful at the end of the day for relaxing me before sleep time.

As well as the basics program, there are other freebies, which seem to change from day to day. Today’s was an exploration of stillness and silence. Before the meditation started, the guide spoke of the nature of silence, and whether it is passive or not. He explored the usefulness of stillness, and how it helps us to be present in the moment, not wrapped up solely in our own thoughts. This aids us in listening to others.

Silence is the foundation of calm and clarity that allows us to hear what others have to say.”

There are also some mini meditations, but for free, you only get access to the ‘Breathe’ mini, which as the title suggests, gives you 60 seconds of exploring the sensation and mechanics of your breathing.

One of my favourite things about Headspace is that it can easily be linked to the ‘Health’ app on your iPhone, and I presume there will be a similar option on Android devices and similar. So, when I look at my ‘Health’ stats, if I have meditated with Headspace that day, the phone will describe how many ‘mindful minutes’ I’ve taken. I like the sense of achievement that comes with this, and recognising that I’ve been good to myself and my mind for at least a few minutes each day. The app itself also records some data for you, and shows you how many minutes and on what days you’ve meditated.

There’s also a kids’ section, split into ages 5 and under, ages 6-8, and ages 9-12. These have titles such as ‘Appreciation’ and ‘Kindness’; good at any age! But particularly useful for young, developing minds. Sadly, as far as I could tell, none of the kids’ stuff was available on the free version.

I’m going to keep the app on my phone, as even just having the basics package has been really useful. It’s so easy to use, there’s no set-up, you just download it and start meditating. An absolute beginner could use this, even if they had zero experience of mindfulness or meditation. I really hope the prices reduce at some point though, as at the moment, they are just far too high to consider a full subscription. Perhaps one day, when I’m a bit more flush with cash! But all in all, an excellent user experience; very relaxing and very unique in its informal and easy-going style.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

Click Images for Amazon Information

 

Review: Calm, the App

February, 2018

As a witch, I have found that sometimes the safest place to chill out is the recess of my own mind. This means that for me, as for many pagans, indeed people of all paths, being able to meditate is a real key skill; one that I have worked at for many years. By no means am I a meditation master; in fact, even though I need this skill, I’ve often struggled to get to grips with it and sometimes struggle to switch off at all. With that in mind, I’m on a mission to find the best meditation apps on your smart phone or tablet and I’m sacrificing myself to science, or magic, for you all, by downloading and testing some of the supposedly best apps on the market.

The first that I’m going to be looking at is Calm. I’ve downloaded it on my iPhone, but I believe it’s available for android as well. Billed as the number one app for mindfulness and meditation, and Apple’s number one app of 2017, the app is basically a series of guided meditations, with themes from calming anxiety to gratitude to forgiveness and loads more. From the get go it’s a very attractive user interface; as soon as you open it you are greeted with a lovely lake and mountains, and the sound of birdsong; the epitome of what we think of when people say the word ‘tranquillity’. Straight away the app is moving you into a different mindset; removing you from whatever situation you are in right now. Unless, of course, you happen to be at a lake view with birdsong! But you can choose other backgrounds.

Meditation is a way that we take a break from whatever we are doing with our day, whether that’s our job or even a hobby or a passion. Sometimes we even need to take a break from things we enjoy; if you do the same thing for too long it becomes stale, and you might stop enjoying it even if it’s something you have a real love for. If you’re stuck in an office for eight hours a day staring at a computer and bashing on computer keyboard, then meditation is even more important.

I read once that someone said you should meditate for five minutes every day. If you don’t have time to meditate for five minutes every day you should meditate for half an hour every day! Well, that’s not always possible for everyone. If your life has become so full of hassle and stress that you can’t spare five minutes for yourself to give your brain a rest, then some might say you need to seriously look at what is stopping you giving yourself that time. But believe me, I am not one to judge at all. I am exactly one of those people who sometimes tells themselves ‘I really don’t have five minutes’. I have a 12-week-old baby, I have a seven-year-old son, I have a full-time writing and journalism career on top of an office day job which pays some of the rest of the bills; sometimes it feels like I genuinely can’t take five minutes for myself. Then I remember telling other people how important it is and remember that I need to take my own advice! That’s basically why I wanted to have a look at some of these apps; maybe they can help give me that previous time away from the hustle and bustle.

Our phones are easy to keep with us all the time, in fact most of us do just that, so we can keep in contact with loved ones and update our social media accounts. Being able to use the device to take a break from everything seems a big bonus. Interestingly, one of the guided meditations on Calm this week was about the dangers of social media; how being constantly connected to the internet can actually end up with us feeling more disconnected from real life and the people who matter to us, and how to focus on re-establishing those connections.

This was certainly more in-depth thought than I was expecting from a pocket meditation. The quality of the guided talk down was very good too. The woman who speaks has a soothing voice, and leaves good spacing in between speaking, to allow you time to focus on your breathing. I had no problem relaxing into the meditations and fully enjoying the process.

The meditations I indulged in daily were the Daily Calms; daily meditations each on a different theme. As far as I could tell, these are only available if you pay for the premium version; $59.99 or £35.99. There are also subscription options, and a free option, with less features. I wanted to get the fullest experience for the review, so took out the free trial which gave me seven days of full features. I’m not sure seven days is really long enough to give you the full sense of whether a meditation regime is right for you or not. Some other apps, such as Headspace, give you a thirty-day trial which is much more useful. Still, seven days of free premium features is not to be sniffed at!

The ‘Daily Calms’ are a great way to take a break, and with each of them having a different theme, it’s like your mind relaxes and is given something meaningful to ponder upon, then gently brought back to the here and now. As well as the daily calms, there are many different meditation paths to follow: 7 days of focus, 7 days of happiness, 7 days of sleep and so forth. There’s even a separate option to choose to help you sleep, called Sleep Stories. These are soothing spoken word recordings, read by a diverse range of people such as Joanna Lumley and Stephen Fry. How lovely to be a grown up, and feel totally justified in having your own bedtime story.

If I had the money, I think I would happily sign up for the premium version, even if just for the daily calms. Over the past week I have felt less stressed, less overwhelmed with my tasks and have looked forward to the little moments I can put aside for myself. Highly recommended.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

For Amazon information, click images below.