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Hello World | Your mind has a new guide, and it lives on your phone

At a time when we spend more and more time online, the practice of meditation seems like a great way to switch off and bring back focus. Try it.

November 10, 2021 / 06:19 PM IST
Illustration by Suneesh K.

Illustration by Suneesh K.

Note to readers: Hello world is a program developers run to check if a newly installed programming language is working alright. Startups and tech companies are continuously launching new software to run the real world. This column will attempt to be the "Hello World" for the real world.

About 3% of the world’s population has been infected by Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. But it has put a much larger population under Covid related anxiety, uncertainty, and distress. Quarantines and physical distancing made loneliness common worldwide. Things have been no different in India and mental health has been one of the biggest casualties since early 2020. 

hello-world-logo-258x258Exhibit: the number of searches for keywords like meditation and meditation app coincided with the Covid peaks in the country, according to Google Trends. This means the worse things got in the outside world, the more people turned inward to seek mental peace. The April-May-June period in both 2020 and 2021 saw a distinct swell in the interest for some form of online meditation. People from Goa, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, and many other Indian states have been looking up for guidance on how to meditate.

In India, therapists are harder to access or a no-go in traditional communities. Community life itself has been suspended. The popular satsangs, prayer meets, yoga classes have gone online. But people’s schedules have gone astray, too, thanks to the once-loved work from home, which could not live up to its promise in ways that people expected it to. Left with very few alternatives, the ever-faithful smartphone came to the rescue.

The meditation rookies knew one thing for sure. A guru, a teacher, a guide was essential. The practice is cryptic enough to warrant some assistance. And that is how the world of tech-driven remote and recorded guided meditations experienced unprecedented popularity in recent times. 

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Take for example the case of Calm, an app that produces guided meditations and sleep stories. Hardly anyone on the internet has escaped its social media advertising blitz. Calm has been downloaded more than one hundred million times globally. It is also part of an HBO Max Series where Hollywood A-listers like Nicole Kidman, Keanu Reeves, Idris Elba have been signed on to narrate entire episodes. 

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Another app called Headspace has more than 65 million downloads and made €100 million in revenue in 2020. It also merged with a platform funded by the investment fund Blackstone. Headspace's founder, a former monk, lives in Silicon Valley. There are more than 5,000 meditation apps out there and the business is booming, one way or another.

Several other apps such as Waking Up, Ten Percent Happier, Breathe, Sarva, Zen, and Insight Timer help you with this. If you’d rather not use an app, there are tracks from Tara Brach, The Yoga Bunny, and Lauren Gomola on Spotify that help you meditate. YouTube of course has great content, from folks like Greg D Vries, Jason Stephenson, The Honest Guys, and Yellow Brick Cinema. And lastly, content from spiritual gurus in India is also popular. 

Now I’m not qualified to debate the effects of meditation on mental health, but one thing is for sure, it helps me go to sleep on certain nights. A good night’s sleep helps me focus and regain the strength I need to take on the day. At a time when we spend more and more time online, driven by constant pings and dings on social media, the practice of meditation seems like a great way to switch off and bring back focus. Try it.

Also read: Healing Space | Why your meditation isn’t helping you cope
Jayadevan PK is a storyteller who focuses on business and technology. His first book, Xiaomi: How a Startup Disrupted the Market and Created a Cult Following, was published by Harper Collins in April 2021.
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