Reading Circle Pages

Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Apps & the Art of Relaxation

A few months ago, my sister Lydia gifted me with an iPhone. While I'm not thrilled with the cost of keeping it up and running, my relationship with my iPhone has become so strong that I often joke that it is unwholesome. I literally sleep with my iPhone under my pillow at night.

Why? Originally, it was to feed my bedtime audio book habit, but I can use my old iPod classic for that. Instead, I've grown more and more dependent on my iPhone apps to relax me and help me sleep. During a recent trip to my parents’ house, sleeping in my mother's room with several interruptions a night because she was ill, I used hypnosis and relaxation apps to help me fall right back to sleep.

2009 was a stressful year for me, and insomnia has been an ongoing problem in years past, so I searched through reviews to find the apps that users thought were the most helpful. And I’m cheap—so I weigh the decision to spend even three bucks very carefully.

I have a few apps that I love so much that I want to share them. I'm also curious about which relaxation apps work for you. They also work for iPod Touch, which may even be a better choice—because there’s nothing less relaxing than a phone call in the middle of your relaxation.

Here are my favorites:

RELAX WITH ANDREW JOHNSON ($2.99 version / Free Lite version)

Maybe it’s the accent (Johnson is a hypnotherapist from Scotland), but his apps conk me out. I’ve never had traditional hypnotherapy, and I don’t necessarily feel like I’m in a “trance,” but his lulling voice always does the job. I use this one when I need a quick nap, or when I have a moment to meditate during a stressful day.

Hint: With Johnson’s apps, use the “controls” to program how long you want the induction to be (I suggest using the long induction) and whether you want to sleep or wake afterward. The first times I used it, I didn’t realize I could control whether or not he wakes me up, and I was in blissful slumber when I heard this loud voice saying “WAKE UP!” as if he was standing over me. Great if you need to get up, but not so much at night. It’s not an alarm clock, but you can also set the time you want to wake up. (I haven’t used this function, though.)

There is also a Free RELAX WITH ANDREW JOHNSON LITE. (I got the paid version before I knew about it, so I don’t know the difference.)


Ahhhh…sleep! I have used this app several times, but I have to admit I have no idea what Johnson says after the induction, or only part of the induction. Why? I’m ASLEEP! I’ve never heard his Relax app all the way through either. I hope he isn’t planting messages that I should run naked through my neighborhood, but I’ll probably never know.


Sometimes you just need a voice in your ear to remind you that YOU are in control. For me, when the answer isn’t a nap or a good night’s sleep, the Positivity app is the perfect break from the day to remind me to keep a positive outlook. It really works for me.


There is no voice induction in this app, just what’s called “binaural tones” that are designed to trigger mental states in the listener. There is also soothing background noise like ocean waves or thunderstorm, and you use the controls to set the volume on the tones, volume for the background noise, or how long you want the session to last.

I have meditated for years, on and off, and I use this app when I want to do straight meditation. The different tones are named “Chakra Meditation,” “Euphoric Bliss,” “Lucid Dreaming,” etc. This app probably would work better for someone who has some experience with meditation. My husband, Steve, meditates with stillness, which is probably best—but sometimes I need help shutting down my thoughts. This app helps do the trick.

AMBIANCE (.99 version / free Lite version)

If sound effects are your thing, whether or not you want to use them for relaxation, Ambiance is a terrific app that’s like an app store unto itself. There are more than 3,000 5-star reviews for this app on iTunes, and for good reason: It’s an amazing effects library. For 99 cents, you install the app and then browse for sounds you want, which are updated frequently. You only download the sounds you want to your phone, but you can sample them all.

My personal library is pretty standard so far: “Canadian geese,” “English country birds,” “Evening waves,” “Seagulls,” “Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir,” etc. But new updates include “Riding through a Victorian Street,” “Forest Fires,” “Bees,” etc.

All I can say is: Different strokes for different folks. I’m not sure why someone would want to listen to combat sounds or a washing machine spin cycle, but I saw reviewers with infants who had great luck getting their kids to sleep with some of the repetitious sounds.

There is also AMBIANCE LITE, which is free—but again, I don’t know the difference. You might want to check out the free version to see what you think.

Of course, iPhone apps aren’t my only tools for dealing with life’s challenges and stress: There’s prayer, which I still do the old-fashioned way. (Although I’m sure there are apps for that!)

And I’m very lucky to be married to a life coach, Steven Barnes, who has a lot of terrific tools for tackling life on his website at Steve is the one who taught me how to meditate with his Heartbeat Meditation, which I use every time I meditate by feeling for my pulse in my fingertips. Ideally, Steve suggests listening to your heartbeat without touching your fingertips or feeling your pulse, but I know I’m working toward stillness when I can relax into my pulse. When I’m trying to still my active mind, my pulse is the perfect anchor.

I often combine Steve’s Heartbeat Meditation with the BRAINWAVE ALTERED STATES and AMBIANCE apps to create an even more cleansing experience.

Between my husband and my iPhone apps, I survived 2009—and I’m ready for everything 2010 has in store. Bring it on!