A version of this article was originally posted in the IDONTMIND Journal.
It’s strange that we turn to our phones when we’re trying to disconnect, but with so many great meditation apps available today, it’s not hard to see why. These apps can be helpful for every level of meditator, from beginners looking for somewhere to start to experienced meditators who prefer a bit of guidance.
You’ve heard about the many benefits of meditation. Apps make it easier than ever to start and maintain a practice, so get going! It’s for your mental health.
We spent, collectively, over 500 minutes in silence, testing out 15 different meditation apps for you so you can jump right in. No matter what type of person you are or what your experience with meditation is, there’s an app that will work for you. Out of all of the apps we tested out, we narrowed down our list to just a few favorites.
This app is absolutely worth the hype. Your meditation can be personalized in so many ways: you can choose the instructor’s voice (both male and female), the background and narration volumes are separately adjustable, and even the visual background of the app can be customized. From the minute you open the app, everything is designed in a thoughtful way to make you feel, well...calm.
As far as the best app for your overall mental health, this one takes the cake. Many of the meditation sessions felt like therapy techniques. There seemed to always be the perfect balance of instruction to silence, and when the guided meditation ends, the ambient noise continues in case you’re really feeling it and want to stay a little longer. We really loved the “Daily Calm” feature of the app, as well. Every day there is a new meditation featured on the home screen, you just click on it and go—it’s as simple as that.
Cost: Limited introductory meditations are free. Subscription options are available for access to their entire meditation library, the Daily Calm, and Calm Masterclasses: $14.99 per month or $59.99 per year.
You’ve probably heard of this one. The thing that caught our eye about Headspace is their focus on the science behind meditation. All of their meditations have been validated by clinical research to actually positively impact mental health. Headspace also wins in the aesthetics category by being the most polished and user-friendly app we tried.
The meditation packs are mostly covering broad topics, which can be great if you’re looking for a general meditation routine. Unlike many of the other apps, the narration doesn’t use any background music or sounds. If you think you’ll be distracted by the sound of crickets and bubbling brooks, this may be the app for you. Headspace also has 1-3 minute meditations in case you can’t work a full meditation into your day, but still need a quick way to unwind.
Cost: Limited meditations are free. Subscription options are available for access to hundreds of meditations: $12.99 per month or $94.99 per year.
We’d never heard of Brightmind before diving deep into the meditation app world, and it pleasantly surprised us. Designed by world-class mediation leaders, Brightmind uses practices that come directly from meditations used in Buddhism.
We found this to be a great option for a first-time meditator. This app is straightforward and minimal—the simplicity of the app makes it easy to navigate, and it covers the basics very effectively. At the start, you’ll choose a goal and will then receive a “curriculum” of eight meditations, right off the bat. You can also customize the duration of your meditation and choose between a male or a female voice. Compared to other apps we explored, Brightmind doesn’t include the diversity of instructors, approaches, and features that we’ve found in other apps—which people will either love or hate. If too many decisions overwhelm you, this may be your pick.
Cost: Introduction meditation series are free. Subscription options are available for full access to their customizable curriculum and over 200 meditations: $12.99 per month or $94.99 per year.
Using a meditation app
So you’ve picked an app to download, and you’re ready to get started. Here are a few tips before you sit down for your first session so you’re set up for success:
- Silence your phone. Remember that, while a resource, our phones can be huge distractors. If you test out any of these apps turn your phone on Do Not Disturb. You don’t want to be snapped out of your peaceful practice by a text or call.
- Watch out for bright screens. Turn your screen face-down, so a rogue text message doesn’t light up your screen and snag your attention. Don’t make this rookie mistake!
- Use your best headphones. If you’ve got noise-canceling headphones, now is the time to use them. Any headphones will work, but that extra soundproofing can really help you stay focused when your dog starts barking at a neighbor.
- Get quiet and cozy. Find the perfect silent spot to let your mind be still. If you’re trying to meditate on a crowded subway train on your way home from work, your mindfulness will only go so far.
If those apps don’t do the trick
Meditation is personal, and not every app will work for you. If you still don’t think you’ve found the right one, we’ve put together a few more options for you to try out. And don’t stress if none of them feel right--you may be better off trying a simple unguided meditation.
“I don't want to meditate”
These apps seem to be made for the Anti-Meditator. Maybe you’ve been told that you should be meditating, but you just can’t get yourself to actually do it. Both of these offer explanations on what you should be doing specifically and why you should be doing it.
“I meditate often but want to expand my practice”
This app is designed for an active meditator. You’ve meditated and know the lay of the land. At this point, you don’t need as much help and may want to venture into different guided meditations that focus on specific topics. Insight Timer has over 15,000 different meditations on just about every topic imaginable, so you’ll never be bored in your ongoing practice.
“I don't want to spend a fortune meditating”
This is for the meditator on a budget. You want the support of an app but can’t afford the subscription cost that many apps charge. Without sacrificing the quality of the meditations, you can pay $39.99 for a lifetime subscription or $29.99 for a year.
“I don't need any help meditating”
This is for the seasoned meditator. You’re a pro and don’t need the guidance that most apps offer. You are more interested in a simple timer, a bell to help you stay focused, and a way to track the sessions. Ensō is the perfect companion for those that want to remain present and focus, all on their own.
Remember, with all of these apps, you’ll get what you put into it.