The popularization of mindfulness and meditation created a nearly $1 billion dollar industry in 2015, according to research by IBISWorld. That number doesn’t even include revenue from the almost 1000 meditation apps available. Basically, that means that there’s a whole lot of information out there on meditation and it can be hard to know where to start.
As an app geek and meditation teacher, I decided it was time to try out some of the meditation apps I’ve gotten questions about from friends and students. In an ocean of apps I took five out for a test drive. I tried at least two meditations from each app and spent time poking around in general—my QA (quality assurance) friends would be proud.
In general, after spending time on each one I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them. Each app offers a selection of guided meditations and some type of timer for self-guided meditations as well. If you want an app to help you meditate don’t get too hung up on picking the “right” or “best” one. Any of these can get you started—it’s more a question of your budget and which one you will actually return to on a regular basis to use.
I found that the biggest single factor that influenced whether I would personally use the app or not was the voice of the person guiding the meditation. I also include the delivery of the meditation itself—the tempo and pace—in with their voice. Some of the apps have different people leading meditations and some, at least as far as I could tell, stick with one person. This is a completely subjective and personal issue that you will need to assess for yourself. However, just like in life, there were teachers whose voices and style that I meshed with better than others. If you have the option to sample meditations or sign-up for a free trial I strongly urge you to try before you buy—especially when a monthly subscription is involved. This will help you determine if someone’s voice is going to drive you crazy or whether it will fall pleasantly away into the background.
For each app I kept in mind:
- How easy is it to navigate and use
- Is it geared to beginners/experienced/both
- Community and or help if needed
- App only or app/desktop options
Here’s my impression of the following five apps.
Stop Breathe & Think
This nifty, fun app is free with in-app purchases available. It has fun illustrations and provides written information on meditation and mindfulness for the beginner. None of the free meditations are longer than 10 minutes and there is a self-timer with the latest version of the app. The app is easy to use and I liked the whimsical illustrations and meditation information. You can make in-app purchases and I bought the (singer) KD Lang Gratitude pack for $1.99 to check out the premium content. This particular pack was a very straight-forward set of guided meditations led by K.D. Lang. This would be a great app for beginners. You can use either the app or desktop version. The organization behind the app is a non-profit. You also get stickers at different milestones plus weekly stats.
This app cost $4.99 and I did purchase it in order to try it. It offers a very clever navigation in the form of a circle that provides a great structure for choosing a meditation. The meditation selections are based on the question, “What are you doing?” in the middle of the circle and you have choices like: Just Meditation, Feeling Stressed, Walking the in the City plus a lot more categories. What’s nice is that once you choose an activity the circle fans out to several meditation options for you and clearly lists how long each one lasts. Buddhify is app only so there’s no desktop version to use. It has a great Q&A section. Stats on how often you meditate with the app are also available. This app would work well for anyone from beginner to those with more experience.I think it works especially well for people on the go who might want to fit meditation in between other activities.
This is a monthly subscription based collection of meditations. I paid for one month in order to access all of the available meditations. They offer meditation programs broken up mainly into 7 day segments, although there is also one that lasts 21 days. It also includes a number of different guided meditation topics to choose from like: Calming Anxiety, Loving-Kindness, Emergency Calm and many more. If you’re a beginner you can choose the 7 Days of Calm which helps you learn the basics of mindfulness meditation in just 5 minutes a day. Calm can be used on a desktop or app. They have an assortment of beautiful background photos and sounds to choose from and I’ve seen a number of people tweet their love for this particular feature all on its own.
Many of the meditations offer a short introduction that provides useful insight on the theme before the meditation starts. You can’t skip ahead within the 7 or 21 day segments. So if you want to get to the third mediation you have to do the first two to get there. You also have the option to set a daily reminder to meditate.
The orange dot is the signature of the Headspace app and desktop. I only used the free trial of this meditation collection. It’s clear from their approach that Headspace wants to be more than just another app in your life. In order to use it past the trial period you’ll need to commit to a monthly subscription. Headspace requires you to go through their fundamental “Take 10” meditations before they unlock others in the collection for you. When I got in touch with customer service they said that with a paid subscription they still strongly suggest I go through the fundamentals first, but they could unlock other parts of the collection for me if that’s what I wanted. This was the only app that had a specific set of fundamental meditations that they strongly prefer you do before you can accesses other meditation singles or sets. As a long-time meditator, if I were to subscribe I would want instant access to everything. I do understand though that Headspace wants to support a person’s practice by building the habit and methodically introducing the fundamentals. The one meditation, beyond the fundamentals, that is unlocked on the trial is the Fear of Flying—it offered excellent insight on the topic plus a meditation.
Headspace has made it easy for their customers by providing a specific mediation pathway to follow. They also have a lot of great scientific information about meditation on their site. The app and desktop are both easy to use and aesthetically simple and uncluttered. You can also set reminders to meditate within the app and receive “mindful moments” notifications.
This is a free app (no desktop version) that offers thousands of different meditations. I think of this as a crowd-sourced application because meditation teachers from around the world can share their meditations. This a very community oriented offering with an amazing array of groups that you can join. As a free app with so much to choose from it may take some trial and error until you find a style or teacher that you like. According to their info-only site there are 374 teachers from 22 countries available through the app. Users write reviews of the meditations. So just like reviews on Amazon, some are more helpful than others. You can also see how many plays a meditation has gotten and the rating. Being able to choose from such a wide variety of teachers can be exciting but it can also be very overwhelming.
There are also thousands of community groups you can join to discuss meditation and gain support. Each group is different. I popped in one group that had a very esoteric discussion taking place about meditation. In another group people were offering advice to someone on their back injury which I found a little worrying. Like anything online, I encourage people to be careful about the advice they receive or take to heart. It’s wonderful that the community on Insight Timer is so engaged but again, use common sense and your own discretion when receiving advice or insight from someone you don’t really know.
You can see who else is using the app to meditate and where they’re located. It pretty cool to be able to see that you’re meditating at the same time as 1000 people from all over the world.
Again, I don’t think you could go wrong in picking any of these apps. If you’re interested in developing a meditation practice, the important thing is to pick one and get started.
I couldn’t touch on every feature of each of these apps. For instance, like Insight Meditator, Headspace shows you how many other people are meditating at the same time. So just because I didn’t mention a particular feature doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t find it on the app.
Remember to always trust your gut/intuition and never take one person’s “expert” advice over what you know is right for you. Happy meditating!