I started meditating roughly 45 years ago. It universally viewed as hokum. I practiced Transcendental Meditation, the same meditation that The Beatles studied in Rishikesh.
Over the years, meditation/mindfulness has gained acceptance and proven scientifically to provide the practitioner with valid mental and physical benefits.
I have tried many meditation/mindfulness apps to get back into a regular schedule. I stumbled across an app that takes the practice to levels I could not have imagined. Introducing the iOS app, Balance.
Balance is a new type of meditation app that continuously adapts to your needs and guides you through scientifically—proven methods to improve your stress, focus, sleep, and mood.
The developer of Balance positions it as meditation for beginners and a refresher for veterans. Each ‘Foundation’ builds incrementally, tailored by personal responses you give to questions at the beginning of each session.
If you learn nothing else from using Balance, you learn that breath control is the core to reducing stress in your life. It is the bedrock of every meditation/mindfulness exercise.
A very calm, pleasant voiced instructor suggest today’s practice, then leads you through each session, explains what you will do and why. Before each session, you are quizzed about what you have learned so far and how effective your sessions have been. The program stores all of this information to specifically tailor your training as to how you are progressing.
One time, I gave a ‘no’ answer in response to one of the daily questions prior to the day’s session and the narrator responded to my answer with some helpful tips. You would swear that there is an instructor living inside your smartphone!
You follow with step-by-step instructions to lengthen your back, relax your neck and head, and making sure that both feet are planted firmly on the ground. This way you are totally settled into a comfortable, seated position.
Now we begin. They break the program up into two separate strategies: Foundations and Singles.
Before you get to the heart of learning meditation skills, the first thing you work on is ‘Foundations.’ You begin with learning to control your breath, the key to proper meditation.
Second, it introduces you to ‘Singles,’ short meditations to help you through various situations such as stress, breaking habits, relaxation, and so on.
Each day before you begin your training, you’re given a short quiz to see if you’re correctly understanding the lessons. Whether you answer correctly or incorrectly, it’s then explained why your answer was correct or incorrect.
There are over a half dozen lessons in ‘Plans,’ each building upon the previous lessons.
Foundation I begins with the basics. ‘Breath Focus’ is self-explanatory: tracking inhaling and exhaling, mental wandering, and learning how to bring yourself back into the moment. Other techniques as ‘Breath Counting’ and ‘Body Scanning’ are addressed.
Foundation II first reviews what you learned in Foundation I then introduces new fundamentals to your practice. I found ‘Labeling’ the most useful. Chatter has been constantly a source of distraction while I meditate (What do I have to accomplish today, at what time do I need to be somewhere, etc.). With a few simple actions, I learned to banish these distractions while meditating.
For example, when your mind wanders, think the word “thinking”. Also, you can use visualization techniques, such as painting a circle around those thoughts, metaphorically corralling them, and setting them aside.
With ‘Focusing’ you learn to address distractions not only mentally but physically and otherwise.
Foundations III’Body Awareness’ ties into ‘Body Scanning’ focusing on your body, emotions, and surroundings. Learn to know of all five senses not only during meditation but throughout your day, plus instructing you on many ways to focus.
Foundations IV builds on skills learned throughout the ‘Foundation’ series and introduces a new skill: visualization and how to use it with body scanning.
Foundations V’Loving Kindness’, learning to focus on the good things about yourself, friends, and others that you find difficult to deal with.
Advanced is the final ‘Foundation.’ It takes everything you learned in the previous ‘Foundations’ and ups them a notch, for example, you work even more on focusing than your breathing. The sessions increase from 15 to 20 minutes.
(To be fair, I don’t know that “final” is a good word to use. Every so often, they’ll add another session to the collection. In fact, as I’m writing this they just added another one.)
Singles are much more specific in their aim. Some samples are ‘Sleep’, ‘Energize’, ‘Anxiety’, and ‘Relax’.
There are several unique Singles such as ‘Commute’, ’Couples’, ‘Wind Down’, and ‘Wake Up’.
I found ’Wind Down’ was the most beneficial of all the singles. You’re to perform ‘Wind Down’ one hour before bedtime, turning off any smartphones, TVs, and such. On the screen it presents you with a blueish, amoeba shaped ring. You place your finger inside the ring, following it back and forth from side-to-side on your screen. Over time, it slows down in pace.
Focusing on following the ring I found cleared my head of all unnecessary thoughts and concerns. I became extremely relaxed and had no difficulty falling asleep. Very original and effective.
‘Spotlighting’ is concentrated focusing. You hone your focus in on a specific object or sound. For example, if spotlighting on sound, the first thing you do is listen to all the surrounding sounds. Pick one specific sound and focus on nothing but that specific one, cutting out all the other sounds that you hear. Is the sound soft? Is the sound loud? Does it have certain rhythm or some other singular aspect? This really helps you home in on focusing.
‘Spotlighting’ isn’t just limited to your meditating. You can do it anytime during the day when you just need to clear your head and become focused once again. Actually, all singles can be used anytime you feel the need.
Another set of ‘Singles’ helps you peel away emotional layers like an onion or as they say, “letting go of perfection.” Being nonjudgemental of thoughts, physical feelings, and such is of great help to negotiate your day.
After going through the ‘Foundations’ you can start ’Singles’ on specific things like focusing, breathing, etc. They are thorough. It’s a dichotomy; They are very thorough and yet very easy to do.
As opposed to my previous form of meditation, I felt Balance produced much greater results. By reducing the incessant chatter, I was truly able to ‘be in the moment’ and relax fully. For one, this improved my breathing technique. It was much more relaxed and I wasn’t as rigidly focused as before.
I can perform these exercises at the moment or as a session. As an example, you can release tension in specific parts of your body by inhaling and tensing the tight area, hold your breath, and then exhale. Simple yet effective.
I am impressed at how the database keeps all of your responses to the questions over your entire learning process. It’s as if you’re talking with a personal counselor. They figure out exactly where you’re headed and how to steer you in the right direction.
Balance is iOS only and free. There are also three subscription models: $11.99, $49.99, and $199.99.
I can’t recommend this app highly enough. Definitely give it a bash.
(Offbeat side-note: The day before I submitted this review I had to make a trek to the hospital. I had to have an MRI. Unfortunately, I am claustrophobic. I tried Breath Control to manage my situation. And it worked!)