The first app I tried was Headspace. It's one of the most popular mindfulness and meditation apps in the App Store, and describes itself as a "gym membership for the mind."
I downloaded the app and prepared to feel calmer and more focused. Mindfulness is all about being aware of yourself and the world around you, something I'm not very good at. Was I about to experience a life-changing revelation?
The app told me to get comfortable. I decided to get into bed, which is where I'm comfiest. It turns out that this was a mistake. The app played a recording of a man instructing me to sit on a chair with my feet on the floor. By this point I was quite comfy in bed so I decided to stick it out. The voice inside the app told me to focus on different parts of my body, which was a strange idea.
After three minutes of mentally "scanning" up and down my body in search of mindfulness, the Headspace session came to an end. I opened my eyes and felt exactly the same as I did when I got into bed. The app told me it would see me again tomorrow for another session.
Headspace encourages users to commit to a daily routine of scheduled meditation. I found that tricky to stick to, and I didn't feel myself becoming more mindful. What I did like, however, was the selection of one-off meditation sessions that the app included. That felt much more useful.
However, most of the one-off meditation packs cost money. The only free sessions I could find were aimed at easing a fear of flying. I don't have a fear of flying, but I tried them out anyway. I still don't have a fear of flying.
The app had a really nice design, and it felt like it was guiding me towards relaxation. However, instead of making me mindful of the world around me, the meditation exercises just made me feel tired. Things got worse when it started sending me emails every day.
I'm a big fan of Oprah Winfrey, so I was very excited to try out her mindfulness app. She made a very positive impact on Lindsay Lohan's life, as evidenced in the eight-episode Oprah Winfrey Network show "Lindsay." Maybe she could do the same for me.
A familiar voice like Oprah guiding me along would really help my journey towards mindfulness, I thought. I got out my headphones and settled back, ready to experience the calming influence of Oprah.
But it wasn't to be. Oprah wants money before she will calm me. There are no free meditation sessions on Oprah's app. I kept seeing empty screens that were devoid of relaxation. I actually became more stressed.
Now, I'm no expert on meditation apps, but this one seemed rather barren. The sample sessions were hidden away, and they were mainly just recordings of nice music. I didn't feel more calm after trying it out.
That wasn't the end of my experience with Oprah's meditation app. I kept getting emails from The Chopra Center, which is Deepak Chopra's guided meditation company. I hadn't signed up for these but I was getting an email a day. This made me angry, not mindful.
Calm is another popular app for mindfulness lovers. It was cofounded by Michael Acton Smith, who created London startup Mind Candy in 2004 (you probably know it from the "Moshi Monsters" game.)
Just like Headspace, Calm starts things off with a body scanning exercise. I'd already done a lot of body scanning, so I'd gotten pretty good at it by now.
One thing I did like about Calm was the ability to customise the experience. I chose the rainy forest background, and all of my meditation sessions received an added soundtrack of rain. It helped me relax, but it also made me want to go to the bathroom.
Another part of Calm is the accompanying book that can be found in almost every airport bookshop. It runs the reader through the principles from the app, and includes little sections you can fill in to document the things you feel most grateful for, or the things that made you feel calm on a particular day.
I asked a friend who seemed particularly happy which apps she would recommend, and she mentioned that Omvana is one of her favourites. The website for the app emphasises how much I could get for free, which was also appealing. It promised to change my life, inspire me, and help me sleep. That all sounded good. Hopefully I wouldn't have to do any more body scanning.
It turns out that Omvana is like a podcast library for meditation. You can subscribe to lots of different people and listen to them.
A lot of the tracks that were available were very expensive. I was also skeptical that they actually work. Does the "Overnight Riches" flowdream meditation track really bring you money?
I chose the "Laser Focus" session and downloaded it. It started playing some ominous music that sounded as if I was inside a big vacuum cleaner that was floating through space. There were some wind chimes too. This continued for the entirety of the 10-minute track. Was I now laser focused? I opened up my work emails to check. Nope, I still felt distracted. It was fairly relaxing while it lasted, though.
Hear and Now uses the principle of guided breathing to help users relax. I wasn't aware of guided breathing, so this was all new to me. It used a strange principle, though: I had to hold my phone in a certain way in my left hand, with my finger resting on my phone camera. Apparently it would use this to track my pulse. That seemed very unscientific, but I gave it a shot.
As soon as I chose to start my first Hear and Now meditation session, it triggered my phone flash and kept it on. I couldn't figure out how to relax without a bright light shining out of my phone. It claimed to use my phone to find my "biorythm," but it felt like pseudoscience.
My journey into the world of mindfulness taught me something pretty interesting: Most of the good apps follow the same series of steps for every session: breathe slowly, scan your body, try to relax, and cut out distractions. After spending a week doing that every day, I learned to do it without any apps at all.