Looking to achieve inner peace and serenity? You might have guessed—there’s an app for that. In fact, meditation apps make up eight of the top 100 free and paid health iOS apps. Although the practice of meditation dates back centuries—with proven health benefits such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation and improving your immune system—it can now be accomplished via more than 100 different smartphone apps to be used at any time or any place.
“Before apps, many people didn’t learn meditation because they just couldn’t find a meditation class or didn’t have the time to take one,” explains Dr. Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of The Mindful Living Network and The Stress Institute.
In addition to convenience, apps provide a nonthreatening way to try meditation. “When I bring up the idea to clients, I explain that mindfulness and meditation don’t mean spending hours sitting and reflecting, as people sometimes believe,” says Cara Maksimow, LCSW, a clinical therapist at Maximize Wellness Counseling & Coaching.
Another great benefit of meditation by app is the ability to curate your ideal experience. Looking for step-by-step instruction on how to meditate? There’s an app for that. Want a guided meditation set to calming ocean waves or the soft chirping of birds in the forest? There’s an app for that. Are you an experienced om-er just looking for a timer to track your sessions? There’s an app for that, too.
Finding a meditation app that’s right for you is important. First, you’ll need to decide if you want an app with guided meditations (a voice providing instruction on what to do with your body, breath and mind) or just a meditation timer that may provide ambient sound such as waves, rain or intermittent sounds to help you keep time, such as chimes or bells.
If you choose a guided meditation, you’ll want to find an app that provides a coach you connect with. For example, you might like the slow, reassuring female voice of The Mindfulness App (see Sources below), the upbeat Australian accent of 1 Giant Mind’s (see Sources below) Jonni Polland or meditation explained by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons in his just-released app, Meditation Made Simple (see Sources below). Just like finding a friend or fitness instructor, you want to choose a meditation coach whose style you can relate to. “When you choose an app you really enjoy, you will be more compliant and want to meditate more,” says Hall.
And while meditation apps offer benefits (convenience, choice, ease, affordability), it’s still important to understand the benefits of meditating with a real, live person, says Samara Serotkin, PsyD, clinical psychologist and mindfulness meditation coach at Mazlo. “We all have blind spots, habitual mental loops that we get stuck on. It takes a human being, who takes the time to be present and really understand what you’re experiencing, to help guide you through your growing edges.”
Either way, an app can arguably teach you the basic meditation practice and is ideal for the novice that wan't to dip their toe into relaxing waters. Here are five we recommend, including tips for navigation.
Five to Try
1. Short and Sweet: One-Minute Meditation (OMM)
Worried about your ability to sit still and be quiet? Ease into the meditation habit by starting with a single minute. The no-frills One-Minute Meditation app is simple to use and free to download, and allows you to just do the minute of meditation or add on the brief warm-up and cool-down to help you get the most out of your 60 seconds.
2. Step-by-Step Instructions: Headspace
https://www.headspace.com (free; includes 10 meditations, then subscribe for $7.99/mo.)
Founded and narrated by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, Headspace is one of the top meditation apps in iTunes and boasts a membership of more than 2 million meditators. The free app gives you access to its Take10 series that provides step-by-step instructions on how to meditate. It demystifies the process for newbies and helps to provide a foundation for building a meditation habit in just 10 minutes a day. After you complete the free 10-day intro, you’ll need to purchase a subscription to access additional meditations.
3. Always on the Go: Buddify2
http://buddhify.com/ (iOS $4.99, Android $2.99)
Too busy to meditate? Try Buddify2. Designed for a life on the go, this app offers a wide variety of meditations geared to blend with your daily life. “Just Meditating,” “Going to Sleep,” “Walking Around the City,” “Eating” and even “Being Online” are a few of the 16 different categories to choose from. There is also a timer for silent meditations and a stat section to rate your mindfulness, concentration and balance, and track your progress.
4. User-Friendly: Stop, Breathe and Think
http://stopbreathethink.org/ (free; in-app purchases)
Before you get to the guided meditations on Stop, Breathe & Think (SBT), each session starts by asking you to check in and provide feedback about your mental, physical and emotional states. The free app then gives you suggested meditations based on your check-in report. Some meditations have a set time, but many offer a variety of lengths, allowing you to squeeze in a three-minute mindful breathing meditation or a 17-minute body scan. SBT also lets you track your check-ins and meditation progress, and “awards” you for things like meditating for five days in a row.
5. Soothing Sounds: Calm
http://www.calm.com/ (free; in-app purchases)
If you find yourself soothed by images of a setting sun or calmed by a relaxing melody, you may enjoy meditating with Calm. This app blends guided meditations from two to 30 minutes with your choice of nature scenes and blissful music tracks. The free download gives you access to “7 Days of Calm,” which teaches the basics of mindfulness meditation, with an optional monthly or yearly subscription to access dozens of additional meditations focused on sleep, energy, creativity and more.