But, as more science emerges backing the effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness on reducing anxiety levels and boosting day-to-day cognitive ability, scepticism around the practice seems to be decreasing. As a society, more people appear to be acknowledging that this attention and awareness training is not reserved for men with shaved heads in robes or only to be conducted in rooms swirling with incense with sounds of chimes echoing.
Nowadays, there are many styles of meditation, from body scans and breath awareness through to loving kindness and transcendental. But what can you do if sitting quietly and turning your thoughts inwards simply doesn’t work for you (and instead turns into a running inner monologue about that embarrassing time you slipped over and spilled coffee on yourself three years ago or that you are pretty sure you need to buy more cheese for dinner)? While technology sometimes receives a bad rap for being linked to heightened anxiety, there are actually now a number of apps available aimed to help reduce stress and maybe even help you reach your inner Zen. Here I round out 10 of my favourite meditation and mindfulness apps (in no particular order) that can be useful for anyone from would-be Buddhas through to anyone simply wanting to be a master of their thoughts.
Good for: People wanting a more scientific approach to meditation.
Headspace is the brainchild of Andy Puddicombe who travelled to the Himalayas midway through his sports science degree and instead pursued 10 years of meditation study, including being ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist Monk. After returning to the western world, Andy wanted to make meditation more accessible, and so Headspace was born. In fact, The New York Times said Andy is doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver did for food. Andy’s app offers a variety of guided meditations, from the foundational tracks for your first week through to targeted meditations such as self-esteem or mindful eating. Headspace offers informative animations, videos and articles and takes a generally less spiritual approach, enabling you to understand the benefits of meditation without the chimes.
Rating: App Store: 4.8. Google Play: 3.7.
Slow that scroll for just a moment, and breathe. pic.twitter.com/HK14Jw8ov0
— Headspace (@Headspace) August 28, 2019
Good for: Curious souls wanting to trial a range of content.
Calm claims to have been downloaded more than 50 million times and was named by the Center for Humane Technology as “the world’s happiest app”. It offers a range of tracks including guided meditations, sleep stories and relaxation music, along with videos on mindful movement and even nature scenes and sounds. There are 7- and 21-day programs, open-ended meditations and “masterclasses” taught by experts, so basically, there’s likely something for everyone. You could even hear voices you recognise, with some recordings featuring the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Stephen Fry.
Rating: App store: 4.7. Google Play: 4.4.
Good for: People wanting free guided meditations and tracking of progress.
Yes that is right, there are free options. And this one won a spot in Time magazine’s list of top apps in 2016 and claims to help more than 10 million meditators globally. Insight Timer offers more than 30,000 tracks from Buddhist mindfulness through to breathing meditations. You can browse a range of topics (spiritual and secular) led by a variety of experts, so you can find a voice that literally and figuratively speaks to you and your preferences. You can also search for tracks based on how much time you have available. The app loads a ‘community’ on your home page that shows what meditations are underway around the world – making you feel connected… while taking time to disconnect. This app does tend to have more tracks that are on the spiritual side, but if you find a teacher you like, you can look up more of their recordings.
Rating: App store: 4.8. Google Play: 4.8.
Good for: Those who are sceptical of meditation but want to give it a crack.
Created in partnership with Dan Harris, bestselling author of the book 10% Happier, this app claims to be designed for people who are new to meditation and “get fidgety just thinking about it” through to anyone who simply wants to be more mindful. Harris turned to meditation himself following a high-profile on-air panic attack on US channel ABC, overcoming his own initial scepticism and finding that “happiness is a skill susceptible to training”. The app offers straightforward video and meditation combinations on topics from relaxation to fall to sleep, to improving day-to-day focus and even parenting (and after babysitting my nieces, I can understand the appeal of that). Lessons come from a diverse group of teachers, such as traditional meditation guides, scientists and even sports meditation specialists.
Rating: App store: 4.7. Google Play: 4.7.
Good for: Anyone who wants to fit more meditation and mindfulness into busy schedules.
Buddhify was created to help bring mindfulness to people on the go. The one-off fee to download the app will give you access to guided meditations that are categorised by what you are doing or how you are feeling. For example, if you are walking to the bus stop, taking a break from work or trying to get to sleep, or if you are feeling stressed or dealing with particular difficult emotions. Sessions last from four to 30 minutes. The optional Buddhify Membership allows access to features such as ‘karaoke-style’ meditations that you can read out yourself (which can be a good option if meditating with others or children), lessons that help develop formal meditation skills and weekly video courses and deep dives into popular meditation types.
Although most of the reviews for this app are positive, I do want to highlight that the app takes up nearly 500MB of space, plus extra for data, which is more than most other apps.
Rating: App store: 4.7. Google Play: 4.4.
The Mindfulness App
Good for: People on the go who want reminders and the ability to listen offline.
Founder Martin Wikfalk designed The Mindfulness App to provide users with reminders to meditate and “an extensive number of meditations with world-renowned teachers”. The free version of the app offers a five-day introduction to mindfulness, a range of guided or simply timed meditations and an option to set reminders. It also provides statistics to track your meditation practice. Some categories users can choose from include focus, body awareness, relationships, travel, emotions and stress relief and you can download the sessions to listen to offline – which could be a good option for anyone on the go or nervous travellers who want guided meditations to help calm their inner anxious beast.
Rating: App store: 4.6. Google Play: 4.3.
Good for: People wanting guided meditations without having to pay.
Smiling Mind is a free, not-for-profit Australian app. Meditations are broken down by category, including sleep, stress, relationships, and one I should really use – mindful eating (fight the urge to Netflix and scoff Shay, come on). I like the fact that the app’s creators offer meditations that help support the mental and emotional wellbeing of expecting parents and also worked with NPY Women’s Council to develop a mindfulness program aimed at providing accessible mental health tools for Aboriginal people of the NPY region (which spans 26 desert communities across Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory). While there aren’t as many tracks as some of the other apps, there are plenty of categories to choose from and let’s be honest, the price is right. This is targeted at all age groups, individuals, educators and parents and Smiling Mind also offers programs to schools and workplaces to spread the joys of mindfulness.
Rating: App store: 4.3. Google Play: 4.5.
Taking just a few moments each day to practice some deep breathing exercises can decrease stress, relax your body, and help you sleep better. ? #mentalhealth #mindfulness #meditation pic.twitter.com/l4ZfecF5Ke
— Smiling Mind (@Smiling_Mind) October 28, 2019
Serenity: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness
Good for: Beginners or parents wanting their children to learn more about mindfulness.
The free version of this app offers around two hours of content for beginners to get started and get a feel for it, including a five-level foundation course and daily mini meditations. If you choose to subscribe, you will have access to over 100 meditations, including sleep meditations, stress relief, quick meditations (for those times you have a couple of minutes to squeeze in a cheeky meditation) and kids’ meditations. Personally, I like that this app offers content for children in bite-sized pieces (under five minutes per session), because the sooner we can teach our kids to tap into mindfulness practices, the sooner they (and their parents) can enjoy the benefits.
Rating: App store: 4.6. Google Play: 4.8.
Good for: Anyone who has specific goals for their meditation, such as overcoming grief or weight loss.
Breethe co-creator Lynne Goldberg stumbled into meditation by accident following a series of unfortunate life events that saw her relying on overworking and self medicating as relief from her mind. After discovering the benefits meditation and mindfulness had in her life, she became a meditation coach and yoga instructor before launching the app. As is clearly a theme here, Breethe offers access to the introductory meditations free of charge, along with some ‘life situations’ (broken into morning, night, quick, on-the-go, relationships, happiness, etc) and kids’ meditations. I used a meditation for ‘eyes open while on the go’ during a bus ride home and was surprised at the calming effect it had, despite being surrounded by people and getting caught in traffic. To access the themed week series, you will need a subscription. Upon entering the app, you can specify your goals, such as weight loss, learning to meditate, overcoming grief or increasing overall happiness, and then you will be recommended meditations. There are also short tips such as ‘how do I stop thoughts’ (one I know a lot of people ask) and ‘how do I find time’.
Rating: App store: 4.7. Google Play: 3.2.
Stop, Breathe & Think
Good for: Someone wanting an app to just tell them what meditation they should do.
Stop, Breathe & Think is a little different from the others in that it offers customisation tools, including a short survey when you fire up the app that analyses your current mood and then offers a meditation based on your results. You can then retake the survey after the meditation to compare how you feel. There are many free tracks to guide your meditation and there is the option to upgrade to premium for access to more content, which also includes sleepy time for kids and “the most soothing animated videos ever”. I used the ‘Relax, Ground and Clear’ meditation this morning and found by the end of the seven minutes I actually felt much more present despite my post-gym brain initially trying to determine if I could have got a better time on the workout I had just done and wondering whether I should make dinner or order through UberEats after work. Side random note: if you’re learning Spanish, this app could hit two birds with one stone with over 20 meditations. Muy bien!
Rating: App store: 4.8. Google Play: 4.7.
When life gets overwhelming, it can help to step back and look at our difficulties or irritations from another perspective. Even a slight change in language can be effective. Going from “I have to” to “I get to” can sometimes put us in a better place. pic.twitter.com/ACCU4uLbFm
— Stop Breathe & Think (@SBTbreathe) October 25, 2019
Please note that this is just a selection of some apps I have come across. There are other meditation and mindfulness apps out there and Canstar is not making any particular recommendations about downloading, using or paying for any of these platforms. It’s important to do your own research before deciding if any of these apps are suitable for you.
Cover image: Dean Drobot (Shutterstock)