So to share with you all I've learnt over the years, I've put together my favourite six applications for health, happiness and well being.
1. Insight Timer
This is a really simple app on my iPhone that has made a big difference in my meditation practice. Before using this app, I used to sit in meditation and wonder when the time was up (sound familiar anyone?). With this app I set the length of time I want to practice for, choose from a number of gorgeous sounding meditation bowl sounds, then close my eyes and let my iPhone hold the space for me during my meditation practice. I no longer need to think about how much longer I need to sit, or open one eye to quietly check the time in the middle of my practice.
I came across this timer when sitting with a renowned Buddhist meditation teacher in Byron 5 years ago. One day he decided that instead of keeping time himself and ringing the singing bowl at the end of the 20 minute practice, he would use this app. His students weren't that impressed, and he went back to the old skool method, but it gave me a great idea and I've been using it myself since then.
I often suggest this app to my iRest Yoga Nidra students. Once they feel comfortable with the meditation practice, they can ditch my recordings and practice without my voice guiding them, using this app to keep the practice contained and to help stop their mind from wandering to the time (because let's face it we could all do with one less excuse for our minds to wander!).
I was pretty stoked a few months ago when the folk from Insight Timer contacted me and asked me to share a meditation with them (along with Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield and Eckarht Tolle). As a long time user I jumped at the chance. Now you can listen to my Mindful Breathing Meditation for free on this app (over 4000 people listened to it in the first month it was live, woah!).
Cost = Free
I love taking and sharing photos, and Instagram is such a fun way of doing this. It's the main way we share our gratitude photographs in Capturing Gratitude, and it's a beautiful and simple of way of getting creative and creating community. I used to use different apps to edit my photos before posting on Instagram, but I prefer to keep it simple and only use in-app filters and effects.
Being creative, fostering community and focusing on what we're grateful are all so important for our emotional and physical health. Just because it's fun, doesn't mean it's not good for you!
Cost = Free
3. HeartMath Inner Balance
This is a simple Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitor that plugs into your iPhone or iPad. You download the app, clip the pulse sensor on one ear and plug the other end in your device. The sensor monitors your Heart Rate Variability, and the app instructs you to breathe and connect with your heart, while it records the change over the course of your practice.
HRV is the variation in intervals between adjacent heartbeats. In general, we're aiming for high variability. High HRV is associated with Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) dominance, known as the Relaxation Response or the Rest-Digest-Repair-and-Reproduce branch of the nervous system, and is very important for both physical and emotional well being.
The Inner Balance monitor gives us insight into the workings of our nervous system and a very simple way to induce high HRV and spend more time relaxing and feeling ok with the world, rather than stressing out.
I love sharing this app with my clients, as it demonstrates very visually the profound effect that breath practices (like this one) can have on our overall well being. It's one thing for someone to tell you that breathing well is good for you, but when you can actually see the effects of the practice on the monitor, it gives us more motivation to continue.
Cost = $185 AUD ($125 USD)
This is a new addition to my techy world. When the sun starts to set, my computer screen starts to turn orange. It was a little disconcerting initially, but I'm really loving it.
The reasoning behind this strange colour change, is to improve sleep quality. Melatonin levels in our body are designed to peak at night, helping us to go off to sleep. Melatonin acts as a messenger, signalling to the body that it's night time. Researchers have found that short wave light, the blue-ish light that is emitted by backlit devices (such as computer, television, phones and tablets) actually suppresses melatonin, which is why many people have difficulty getting to sleep at night after using these devices.
Ideally, I would say, the best thing to do would be to not use any devices an hour to two before bed, but if you have to (if like me you have young children and make the most of the time that they're tucked up in bed) using an app like F.lux may just help you sleep better.
Cost = Free
5. Google and Google Scholar
Ok, so maybe this is a total obvious one. But I love that if I want to know something, I can just hop online and find an answer. Of course we need to be careful when consulting 'Dr-Google' (self diagnosis with google can lead to some scary results), but generally I love having so much information at my finger tips.
Google Scholar is a great place to look for evidence based research about any topic you can think about. When I was researching the effects of working late on the computer on my sleep and when I was writing an article on the effects of stress on blood sugar levels for Rachel Zinman's Yoga for Diabetes blog, it was google scholar that I consulted.
Cost = Free
This is a really simple and intuitive list writing app. Writing TO DO lists helps me to keep track of everything I need to get done, across many areas of my life. Mostly I use Trello for work stuff ('write a blog about technology' may just be one of the items on it!). I have a list of things that need to get done, and at the beginning of the day, I decide what I'd like to work on that day, and drag all the tasks into a board labelled 'TODAY.' It helps to keep me focussed.
My husband and I also share a Trello board with our shopping list on it. We both add things when we run out of them in the kitchen, and whenever one of us is at the shops, it's easy to know what we need to buy (happily he's an even bigger tech nerd than me).
I've suggested this app to clients who are feeling overwhelmed by everything that they want to get done. The boards you create look like you're sticking post it notes on a wall, so it's really helpful to break tasks down, and to (virtually) cross them off you're list when you're done. Very satisfying!
The only downside of list writing (whether it's on paper or an app) is that we can get too consumed with writing the lists and freaked out by all the things we have to do. So my suggestion is to take it easy and leave lots of space for spontaneity and going with the flow.
Cost = Free
Have I missed anything? What are you favourite apps for health and well being? I'd love to hear about them below.
Thanks again for joining me here today,