The Meditation App That Understands the Struggle

It only asks for 1 percent of your day.

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Jan 25 2017, 7:40pm

Image: Gary Waters / Getty Images

In 2014, Americans spent a collective 1.2 billion days commuting. To make that statistic a little darker, that's roughly 29.6 billion hours on the road, on a bus, or on a train. Just trying to get to an office building with taupe walls and AC cold enough to make some of us curse the patriarchy with bated breath. The folks over at the Washington Post figured out that we could build the Great Pyramid of Giza twenty-six times a year with all that commuting time, which is cause for serious concern about the mental state of their staff, but also provokes the following thought: Are we wasting this time?

eMindful Life is an online service that sets out to help users repurpose just one percent of every single day towards mindfulness and meditation, for a whole month. That amounts to fourteen minutes (apparently because a round fifteen would've been too gimmicky, even for the folks who named their brand "eMindful Life"). This project comes at a time when many of us are struggling to maintain the most ambitious of New Year's resolutions, including dramatic vows to cut sugar, alcohol, and all other sorts of merriment out of our lives forever.

It's also the time of the year most of us make the ubiquitous promise to go to the gym or yoga studio more often. However, big-ticket promises like these tend to fail, which motivates eMindful's angle for the "just one percent" approach (the brand is truly reclaiming all the negativity that's ever been associated with that percentage point). It's fair to say that I'm a part of their target audience, as a millennial with the access and skills to sign up for an online service, as well as the need to disconnect and spend less time working.

I'd attended the occasional trial yoga class and even tried the Headspace app a few times, but never made meditation a regular practice. It's probably because I struggle with non-sleep activities that require me to be still for a long time, or because there isn't a tangible positive output with meditating the way there is with, say, spin class. That said, a new study rolled out by Georgetown researchers shows that a meditation test literally reduced the blood-based markers of subjects' stress responses, making it an increasingly effective tool to combat anxiety. So clearly, I needed to give it another go.

As a newbie to meditating, what set eMindful Life apart from services like Headspace, Calm, or Insight for me is how difficult it is to slack off. While a lot of meditation apps usually make it very easy to have the app running in the background of your phone while you sort emails or browse Facebook, eMindful has a live video of the meditation instructor and a chat with all the other people who are taking the course at the same time as you. The instructors almost always started off the practice by encouraging people to introduce themselves, and things occasionally got a little weird.

At the the "kindness practice" during my first week of the eMindful Life challenge, a user named Colleen kept chiming in about her heightened awareness during the sessions, especially about how bright the moon was that night, which the instructor seemed to egg on with promises to "share the moon with her." Not sure if this is some meditation lingo that you only pick up after going to more classes than I have, but it was weird and definitely distracted me from paying attention to my breathing. To be honest, I spent most of my classes envious of how serene the instructors' environments on screen seemed, relative to mine.

There was this constant emphasis to tune out surroundings and be one with your breaths and body, but that's a lot easier to do when your backdrop is made of bamboo and you don't have someone living above you who rediscovers his passion for D12 every night. I settled for turning off my lights, shoving piles of stray clothes and shoes into my closet, and trying to focus all my energy on the glowing MacBook screen in front of me, which I'm sure is exactly how the masters do it.

I'm not exactly sure if mobile meditation is an oxymoron, or counterproductive—after all, phone apps that let you meditate exist because you're too busy to sit down at a computer, or need to be able to do the class on-the-go. Whatever the case, I took advantage of the mobile classes for over half of the days I participated in the one percent challenge, and found that it was slightly more therapeutic than my usual playlists, but a little more boring than a podcast.

It comes down to this: If you're the kind of person who can religiously attend yoga classes and not get annoyed at the teacher's "getting in touch with your inner self" talk in a dream-like lilt while reach fruitlessly for your toes, apps like eMindful are for you. If you're like me, you look forward to the savasana part of yoga class, where you get to lie on your back manatee-style and stare at the ceiling, mulling over dinner options.

That said: Would I do this again? Probably, but mostly because I liked the structure it added to my days. It's kind of ridiculous how having to work around a fourteen minute chunk helps you plan out your to-dos for a night (while eMindful Life offers classes every hour, you have to schedule them ahead of time so there is some foresight involved here). While I don't know that I'll meditate on a regular basis from here on out, I will say that I've been hyperventilating less and trying to be more positive, which in today's political climate, is a massive accomplishment.