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What’s The Best Meditation App For You?

Interested in meditation but don’t know where to start? All you might need is the right meditation tool to get going.

To some, the idea of using technology to find serenity seems insane. After all, the constant need to be connected to technology can often be the root cause of stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed.

However, the statistics tell a different story. In 2015 the meditation and mindfulness industry earned almost $1 billion, with millions of meditation app downloads worldwide. (1)

With so many options available, how do you know what meditation tool is right for you?

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Here’s the quick breakdown if you don’t have time to read the whole article:

  • If you’re new to meditation and looking to learn the basics, the Headspace app is for you.
  • If you’re looking for more than just meditation and would enjoy relaxing bedtime stories and background music as well, the Calm app is for you.
  • If you’re a beginner or intermediate looking to quickly develop meditation as a habit and are serious about training your mind for less stress and anxiety, the Muse headband and app is for you. The Muse app includes free guided meditation, background sounds, and real-time feedback if used with the Muse headband.  

But before we get into comparing each brand, we wanted to quickly touch on the question many have: Are technology and meditation compatible?

Why Using Technology to Meditate Isn’t Counterintuitive

The problem we face with technology is not the tool itself, but the apps we use and their impact on human behaviour. For example, many social media apps encourage addictive behaviours, such as mindless scrolling and clicking.

In contrast, technology can also be used in a constructive manner to promote positive behaviour. For example, meditation apps encourage sitting still, quieting the mind and deep breathing. The meditation sessions themselves don’t require actual screen time; just hitting the play button and listening to audio, similar to a CD player.

The Benefits of Meditation

Meditation is not just spiritual fluff or soul food – it works at a physiological level to change the structure of the brain. For example, it strengthens the neural connections related to logic and rational assessment and weakens the neural connections related to fear and anger. This results in greater self-awareness, emotional control, and puts space between our immediate judgments and responses. (2)

Fortunately, thousands of clinical studies have been conducted to date that verify meditation’s benefits. Research shows that meditation can improve: (3) (4)

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic pain
  • Blood pressure
  • Memory
  • Focus

With benefits like that, it’s no wonder we’re seeing a huge shift in interest.

So how do meditation apps help? Read on…

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How Meditation Apps & Tools Help: The Brain Workout

Let’s face the elephant in the room: meditation is difficult.

As technology has progressed and the pace of life has gotten faster, our minds have become wired to respond to instant gratification, constant achievement, and crossing off to-do lists. We no longer know how to sit still and do nothing. In fact, just the thought of doing nothing can trigger feelings of being overwhelmed, boredom, or anxiety for a lot of people.

This is where apps and meditation tools come in.

Meditation apps serve as a tool to help cross the bridge from doing to being. Specifically, meditation apps help in these three main ways:

    1. Structure: Most of us don’t know what to do with our wandering minds, but apps provide the motivation, guidance and structure that’s needed to get started.
    2. Habit formation. The key to an effective meditation practice lies in consistency, by incorporating it into your daily routine. Meditation apps encourage habit formation with scheduled reminders and progress tracking.
    3. Convenience. It can be difficult to find the time or energy to go to a meditation class, but meditation apps make it simple. You don’t have to go anywhere and can practice in the comfort of your bedroom.

Here’s where things get interesting – meditation at its core is essentially brain training, or working out your brain the same way you’d work out any other muscle group.  In order to be successful at brain training, you need to be working out regularly (i.e. develop a regular meditation practice) or you won’t see full results. The tricky thing about building new habits is: it’s really hard.  

Are you someone who’s already tried a few different apps and haven’t been able to start a consistent practice? 

You’re not alone. Meditation is HARD and for many, confusing even with a gentle voice guiding you.  One of the reasons we developed the Muse headband in combination with the Muse app is to help people take the guesswork out of meditation, by using live feedback so they know what’s going on in their head while they meditate – essentially acting as your personal meditation assistant.

Finding Daily Calm: The Best Meditation Apps & Tools For Your Needs 

While a wide range of meditation apps exist on the market, there are three popular apps that are top contenders for unique reasons – Headspace, Muse, and Calm. Whether you’re a beginner that prefers guided meditation or someone more advanced looking to deepen your practice, you’ll find your needs met with one of the options above.

The brief guide below will help you review each offer and find the best app for you:

 

HEADSPACE

What is the Headspace meditation app?

best meditation app, subscription cost headspace, refund headspace, pricing headspaceThe Headspace app contains a library of guided meditation sessions that are simple to follow, with the overarching goal to make meditation accessible to everyone.  There are specific programs such as meditation for sleep, work, stress, anxiety and focus that you can access with a paid subscription – unfortunately, you need to complete one pack first before switching around. With a subscription, there are also SOS meditations for when you need to take a quick breather that are three minutes each.

If you don’t like Andy P’s voice, you may be sorely disappointed with only having access to his voice alone for your guided meditation sessions.

Note: if you have Spotify, you can listen to some free samples of Headspace guided meditation, ranging from a “mindful breakfast”, to “how to sit” and even “an early morning hike”.

best meditation app, headspace cost, headspace subscription, pricing headspace

Who is Headspace good for? Beginners.

This is a great app for absolute beginners to meditation, who may not even see the point of mindfulness or meditation just yet. The Headspace app oversimplifies meditation, which ensures that it is not too demanding for users and also adds cute animations to brighten up the user experience.

Opt for Headspace is you are reluctant to try meditation and would like a gentle introduction.

Headspace free trial:

instead of a free trial period, Headspace offers lifetime access to a specific set of limited free content.
This includes:

  • Basics (ten sessions – once you’ve done these, you can go back and do any of them again, but to access any other content, you need a subscription.)
  • Breathe Mini
  • 1 session from the most popular pack in each series
  • Singles Introductions
  • Everyday Headspace (3 sessions)
  • Add up to five friends as meditation buddies, and view each other’s stats.

You can also review some of your meditation stats such as the average amount of time you meditate, the total number of sessions you’ve done, your total time meditating with the app, and how long of a streak you’ve kept up. To unlock more content you have to subscribe.

subscription cost headspace, headspace price, pricing headspace, best meditation app
Image via www.headspace.com

Headspace subscription cost: $12.99-$399.00

$12.99/month, $95.88/year, $399.99 for lifetime subscription.

Headspace Refund and cancellation:

New subscribers are entitled to a full refund within 7 days after purchase for subscriptions that are longer than one month. Subscription automatically renews unless cancelled. It can be cancelled at any time without early termination fees and does offer a money back guarantee.

MUSE: the brain sensing headband & app

What is the Muse: the brain-sensing headband and its app?

best meditation app, subscription cost calm, refund calm, pricing calm Muse is different to all other meditation apps on the market – it’s a smartphone app and a brain-sensing headband that tracks your brainwaves and gives you live audio feedback while you meditate through the app. In fact, it’s the first tool in the world that can give you accurate, real-time feedback on what’s happening in your brain while you meditate.

Muse provides feedback by translating your brain signals into guiding sounds, such as wind, rain, or gentle ocean waves.

For example, when your mind is calm and settled, you hear calm and settled winds. When your mind is active the winds will pick up and blow.

After each session, you’ll see how you did with easy charts showing how much time your mind spend in active, calm, and neutral states. You can track your progress over time, complete challenges, and earn points to stay engaged and on track.  

Muse’s whole approach revolves around helping you find what type of guidance works best for you.  Instead of having several different guided meditation sessions telling you what to do, we offer different techniques to try to see what guidance works best for you personally through the real-time feedback.

Don’t want a headband? You can still download and use the Muse app for free with no headband to access simple guided meditations and nature soundtracks.
best meditation app, refund headspace, pricing headspace, subscription cost headspace

Who is Muse good for? Absolute beginners to advanced meditators. 

Whether you are a beginner or more advanced, Muse is ideal for anyone who is committed to building an effective meditation practice and is motivated to train their brain and develop a consistent and satisfying meditation practice.

Muse app subscription cost: Free

There is no ongoing subscription fee to use the app. You can download and use the Muse app with no headband to access simple guided meditations and nature soundtracks.  If you’re interested in using the app with the headband you simply make a one-time payment of $249 for the headband.

Muse free trial:

The Muse app is 100% free to download, and the Muse headband comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee

Refund and cancellation:

Same as above, return within 30 days for a full refund if you are not satisfied with your purchase.

CALM

What is the Calm app?

best meditation app, subscription cost calm, refund calm, pricing calm

 

The Calm app is not specific to meditation – it provides three main options on the home screen to help you calm down: music, meditation and sleep stories (yes, actual bedtime stories!)

Similar to Headspace, the Calm app provides specific programs for stress, happiness, sleep, focus and more.  Calm also has a decent variety of different instructors to allow you to see what voices and content resonate with your individual preference. 

 

It also allows you to tailor your experience based on the following goals:

  • Develop gratitude
  • Better sleep
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Increase happiness
  • Improve focus
  • Learn to meditate

best meditation app, subscription cost calm, refund calm, pricing calm

Who is Calm good for? Beginners to intermediate.

The Calm app is ideal for beginners, who are new to meditation and mindfulness. However, it can be used by intermediate and advanced meditators as well.

Calm app free trial:

7 days of access to a limited library of sleep stories, meditation programs and music. The ‘masterclass’ tab is not available in the trial and unlocked with a premium pass.

best meditation app, subscription cost calm, refund calm, pricing calm best meditation app, subscription cost calm, refund calm, pricing calm
image via www.calm.com

Calm app subscription cost:

$12.99/month, $59.99/year and $299.99 for a lifetime subscription.

Calm app refund and cancellation:

You must cancel your monthly or yearly Subscription before it renews to avoid the billing of the fees for the next subscription period. According to Calm.com’s terms of service, refunds are not available for the fees that are already paid in the current subscription period and all payments made are non-refundable and non-transferable.

So, What’s The Best Meditation App For You?

  • If you’re new to meditation and looking to learn the basics, the Headspace app is for you.
  • If you’re looking for more than just meditation and would enjoy relaxing bedtime stories and music as well, the Calm app is for you.
  • If you’re a beginner or intermediate looking to quickly develop meditation as a habit and are serious about training your mind for less stress and anxiety, the Muse headband and app is for you. 

 

Muse Makes Meditation Easy. 

Stop guessing if you’re doing it right — start tracking your progress and reaching your goals.

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FREE SHIPPING & MONEY BACK GUARANTEED 

SOURCES:

  1. Wieczner, J. (2016). http://fortune.com. [online] Fortune. Available at: http://fortune.com/2016/03/12/meditation-mindfulness-apps/ [Accessed 1 Jun. 2018].
  2. Gladding, R. (2013). This is your brain on meditation. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/use-your-mind-change-your-brain/201305/is-your-brain-meditation  [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].
  3. Moore, A., Gruber, T., Derose, J. and Malinowski, P. (2012). Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6.
  4. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (n.d.). Meditation: In Depth. [online] Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm#hed3 [Accessed 1 Jun. 2018].

I measured my brainwaves for 1000 days straight: Why, how, & what transformed as a result

Michael Balchan was our first ever “Muse Millionaire” (1,000,000 calm points!!), and recently we’ve had the pleasure of following along his 1000 day journey of meditation with Muse. His results, transformation, and reflections were truly insightful.

This article has been lovingly republished with permission from the original found here.

“I know of no other single activity that by itself can produce such a great improvement in the quality of life.” – Bernie Siegel, M.D 

“The purpose […] is nothing less than the radical and permanent transformation of your entire sensory and cognitive experience.” – Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

In 2013, several years into a commodity trading career and desperately seeking answers for how to both manage my stress and improve my performance, I experienced an event that would change everything.

I’d been experimenting with meditation for months. It was the latest in a series of well-being activities designed to close the gap between how I wanted to feel and how I actually did. Enough people and resources had recommended the practice, it seemed be foolish not to try. So, I followed simple instructions from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, did a short audio course from Oprah & Deepak Chopra, and worked my way up to 10-15 minutes a day.

Then, one day, a shift happened.

It was after the close of commodity markets but before the end of the day for equities. I was wrapping up my post-trading work. when I heard my brother speaking a bit loudly considering many people were still focused on the open equity market.

He was close enough for me to speak to and an older-brother pattern in my brain immediately activated. The ‘make sure he knows it’s better to not do that,’ one. That pattern typically ends in a harsh, condescending comment – not a behavior I was proud of.

But, just as I was about to snap at him, I realized that I had a choice. I didn’t have to respond negatively. More importantly, I didn’t want to. Unfortunately, the split-second insight alone wasn’t enough. I watched myself continue, as if on autopilot, with the sub-optimal behavior.

The experience was a revelation.

I hadn’t yet been able to step in and change my behavior, but I’d discovered the gap that existed between what happened in the world outside – and how I chose to respond to it. On a deep level, I finally understood Viktor Frankl’s insight: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Having experienced a taste of the change meditation was capable of creating, I was hooked. I made a 100% commitment to training my brain every (!) single (!) day (!).

I was going to master my relationship with my mind. 

Over the following months, I continued with my daily breath-focused practice. I started noticing positive changes in many areas that meditation can impact: mental health, performance, happiness, relationships, focus, productivity, creativity, and more.

But, by the winter of 2014, my progress was reaching a plateau.

Highly regarded teachers and practitioners taught that the most important part of meditating is showing up, and that we shouldn’t “judge” our meditations – advice I followed. (and still do!) Still, new technologies had the potential to accelerate my progress and shorten the path to mastery.

It was time for me to up my game.

Enter: The Muse Headband

The Muse headband is a slim headband embedded with a personal, portable set of EEG sensors. Wearing it connects your brain to your phone, utilizing “transformative neurofeedback technology” to give “accurate, real-time feedback on what’s happening in your brain while you meditate.”

Bulletproof Exec Dave Asprey gave the Muse a strong recommendation in his first Quarterly box, where he encouraged taking a data-backed approach to mental training. Smartcuts author Shane Snow offered similar advice after his two-week experiment with Muse, shared on the 4-Hour Blog: “Can you rewire your brain in two weeks? The answer appears to be — at least partially — yes.”1

I was intrigued, and excited. Research by Anders Ericcson, whose work was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell as the “10,000-hour rule,” identified the fundamental role feedback plays in purposeful (or “deliberate”) practice. The quality of feedback is vital for learning new skills, as is the timing. The sooner feedback follows an action, the faster the brain can draw an association between that action and the outcome produced.

If the Muse could provide real-time feedback on how different ways of thinking affected my mind, I could accelerate my progress. Extend the results from Snow’s experiment over a longer period, and I might be able to achieve mental mastery in a fraction of the time: months and years instead of decades.

I’d already made a commitment to daily mental training. As Jack Canfield says, “Once you make a 100% commitment to something, there are no exceptions. It’s a done deal. Non-negotiable. Case closed! Over and out.” If nothing else, the Muse would be a fun way to track my progress and hold myself accountable.

It would also be a great thing to share with people who’d experimented with meditation but “didn’t know if I was doing it right” or “didn’t know if it was working.” And, even though I’d experienced phenomenal gains, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wondered the same.

So I ordered a headband* and anxiously awaited the start of my own neuro-enhancement experiment. Would it be significantly different from what I’d been doing up to that point? If the Muse worked, would the results translate to life outside of my sessions? Could I train my mind to be in a state of present moment awareness and calm – all the time?

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I was excited to find out.

 *[link is good for 15% off.]

A Journey of 1,000 Days Begins With…

The Muse headband arrived on the day after Christmas: December 26th, 2014. I immediately connected it to my phone and started playing around with the software.

Rather than displaying brain waves by frequency – alpha, beta, delta, etc. – the app simplifies things into three groups: either my mind was active, neutral, or calm.

When the headband senses that your brain is in an active state, the app plays sounds of violent weather and strong winds blowing. As your mind quiets, so does the weather, until the wind is still and waves are gently lapping at the shore. Remain calm for a few seconds and birds begin to chirp. Collect as many birds as you can, spend time in a calm state to earn “calm points,” and receive various awards for different achievements: this is gamification in full force.

Muse: The Brain Sensing Headband

After setting up the band and completing the required three-minute introductory session, during which I earned exactly zero birds, I settled in for a twelve-minute meditation. It started strong, but around 3 minutes in my attention began to wander. The wind picked up and the birds flew away.

By the time I finished, I’d spent 55% of the time in a calm state.

It was both a reassurance that I’d been moving in the right direction and a clear demonstration that I had a lot of room for improvement.

My Muse streak increased to “1…

Over the next few days, I experimented with different techniques. I tried to pay attention to what part of my mind was thinking (or not), and where my focus was – sometimes on the breath, sometimes counting, and sometimes on a mantra.

Each day, the streak grew. In less than a week, I was recording sessions with calm percentages in the mid-80s.

However, once the holidays ended and the New Year began, I had a hard time replicating those results. I could see the impact of less sleep, busier days, and volatile markets in the quality of my meditations. I noticed that I was often falling asleep during the mid-week, early morning sessions. My scores dropped and the birds abandoned me.

Clearly, I had more work to do.

The goal, after all, wasn’t to find intense periods of internal peace, but to be able to do it regularly and consistently. Especially when the world around me was encouraging otherwise.

Progress

In the weeks and months that followed, I once again began to experience dramatic increases in my quality of life. Muse was delivering. The streak continued to grow, and scores continued to improve.

Initially, I could only hold a calm state for a shorter period. As my practice progressed, so did the length of time I could maintain focus.

After 100 days I felt proud. I’d learned that instead of forcing my mind to think (or not think) in a certain way, it was better to let go and allow the bio-feedback to do its work. Without me getting in the way, my brain quickly got the hang of how to get the birds chirping. It was Wu Wei – the ancient Taoist concept of “non-action” or “non-doing.” And it was working.

After a few months of consistently high-quality sessions, I re-introduced conscious control. I started working on being able to enter a calm state at will. By using the audio as a key to intentionally adjust what my mind was doing, I gradually found how to purposefully create the same state that my brain had done intuitively.

I also re-introduced other techniques I’d learned – mantras, binaural beats, visualizations etc. – using the headband to capture data on their effectiveness.

On day 291 I passed the 1 Million mark for “calm” points. Apparently, that had not been done before.

December rolled around and my streak rolled past one year. 365 days. It was a psychological milestone that got me thinking. In another year the streak would be around 700. Keep going, and I could get it to four digits: 1,000. That felt exciting. It was a long way off, but doable if I continued to focus on one day at a time.

As the streak increased, so did my commitment. Each milestone gave me more motivation to continue.

+1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 …

Every day, the length of my streak grew by one. Each day, my mind – and my relationship with it – grew stronger.

I started loosely alternating between sessions with the audio feedback on and sessions with the audio feedback off. That way, I continued to benefit from the neuro-feedback training, while also improving my ability to assess and alter my mental state without the Muse. By doing sessions with the audio feedback turned off and analyzing results after each meditation finished, I could compare what I thought the data would show to what it actually did. Eventually, this would become my primary way of training.

Meanwhile, the Muse headband went with me everywhere. I meditated at home in the early morning, on benches in the park, and in the back of the trading floor after the close. I wore it on planes, trains, and busses.

I logged sessions next to wildlife in the African Savanah and surfers on the beaches of Australia.

I once even meditated with the headband while riding my bike through the streets of Chicago, wondering how high a score I’d be able to capture as I navigated traffic. (Better than expected.)

Time I spent meditating in the morning had a significantly positive impact on the rest of the day. The rest of the day also had an impact on my sessions. The clock-time, environment, and amount of caffeine I consumed all impacted the calm score. But the number one factor, by far, was how sleep deprived I was. If tired, I’d fall asleep while meditating and quickly register an active brain state.

No matter how advanced I got, once fatigue took over the overall session score would plummet. On those days, I took comfort knowing that a short rest was exactly what I needed – and often had a bigger impact.

Still, even in deep-recharge mode and completely unplugged from the world in every other way, I made time to train with the Muse.

At 500 days, extreme negative reactions were rare, and any aggressive behaviors were made by choice rather than the result of backlash. During volatile markets, I could tell when I was losing control of my mind. I knew how to use one or two minutes to get re-centered and re-focused. When my wife or family said something that upset me, I was able (most of the time :) to express that upset in a calm way, and move together with them to a resolution.

It was becoming easier and easier to intentionally find “calm.” My session scores had stopped climbing, but my “calm life” score continued to increase.

The distinction between the things I could control and things I couldn’t was becoming very clear. As the ancient Greek slave turned Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote in the Enchideron, “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

As my mental training continued, I wasted less time, energy, and attention on anything I wasn’t unable to control. The past, other people’s behavior, the weather, illnesses, global geopolitical events, what other people think of us – these things aren’t within any of our control. But the actions that we take and the way we behave – that is.

I was more consistently choosing actions that I felt proud of and satisfied by.

Gus, by the way, also loved meditating with the Muse. Both at home…

and on vacation…

At day 731, (two years in) a sense of presence, mindfulness, and peace were the default. I kept my cool through emotionally charged inter-personal situations. I maintained mental stability during periods of intense turmoil. During challenging athletic events or painful physical moments, I was able to find internal acceptance and strength.

It had become completely clear why experts across industries stress the importance of training our minds – there is simply no other skill as widely impactful, or as critical.

As Psychologist Belisa Vranich urges, “You must have a meditation or mindfulness component on your to-do list. Period. Recent research has been confirming this conclusion with ever more evidence as chemical changes, physical brain volumes, and meticulously set physiological markers are tracked and recorded.”

Then, on September 20th, 2017, the streak hit 1,000 days.

The congratulatory message was identical to the day before, only with one more digit. The real award was internal – I knew how much I’d changed, and the impact that it had on my life, as well as the lives of those around me.

The space between stimulus and response had become a place to live from, rather than just visit.

As Frankl said, that space presents a choice. It is the choices we make in those micro-moments that determine how we feel about our lives. When we make choices that align with our highest selves, the people who we want to be, and the values that we want to guide us – happiness ensues. Eudamonia. “Human flourishing.”

I had high expectations for how the Muse would help me to expand my mind. I hadn’t expected it to expand my heart and soul as well.

Lessons & Results

My meditation practice started with hope (+ faith) and out of respect for everyone who’d recommended and encouraged it.

After passing 1,500 days of meditation – 1,000 supercharged by the Muse headband – I can unequivocally say that it has transformed my life. My moment to moment experience of being has shifted on a fundamental level. I’m happier, more satisfied, more successful, more present, more loving, more stable, and more alive than I’ve ever been.

It’s as if I’d previously been living in a radio broadcast, only to now experience life in IMAX 3D with Digital Surround Sound. Instead of being a spectator, I’m now the creator of my experiences.

The neuro-feedback provided by the Muse was literally mind-altering, and the data collected played a big role in the brain’s re-wiring. Here are some of the final stats.

  • Over* 31,919 minutes of Muse-assisted meditation. (*Some sessions were lost due to connectivity problems.)
  • 67,702 birds collected.
  • 70,116 “recoveries:” catching the mind in an active state and returning to calm.
  • 3 million “calm points” earned.
  • Average session: 65% calm, ranging from lows in the single digits to highs in the mid-90s.

My journey has inspired me to write an introductory guide to meditation, lead group meditation workshops, and commit to supporting 5% of the world’s population in developing a daily mindfulness practice. (My team and I are currently working on an online pledge to track and support that global goal.)

As for the future, I don’t plan on going a day without meditating – for the rest of my life. The mind is just too important.

I’ve allowed the Muse streak to stop for now, but the headband continues to be a big part of my mental training arsenal. I’m due for an upgrade though – the old one has earned a break.

Are You Training Your Mind?

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