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The world can be a chaotic, unpredictable place. That’s a lesson many of us took to heart as the COVID-19 pandemic surged, and throughout the political and economic tumult that followed.
During times of acute anxiety, a lot of folks have turned to ancient techniques to clear their headspace, alleviate stress, and develop a more stable mental condition. One such technique is meditation.
Just because meditation has been around for centuries, that doesn’t mean it comes easily to everyone… nor that it must be done without cutting-edge assistance. To that end, many novice and veteran meditators alike turn to state-of-the-art apps to guide their efforts.
As you seek meditation apps to help you develop your own self-care practice, which ones are most worthy of your attention? Are all meditation apps the same, or do they do different things?
In this post, we’ll walk you through some of the different options and help you discover the meditation apps that may be right for you.
Before we get to the apps, it may be worthwhile to discuss meditation in broader terms.
Meditation can be understood as a set of techniques intended to focus your attention and enhance your alertness.
Headspace, one of the top meditation app providers, notes that meditation “isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person.”
Instead, the practice of meditation is focused on gaining an improved perspective. “You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings,” notes Headspace. “You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.”
It’s also worth noting that meditation has been linked with a number of therapeutic benefits and positive mental health effects… but more on that in a minute.
Meditation may be incorrectly understood as a contemporary trend… essentially, a lifestyle fad. Nothing could be further from the truth! Actually, meditation has a long and rich history. Consider a few fast facts:
Meditation started finding favor in the West back in the 1960s and the 1970s, when it was typically associated with the burgeoning “hippie” movement. But as meditation’s clinical benefits become clearer and clearer (and, as they found scientific backing), these associations faded.
Today, meditation is widely employed by those who are looking for healthy, holistic ways to cope with worry, stress, depression, and a range of other mental health conditions.
Clearly, there are a lot of people who have found value in meditation. Even so, before you begin your own practice of meditation, it can be helpful to gain some clarity on why you want to meditate in the first place.
Proponents of meditation point to a number of potential health benefits. For example, the practice of meditation may help you accomplish any of the following:
These aren’t just idle boasts. There is actually plenty of scientific literature that suggests meditation can improve health and wellbeing.
As Harvard Health notes, meditation can actually provide relief for the symptoms of depression, chronic pain, and beyond. (You can also find studies suggesting meditation as a remedy for irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, PTSD, though many of these studies are sketchy, at best.)
The most promising research of all is Harvard’s study into meditation as a means for treating depression: There is evidence that the practice of meditation can actually change the brain of depressed patients, providing them with some relief from their symptoms.
For those who are just getting started with meditation, it may also be worth observing the different kinds of meditation. Here are some of the broad categories.
This Buddhist practice is probably the most popular type of meditation in America today. It’s also the one with the most scientific research attesting to its effectiveness.
Mindfulness meditation has a basic premise: You simply pay attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind. Your job isn’t to judge or evaluate them, but simply to make note of them, and to identify any patterns.
Those who practice mindfulness meditation often focus on their breath, or on bodily sensation, as a way to stay grounded. Mindfulness meditation is one of the best options for beginners, and for those who don’t have a teacher (or an app!) to guide them.
Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism all have components of spiritual meditation.
Essentially, this involves reflecting on the silence around you, and seeking a closer connection with the Divine. For some practitioners, spiritual meditation is very closely related to prayer.
For some, essential oils are used to heighten the sensory experience and enhance the meditation process; this isn’t necessary but may be worth trying.
Spiritual meditation is most recommended for people who are comfortable with silence, who value their sense of spirituality, and/or who long to be closer with God or the Universe.
Another option for meditation is focused meditation, which usually involves concentration on one of the five senses.
There are plenty of examples of how this might work: You can focus on the sounds of a babbling brook. You can stare at the flicker of a candle. Or you can simply concentrate on your own breathing.
The object of your attention really doesn’t matter; what matters is focusing your awareness on a single sensory experience. It may sound simple, but for novices, maintaining your focus can be really hard. It may take some time before you can condition your mind not to wander too far!
Focused meditation is a good option for, well, anyone who is looking to bring more focus to their life.
Think meditation has to be quiet and still? Think again. Some people find it easier to concentrate when they are moving. Movement meditation is commonly associated with yoga, but you could just as easily meditate while gardening, walking in a secluded location, etc.
There’s one more form of meditation for us to highlight, and that’s progressive meditation. You may also know it as body scan meditation.
It works like this: With progressive meditation, you need to be sitting or lying down in a comfortable place, and a comfortable position. You practice this form of meditation by tensing, then releasing, one muscle group at a time. You may do this by simply working your way up and down your body.
Some teachers say you should imagine a gentle wave of energy flowing through your body, helping you release tension. It’s certainly worth trying!
This can be a really valuable form of meditation for those who hope to reduce their anxiety level, or simply to unwind a little bit before they go to bed.
If you’re new to meditation, it can be challenging to know where to begin. Naturally, the first step is to think about your motivations for meditating; to choose the form of meditation that best aligns with your goals; and perhaps to consider using an app.
Beyond that, here are a few general guidelines for getting started with meditation.
With all of that said, using an app may be a good way to get your feet wet, and to start enjoying some of the benefits of meditation. With that said, here are some of our picks for the best meditation apps currently on the market.
We’ve chosen the following apps based on personal experience as well as user reviews/popularity. Also note that we’ve tried to pick different kinds of apps to accommodate different preferences and needs.
The Calm app is not only an outstanding choice for beginners, but it’s also an invaluable tool for those who already practice meditation but wish to make their practice even deeper.
Part of the reason why Calm is such a useful, widely functional meditation app is that it allows you to choose from a range of options: Are you looking to increase your focus? To deal with anxious thoughts? Simply to gain some emotional calmness and clarity? No matter what you are hoping to accomplish through your meditation practice, Calm will give you a way to do it.
Moreover, we like Calm because it’s actually focused on teaching you something. Spend some time with this app and you’ll actually develop some meditation tools and stress relief strategies you can implement throughout the day.
Speaking of which, Calm offers some ways to enhance your meditation, such as guided stretches to help with stress release.
It’s an excellent app for anyone with an interest in meditation. We are happy to recommend the Calm app.
The Mindfulness App
The Mindfulness App is another good choice for beginners. For one thing, you can’t beat the price; this one is currently a free download. And clearly, people like it; right now, it has a near-perfect user rating in the App Store.
But what does The Mindfulness App do, exactly? Well, quite a bit. You may want to begin with the five-day, guided intro to mindfulness, which is a really useful crash course for novices. There are a number of other options included, such as timed meditation sessions that can be either guided or silent, depending on your preference.
Finally, The Mindfulness App allows you to check out some personal statistics and trendlines, which can be really useful for those who like to log or journal their meditations.
For anyone looking to explore mindfulness meditation, this is an app well worth your time and attention. Download Mindfulness and give it a try.
We already mentioned Headspace as one of the most popular meditation apps. Now, let’s take a closer look at what makes the app so useful.
Headspace is a good option for anyone who’s seeking a rich array of meditation options and relaxation techniques. Like Calm, Headspace allows you to choose your own meditation goals. Whether you’re seeking calmness, focus, or life balance, Headspace will let you chart the right course.
We especially like some of the bedtime routines. For example, Headspace gives you some options to enjoy the soothing sounds of nature, or bedtime stories to help you doze off. It’s definitely one of the better meditation apps for those who are looking to unwind before sleep.
Headspace is available for free, though you may need to pay for some of the enhanced features. It’s a good app and deserves its reputation as an industry leader.
If we had to pick the meditation app that offers the most bang for buck, we might have to go with Insight Timer.
Here’s why we say that: Insight Timer lets you access more than 45,000 different meditations, all of them free. The biggest complaint people have about their meditation apps tends to be lack of fresh content; well, you’re not going to exhaust this library any time soon!
Not only are there plenty of options here, but Insight Timer makes it easy to find the meditation that suits your needs. You can filter by the type of meditation you’re looking for, or by time. (For example, you can search only for five-minute meditations, half-hour meditations, etc.)
This is another good one for beginners, as it will allow you to sample different kinds of meditation. We’re pleased to give Insight Timer a big thumbs up.
Ten Percent Happier
Do you worry that you’re just not the meditation type?
If so, we highly recommend you dive in with Ten Percent Happier. This app will guide you through the basic mechanics of meditation in a way that’s intuitive, accessible, and fun. It’s an ideal primer for novices and skeptics.
One thing we especially like about Ten Percent Happier is that it allows you to enjoy a number of “on the go” meditations. If you’re looking for a way to mediate while you’re in the car or riding the train, this is an app you’re going to want to download.
And, Ten Percent Happier will let you track your “mindful days,” which means you can gauge your progress toward being a more mindful person.
We like this one and think you will too. Consider giving the Ten Percent Happier app a try.
Buddhify is a more advanced app. That’s not to say that it’s a poor choice for beginners, but it really shines with how it helps experienced meditators progress through different, more intensive types of practice.
When you use Buddhify, you can choose from hundreds of different meditations. There are different programs to assist you with specific needs and goals; for example, you can choose meditations that will enable you to sleep better, manage stress, cope with anxiety, and more.
There are also some activity-specific meditations, which is one of our favorite features. Want a meditation you can practice while you eat breakfast? While you drive to work? As you prepare for bed in the evening? With Buddhify, you’ll find all that and more.
Buddhify is an excellent pick, and one we’re happy to recommend. Download it and give it a try!
A lot of our favorite meditation apps allow you to choose from a wide range of practices. Sattva offers something a little different: The opportunity to really go deep into one very specific type of meditation.
This app draws specifically from Vedic principles, and provides a library of meditations, mantras, and chants that have been developed by Sanskrit scholars.
That may seem intimidating, but actually, this is a very accessible app. It’s designed to be beginner-friendly, and some of the meditations are just over five minutes long.
A number of other tools, such as meditation journals and playlists, make this an incredibly easy-to-use app. You’ll definitely want to give Sattva a try.
Stop, Breathe & Think for Kids
Hoping to get your son or daughter interested in meditation? Or simply to work some mindfulness into your family life? Here’s the app you need to download.
This is an app made to be used by kids and adults together. It provides practical tools for understanding your emotions, calming your body and mind, and constructively processing negative feelings, including depression and disappointment.
There are also some really fun, engaging, and widely appealing mindfulness games, which should be worthwhile for meditators of all ages!
For the kids, we’ll note that Stop, Breathe & Think offers colorful animations and bright “stickers” that can be used to incentivize your little ones to use the app.
There’s a lot to love about this one. Consider using Stop, Breathe & Think for Kids.
The Unplug app has a simple enough premise: If you have five free minutes, at any time in your day, then you have time enough to meditate. For those who want to ease into meditation without a massive time commitment, this app comes highly recommended. Not only are there some great guided meditations, but also simple timers and ambient sounds that allow you to practice meditation more independently.
We especially recommend the Unplug app for anyone who’s looking to alleviate stress or regain their focus during the middle of a busy workday. Download it and give it a whirl.
The last meditation app on our list is Simple Habit, which provides a generous catalog of meditations that are well-organized by meditation type and goal. It’s very easy to find a meditation specifically designed to increase your attentiveness, to help deal with disappointment, to boost your self-confidence, etc.
There are free and premium subscription models available. What we like about the paid version is that the meditations are available offline, meaning you can really meditate any time and in any place.
Simple Habit is well worth exploring, and we’re pleased to give it our stamp of approval. Give it a try!
Meditation can offer a wide range of health and wellness benefits, and ultimately be a path toward self-improvement. If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at meditating, but never quite knew how, we recommend downloading one of these apps. The best meditation apps will walk you through some different options and help you gain comfort and familiarity with this ancient practice.
And, by finding the right app, you can truly make the practice your own.
Remember, meditation isn’t one-size-fits-all, and the app that works for one person may not be ideal for you. Don’t hesitate to try a few different options as you seek a meditation app that meets your needs!
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