Current Favourite Apps
I am in the process of navigating moving house and all the stress and emotion that that brings up. I would like to share the apps that I am currently using to keep me healthy and balanced.
I am using two main meditation apps. I am continuing my 10 minute guided meditation with Sam Harris of Waking Up. I think of this as my mental gym. Throughout the meditation Sam invites me to change my focus, to shift my attention and to challenge my assumptions. This really sets me up for practicing mindfulness throughout the day as well as helping me to meditate on my own. I do this using Insight Timer. Using this app I have been able to set up a 10 minute timed track with background sounds that help me as well as “bells” at 5 minutes, 7 minutes and 9 minutes. These bells help me to shift my focus. I use the first 5 minutes for getting settled into my body and then use a technique I learned via Headspace where I scan and then relax my entire body. In the second half of the meditation I either sit in open awareness or I practice loving kindness meditation. Usually the last minute is where I relax all effort.
As well as meditating I am using relaxation apps to allow me to unwind at the end of the day and help me to sleep. The first app is Calm. I am currently using it for its sleep stories. These are wonderfully relaxing and evocative stories often narrated by a well known personality. My two favourite voices are Matthew McConaughey and Stephen Fry. They are basically bedtime stories for adults. I can’t recommend them highly enough – especially if you are having difficulty falling asleep or find yourself awake in the early hours. The second app that I am using for relaxation is Rise. I have been listening to the sleep guides. These include guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation and an introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I love that I am using skills and techniques that I can go on to use on my own.
A temporary app that I have used recently is the Drink Water Reminder. You set your daily target and it will space reminders throughout the day. This is a great way to develop the habit of adequate hydration. Now that I have developed that habit I will be deleting the app. I always prefer to build independent habits using the help of apps but not become reliant on them forever. Otherwise I think you can clutter your life with bells and whistles and your phone starts to become a harpie that is constantly nagging you to do things you should be capable of doing on your own. I think this is the difference between using your phone as a tool rather than a crutch.
Meditation – Apps
In my fourth and final online course I teach how to set up a daily resilience plan. One of my recommended tools is meditation. I believe this practice alone can change your life. However it is one of the hardest tools to learn to use and to implement effectively. It takes discipline and it takes regular practice. There are no short cuts or hacks to avoid this. Thankfully the process is made more enjoyable by the use of some great meditation apps produced by some fantastic teachers. Below are teachers and apps that I use and recommend.
Headspace with Andy Puddicombe
This is the app I would be most likely to recommend to someone who is totally new to meditation. I love the way Andy takes complex ideas and presents them in a way that is easy to understand. The app contains animated cartoons which illustrate the lessons very well. I used this app for well over a year and was very happy with it. It taught me some great techniques and I believe gave me a great grounding in the subject. However, I did eventually become bored with it. So much so that for a while I stopped meditating entirely. I think I had naturally reached the point when I wanted to explore more deeply and Headspace wasn’t going to take them there.
10% Happier with Dan Harris
I have since discovered this app and it is one that I would be happy to recommend to beginners as well. Dan has teamed up with the highly esteemed Joseph Goldstein. I really like the format. Alternating between short lessons and short meditations. The meditations slowly grow in length. I am still using the free version so I haven’t explored beyond the basics. However it appears that it will be somewhat similar to Headspace in that it takes your basic knowledge of meditation and applies it to different situations and settings. Dan describes himself as a fidgety skeptic so his style would appeal to those seeking a fully secular form of meditation. I also think it would be a great fit for those, like Dan, who have a very busy and self critical mind. But when you bring Joseph Goldstein into the mix then I think you have an app which would appeal to anyone.
Waking Up with Sam Harris
This is the app I am currently using and I am loving it. I am working through a 50 day meditation sequence and it is taking me to a depth of exploration that I never would have achieved with Headspace. I am also listening to the lessons – about one a day – and they are deeply philosophical. And deep is the word I would use to describe Sam. Today we explored the concept of Free Will and it was pretty eye opening. The meditations begin at 10 minutes so they aren’t for the total novice. If you haven’t yet learned to sit still for that length of time I think this could be overwhelming. However Sam talks quite a bit throughout which certainly helps to guide you and makes the time seem shorter. Some people have found there is too much talking but I am sure this reduces once you have completed the first 50 meditations. I find his guidance invaluable. I am excited to see how I can apply what I am learning in meditation to my every day life. And I am excited to see where my head is at after completing the 50 days.
Susan Piver – Open Heart Project
This is not an app but I felt that I had to mention one of my favourite meditation teachers. Susan has a grounded, warm-hearted manner. If you join the Open Heart Project (which is free) you will receive a weekly meditation email from Susan. The first 8 – 10 minutes are given over to a lesson whereby basic Buddhist concepts are applied to real life problems or situations. Often these problems have been requested by members and I have found Susan very responsive to messages. The meditation itself is in silence so I can’t vouch for Susan as a meditation teacher. I know that she has a long and thorough online meditation course which I would love to take one day. I would recommend the Open Heart Project to anyone who would like to feel a personal connection with their teacher. And anyone who would like to begin to explore Buddhism and how it can help them in their day to day lives. Susan has written a series of books and next week I will be writing a review on her latest – all about love. Spoiler alert – it is fantastic!
Resilient Grieving – Dr Lucy Hone
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. There are very few books about resilient grieving. Most of us are familiar with the stages of grief but this is a very passive model. It seems we are expected to sit and wait out all the stages of grief until we get spat out the other side. Then we can pick up the pieces of our lives and carry on. When Dr Lucy Hone’s daughter Abi was killed in a road accident she used all the skills and knowledge she had in positive psychology and applied it to the grief process. This allowed her to continue to parent her two boys, maintain a strong relationship with her husband and friends, and take an active role in her experience. There are so many practical strategies in the book which I know would be invaluable to those going through grief. Lucy is very authentic and grounded. She has so much wisdom to share. I have recently bought this book for a friend who lost her son – it felt good to be able offer something of practical support at this time.
My interview with Lucy will go live tomorrow (Friday the 7th of April) but in the meantime check out this podcast interview by Larry Weeks. His podcast is called Bounce and it is fantastic.
One Year Wiser – An Illustrated Guide to Mindfulness – Mike Medaglia
If I had to choose one book to give to someone who was starting to explore mindfulness this would be the one. It is a graphic novel and it beautifully illustrates all the main aspects of the practice. It includes exercises to complete at the end of every chapter. Ultimately it feels like a very friendly, easy guide. I am going to give it my highest accolade which is to purchase it for my collection and perhaps an extra copy to share with friends. Go on, hit me up. 🙂
Jacqueline and the Beanstalk – Susan D Sweet and Brenda S Miles
This is a lovely picture book all about facing big fears. Jacqueline is a princess who is protected by her royal guards. Everywhere she goes it is “shields up!” But those guards are stopping Jacqueline from having fun. One day she finds a beanstalk and despite warnings she climbs up to meet the giant. Beautiful illustrations and a great story to help children understand and face their fears. There is a caregiver guide at the back of the book with lots of ways adults can help children understand fear and anxiety and ways they can manage it.
When My Worries Get Too Big – Kari Dunn Buron
This book teaches relaxation techniques for children who experience anxiety. The strategies are based on cognitive behavioural management. Through the pages children are able to explore the different things that cause them anxiety and why. Then they are given some great strategies to calm themselves. I particularly like the illustrated stress scale and calming sequence. This would be equally helpful for adults. There are also evidence-based strategies outlined for caregivers to support highly anxious children.
How To Be Human: The Manual – Ruby Wax
This is an excellent book. It is written with the Ruby’s irreverent sense of humour but combines this with the wisdom of a Buddhist monk and the knowledge of a neuroscientist. She has written a previous book about mindfulness which is excellent but this book dives deeper into some of the theory behind it. She covers evolution, thoughts, emotions, the body, compassion, relationships, sex (warning: a very short chapter – she lies about this), kids, addiction and the future. As well as a great deal of imparted factual knowledge from three different and complimentary perspectives there is also a huge section containing a number of mindfulness exercises.
I bought this book on Kindle but I think it would be better to have a physical copy. With all the exercises you are going to want to flick back and forward, write your own notes in the margins, and basically make the book your own in ways you just can’t with an electronic version. I know you can do all this using a Kindle but trust me – you want to pull out your felt tips pens for this one.
With all the books published on mindfulness why would you buy this one? Well, for starters, you need more than one book on mindfulness. Everyone approaches the subject from a slightly different angle and not everyone’s approach will appeal to you. By reading widely you can create your own personal practice which works for you. I would also argue that with this book you almost get three books in one; as the three participants give very different ways of looking at mindfulness. I also love Ruby Wax and her sense of humour. She is very authentic and makes me feel okay about all my own personal baggage. Ruby has a truckload.
I can not recommend this book highly enough. A very good place to start if you are beginning a mindfulness practice but also a great place to explore the subject deeper if you already meditate regularly. The tone is light and deeply human – just as the title implies. It is okay to be mindful and have a chuckle along the way. Enjoy!
Deep Work – Cal Newport
This book can be summed up perfectly by the first sentence on the back cover. “One of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare.” The deep work referred to in this book is the ability to focus without distraction on cognitively demanding tasks. “Without distraction!” I hear you lament. “How in earth can we achieve this lofty goal in today’s highly connected age?” I am pleased to say that not only does Cal Newport convince us of the need for deep work, he also does a great job of showing us ways that we can make space for it in our lives. There are extremely practical guidelines for achieving this state and massively improving the quality and depth of our work. I honestly believe this book, if applied diligently, can be life changing. I am also a true believer now in the need for all of us to understand and learn how to implement deep work if we are going to thrive in today’s increasingly competitive and relentlessly changing workplaces.
The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness – Andy Puddicombe
I use Andy’s Headspace app for my daily guided meditation. The meditations are fine but it is the introductions and the explanation of difficult concepts which I value the most. He talks about meditating being like sitting beside a busy road and watching the cars go past. The cars are our thoughts. Rather than getting caught up chasing the cars down the road, or jumping into the traffic and trying to make them stop, we just sit there and watch them go by. Sounds easy doesn’t it. Another explanation is that our mind is like the sky and the clouds are like our thoughts. Even though at times it feels like our mind is full of thoughts – we need to remember that above the clouds the sky is always blue. In the same way once our thoughts clear away we have an endlessly calm clear mind. All we need to do is relax and trust and slowly the clouds start to clear away.
I know it is not really as easy as all that but it doesn’t have to be complicated either. The concept is simple; the application takes practice.
Another thing I love about Andy’s teaching of meditation is his emphasis of the need to apply meditation in our daily lives. This is what is now known as mindfulness. But it is also about taking opportunities for mini meditations during our every day lives. I use an excellent meditation he recommends for stress. During the day when I feel the pressure building I can slip back into this meditation state very quickly using the visualisation tools he teaches. I have found that technique alone extremely valuable. By releasing tension throughout the day I find myself at the end of the day without tight shoulders or a throbbing headache. It really does work.
I would recommend this book for people who want an everyday form of meditation. Even though Andy was at one time a Buddhist monk this is not a religious book and it is not an earnest guide to sitting in meditation for hours every day. I like it because it handles the subject lightly but deftly and it removes the mysticism from the subject. Meditation can be an amazing path to deep insight but this form of meditation is more of a tool to manage the daily stress of everyday life. It is a great introduction to the subject and a stepping stone to deeper study if desired.
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
I have a love / hate relationship with Elizabeth Gilbert. No, that’s too harsh; I have some concerns about Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn’t my favourite book or movie. I believe we essentially disagree on the mechanics of love. I think Elizabeth believes in soul mates and therefore you are entirely justified in leaving your current partner if your soul mate happens to appear in your life. In fact you just about owe it to the universe. I believe we choose to love someone and once we have made that commitment we should try our best to honour that commitment. Being in a relationship does not mean that we won’t potentially be attracted to other people but we don’t have to act on those feelings. So the funny thing is that Elizabeth would be considered a romantic (believing in soul mates) and yet it causes her to be a serial monogamist. I, on the other hand, have a more moralistic belief about love but it allows me to stay in a stable and happy relationship long term. I should also point out that there is nothing inherently wrong with serial monogamy; apart from the fact that there is usually a lot of pain caused any time we break a relationship (especially if the decision is one sided and made to form a new attachment). So this is a long rambling caveat to say that I do not worship at the altar of Elizabeth Gilbert and therefore this review is entirely impartial. 🙂
If you are looking for one book to give you the courage to pursue a creative life I believe this is it. The conversational style of writing allows Elizabeth’s natural personality to flow through. And she has a great personality – she is strong, feisty, authentic and not afraid to be vulnerable. I love how she dismantles the idea of the tortured artist; unable to create great art unless also battling the demons of drink, drugs or a disordered mind. The fact that many artists are afflicted in some way does not mean that creativity has to be extracted from our tortured bodies one bloody step at a time.
If you want to tap into your creative side and you feel blocked in some way – this book will give you the kick in the pants to get you going.
I had reason to dip into this book again today – it contains so much wise advice for those of us on a creative journey. This section really spoke to me:
“The results of my work don’t have much to do with me. I can only be in charge of producing the work itself. That’s a hard enough job… Also, I realise it would be unreasonable and immature of me to expect that I should be allowed to have a voice of expression, but other people should not… Recognising this reality – that the reaction doesn’t belong to you – is the only sane way to create… If people attack you…just smile sweetly and suggest they go make their own f***ing art.”
ON BEING WITH KRISTA TIPPETT
This is an award winning show and it is obvious to see why. Krista is such an insightful interviewer. She really draws her guests out and ends up having the kind of deep meaningful discussions that give both comfort and inspiration.
Her most recent interview is with Brene Brown who is one of my favourite authors. I love the title of the episode – Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart. Check out the interview here podcast
TED RADIO HOUR
I love this podcast – in fact I think this might have been my introduction to podcasting. Here you have all the benefits of the highlights of TED Talks with all the benefits of podcasting. This means you can get access to uplifting, interesting content, while fitting it around your other daily activities. Obviously TED is highly professional and well resourced so the quality is excellent.
The most recent show of 2 February 2018 is all about slowing down. It starts with a fascinating introduction to Norwegian “Slow TV”. If you haven’t heard about it yet I highly recommend you tune in.
If you are looking for something uplifting but light then you can’t go wrong with this one. Each show contains snippets from other TED talks so there is lots of variety and links to further interest which I love and I think you will too.
The theme also ties in well to my latest book review. You’ll find it here Books
UNDER THE SKIN – RUSSELL BRAND
I honestly believe Russell Brand is a genius. I know he is not everyone’s cup of tea but he produces a very good Podcast. The recording quality alone is an inspiration but I know that isn’t why you’ll want to listen. His latest episode (as of publication) is an interview with Andy Puddicombe of the smartphone meditation and mindfulness app Headspace. Russell dives deep into important topics – one of his episodes it entitled “God, The Universe, and Meaning.” You may not agree with everything he has to say but I recommend him when you have a free hour, your mind is reasonably fresh and you want to get right down into the meaning of life.
The Path of an Athlete – Lisa Tamati
Please don’t fall about laughing if you don’t think I’m not athletic enough for this course. The point is we need to think like an athlete. Many of the techniques used in high performance sport are applicable in all areas of our lives. Although Lisa is famous for running ultra-marathons and offers running coaching, this course is purely about developing the right mindset. It is an invaluable course if you are at the point in your life when you realise the “softly softly” approach isn’t working for you. Watching documentaries of Lisa facing massive challenges in her running made me want to reach further and do something that scares me a little. Don’t be surprised if the next you hear I am somewhere in the middle of the Gobi Desert running my little heart out. Actually do be surprised because even though Lisa prides herself of being an ulta-marathon “pusher” I am more likely to be seen trotting safely around the confines of my neighbourhood. I did pick up lots of great advice and the fantastic thing is there is only one payment and access for life. I’m about to go through and review the course at a more leisurely pace. I raced through the course as I wanted to complete it in time for my podcast interview with Lisa last Friday. Look for her upcoming interview in May – you are going to love it!
Check out the course here.
How Media Got Social – Curtin University
Another online platform for university level learning is Edex. Like Coursera, you can find programmes hosted by top universities from all around the world. I took this course via Curtin University because I find myself working in a completely online world. I also find myself inhabiting and using social media as my predominant form of communication. I loved this course. It gave a very brief introduction to the history of “The Web” and then went on to talk about the different social media platforms. It was amusing to read about the year 2000 and have it discussed as distant history. The Internet is so young! I would recommend this course to anyone who spends a lot of time online and would like to explore a bit more deeply the sociology behind this pervasive technology.
The Resilience Institute
I have just completed an online course led by Sven Hansen. I discovered their website because it was one of the most popular websites about resilience according to Google. It was certainly a very thorough course – it took me a little over a week to complete. I feel that I got a good grounding in the basic requirements in order to become more resilient. Topics covered included nutrition, sleep, exercise etc. It also talks about when you are very low down the scale and what to do about it. At the end of the course it also covered peak performance and “flow” states. It is very clear that Sven knows what he is talking about. He is obviously very knowledgeable and experienced. At times his delivery seemed a little stern. It was all very earnest and serious; I prefer some lightheartedness when I am learning. I had some difficultly navigating the course and my question about this went unanswered. The course cost about $150 NZ and I think I obtained value for money. Saying that I have just downloaded Sven’s ebook on the same subject for about $3 US so it will be interesting to see if it covers everything in the course. If it does that would obviously be your best option. I’ll read the book over the next week or so and post a book review so you can compare the two.
This is a fantastic introductory course to Mindfulness. It is both an in depth discussion of the origins of Mindfulness as well as providing a experimental laboratory where you can practice and reflect upon different forms of meditation. If you are the sort of person who likes to consider things deeply before diving in – this is the course for you. It may also answer concerns you may have about whether this is a religious or a scientific practice. However if you are the sort of person who likes to dive in quickly then I recommend something like the Headspace app. You could always use Headspace as an introduction and a practical guide and then take this course if or when your interest deepens. I have taken many course via the Coursera platform since its inception and I love it.