Technology feels like it’s heading into warp speed these days.
In the past week alone, advanced AI art tools and chat programs took the internet by storm.
Everyone seems to own a wearable: a watch, a ring, or some other device that tracks steps, or heart-rate.
There’s an app for everything–literally.
Technology is developing at breakneck pace and attempting to solve every human problem.
But can technology help you to meditate better or improve your spiritual practice?
As a meditation teacher, I almost always advise against the use of apps and ‘meditation gadgets’, especially when learning meditation.
So, why I did just get a meditation headband?
Let me explain a little bit about my perspective on meditation apps and gadgets, and share how technology may be able to help you understand your meditation practice better.
What I Think About Meditation Apps
I have mixed feelings about apps.
Mostly, I dislike them.
On one hand, they make meditation accessible.
On the other hand, like all commercialized products, they are watered-down to reach a broader audience.
Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm can offer some benefits to a complete beginner.
They offer cool tools like session tracking, relaxing music, specialized timers, and guided meditations.
Meditation apps help people build a habit by ‘gamifying’ practice.
At a workshop I gave, someone once shared how they stopped their meditation practice out of frustration after their app failed to record a session, and broke their streak of consecutive days!
Everyone at the workshop burst our laughing.
Despite some benefits, apps lack the depth and breadth of knowledge necessary to help people create an independent meditation practice.
In fact, the whole point of the app is get you to continue using it. Not to create your own practice.
Forget about spiritual transformation with apps.
Their main purpose is to help people feel relaxed, and destress.
Spiritual development is an afterthought.
While helping people destress and relax is important in our stressed out world, it’s barely a starting point for deeper inner work.
When you consider many meditation apps are pushing you to buy subscriptions as much as offering guided meditations, you come out with a mediocre tool for learning meditation at best.
My advise is to stay away from mainstream meditation apps.
There are some smaller niche apps that do offer spiritual practices and meditations, so choose wisely.
The truth remains that learning any skill through an app, especially a subtle skill like meditation, can only you take you so far.
What I Think About Meditation Gadgets
I call any device that’s designed to help people meditate a meditation gadget.
There’s all kinds now.
I see ads for Sensate (a self-described vagus nerve toner) all the time on Instagram.
More and more new ones pop up everyday.
Meditation gadgets usually include two parts:
1. Sensors like heart-rate monitors, accelerometers, and EEGs to measure what’s going on in the body or brain.
2. Biofeedback in the form of sounds, lights, or vibrations to help orient the wearer in their practice.
Meditation gadgets do for wearers what any meditation practitioner learns as they develop their own practice.
A practitioner learns when their concentration is drifting and refocuses it, or learns breathing techniques to control heart-rate variability, slow their breathing, and create calmness.
A meditation gadget also stops wearers from learning to notice the natural biofeedback our bodies give in meditation.
Slower breathing, heaviness in the hands and arms, tingling in the face and lips, stillness in the body, slower thinking… our bodies and minds give many biofeedback queues to us during practice.
Also, each device has its own focus for practice and algorithm that runs it.
Some gadgets focus on heart-rate, some on focused concentration, others on open awareness.
Varying your practice, doing introspection, processing emotions, etc. would trigger biofeedback in devices to ‘go back to the routine’ the device is programed to teach you.
I see meditation gadgets as mostly gimmicky and preying on ‘hot trends’ like vagus nerve stimulation, mindfulness and breathwork.
They can be helpful for learning certain practices, like focused concentration, in some cases, but I don’t see them as longterm solutions for a solid meditation practice.
Why I Got A Meditation Headband
Despite everything I’ve said about gadgets and apps I just got a meditation headband.
Seems contradictory, right?
Well here’s why:
While I don’t feel that meditation apps and gadgets can help us LEARN meditation, I do think they offer powerful tools to help us UNDERSTAND our meditation practice better.
Specifically, I’m referring to the data that the advanced sensors in meditation gadgets can collect.
A few days ago I received an early Christmas gift from my family, the Muse 2 Headband.
The headband sports a heart-rate monitor, accelerometer, and an EEG that measures brainwaves.
An EEG is a device that measures electrical activity in the brain in the form of brainwaves like alpha, beta, theta, gamma, etc.
Having a personal EEG is pretty awesome.
When I studied philosophy of cognitive science at university, EEGs were in university labs, or expensive systems that took specialized knowledge to setup and operate.
Now, proven scientific grade EEGs are in a portable headband.
The Muse 2 has been used in scientific studies on Himalayan monks, large scale clinical studies on meditation, and even diagnosing strokes.
My goal with the Muse 2 is to study my brain on meditation.
I’m especially curious about how different meditative practices using concentration, awareness, and subtle energy practices from Kriya yoga will affect the brain.
Everyday people like you and me now have access to tools that can provide valuable insight, and even produce novel research into meditation.
I don’t see the need for a meditation gadget unless you want to get really ‘nerdy’ with your practice.
I see technology empowering meditation as a way to UNDERSTAND the practice better, not to LEARN it.
It’s an exciting time.
Technology is opening up new doors daily.
We need to reflect on how to best use emerging technology so that it empowers us, not enslaves us.
We can’t outright dismiss benefits out of skepticism, or completely embrace emerging technology blindly.
The truth is always somewhere in the middle.
How do you think emerging technology will affect our world? Do you have any interest in studying your brain on meditation?