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Meditation apps: A wellbeing revolution or spiritual ‘fast food’? | USA

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The cellphone of Lucía García-Cabrera, a 31-year-old fashion designer, shows that she has meditated 328 days in a row with the Headspace app. “If I hadn’t been absent-minded some days, it would have been more than 400,” she says. García-Cabrera spends €50 a year to subscribe to Headspace – “the best €50 spent ever,” she says – and uses the app between 10 and 15 minutes a day, almost always before going to bed, and to do guided meditation. “My life has completely changed. I sleep much more deeply, I am more rested and during the day I do breathing exercises,” she says. “My perspective and vision of life have turned around. Everything goes very quickly and this is a way to say: we are going to stop and we are going to live in the present.”

García-Cabrera downloaded Headspace at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to help her manage the stress she felt from the constant stream of information about the virus. “You would put on the television and the bombardment of deaths was horrifying. This helped me to put things in perspective. I suppose that I could have meditated without the app, but it is easier for me to do it this way,” she says. Millions of people have made the same choice. The popularity of meditation and mindfulness apps has skyrocketed in the last 18 months.

Leading the boom are Calm, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times, and Headspace, which has more than 65 million downloads and last August merged with a platform funded by the investment fund Blackstone. Headspace was created by Andy Puddicombe, a Briton who spent 10 years training as a Buddhist monk and set up the app as a tool to help organize his own schedule. Now he lives in Silicon Valley and presides over a company that made more than €100 million in revenue in 2020. According to the Business of Apps news site, there are more than 5,000 similar meditation apps on the market, including Boom Journal, Ten Percent Happier, Buddhify, Calmer U and Mind U. All of them benefited from Apple’s decision to name Calm as the app of the year in 2017, and most grew during the pandemic.

It is not difficult to deduce why. Since March 2020, when the pandemic hit, there have been even more reasons to feel anxious and distressed, while solitude has worsened and seeing a therapist in person has become more difficult.

The cellphone application Calm.
The cellphone application Calm.Edward Smith (Getty Images)

Although the apps have different functions, in general, they provide guided meditations that simplify relatively complex practices so they can fit into everyday life. “I find non-guided meditation, with a gong, difficult. I can’t do it,” says Gerard (not his real name), who has been using Calm for four years and feels more centered, the more he uses it. “There are two teachers, the legendary Tamara Levitt, and another one called Jeff Warren, who share a different meditation every day. It hooks you in quite a bit because they are all different and you end up having a relationship with them which is similar to the one you have with your yoga teacher,” he says. Gerard has a creative job and in moments of peak stress, when for example, he is publishing a new book, he has used the app for up to two hours a day. He says it helps him to manage the fear of failure and imposter syndrome.

There are still very few clinical trials on meditation apps, and those that have been carried out have been very small. Most, however, conclude that using this type of app does have a positive effect. In a study by Carnegie Mellon University, 140 adults were asked to practice mindfulness via an app for 20 minutes a day for two weeks. According to the research, the participants’ cortisol levels dropped and their blood pressure improved.

Maintaining that meditation is the cure for all problems is wrong and potentially dangerous

Miguel Farias, professor at Coventry University

Despite this, some experts have misgivings about the use of mindfulness and meditation apps, both for the methods they use and the philosophy they preach. For Francesc Miralles, the author of self-help books such as Cuentos para quererte mejor (or, Stories to Love Yourself Better) and La biblioteca de la luna (or, Library of the Moon), meditating via a cellphone app voids the purpose of meditation. “Something that should serve to disconnect you from the mundane, from the projections of the past and future, becomes part of the everyday noise by being transmitted via a screen. There are things that should remain analog,” says Miralles, who also gives talks and teaches workshops. He is also skeptical about quantifying meditation. “Just like before the pandemic, when people would visit three countries in a week just to say they had been there, this also promotes the cult of speed. Anyone who has practiced meditation knows that the benefits come after many hours. Zen monks achieve satori [a term for awakening in Japanese Buddhism] after a lot of practice, but these applications promise results in five or ten minutes. Why not five seconds, while you’re at it? It perverts everything and gives you spiritual fast food.”

According to Miguel Farias, a professor of cognitive and biological psychology at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, the problem is not so much in the way the mediation apps work, but rather in what they teach. “Maintaining that meditation is the cure for all problems is wrong and potentially dangerous,” says Farias, who researches the impact of spiritual practices on the human mind. “Meditation does not help all individuals, and in some cases, it can even be counterproductive.” Farias is also worried that the apps are being used as a substitute for therapy, a trend that is already being seen in the United States, where 60% of the market for meditation apps is concentrated, and where access to healthcare is difficult and expensive. “An app is simply a product designed to be simple and it is developed with business goals in mind,” says Farias. “In no instance can it give you what a teacher who is aware of the subtleties of meditation and the individuals, including the potential dangers, can give.” In his book The Buddha Pill, Farias and the psychologist Catherine Wikholm warn that, after meditation, some people experience panic attacks or anxiety, and some cases of depression even worsen.

Both Farias and Miralles believe that the success of these apps is about what has come to be called “McMindfulness,” a term popularized by cultural researcher Ronald Purser. Purser argues that meditation has been turned into a tool for control and to pacify society – one that is now used by armies, schools and corporations. In this way, spirituality has been adjusted to fit within the capitalist system. “We are already seeing how meditation has been absorbed by neoliberalism,” says Farias. “Many companies now make their employees responsible for their own mental health at work. If you are stressed, it’s your duty to meditate with this app. If you continue to be stressed, you are not doing it right.” Search engine Google and professional networking site LinkedIn are among the more than 600 businesses that have agreements with Headspace.

Many individual users, however, only see meditation apps as a useful way to disconnect. García-Cabrera, for example, recommends Headspace to all of her friends. “I would never say it is a replacement for therapy, but it can complement it,” she says. “Spending five minutes with yourself does nobody any harm.”



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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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