For some reason, I've always viewed meditation as such an unreachable state of zen. Probably my naivety kicking in, but for many years, I never thought I could be included in the elitist equation of meditation that involved people like experienced yogis and Buddhists. To give me a little credit, this was before the whole "wellness" wave took over the millennial generation. Over the years, the practice of meditation has transformed into a more approachable practice that everyone can do everywhere.
Studies show that meditation has the power to help reduce blood pressure, flare-ups with ulcerative colitis, and more health conditions. It's also been shown to ease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
My mind never calms down, to the point that I've started to accept stress as my norm. (I know, it's not healthy.) In an attempt to calm my nerves, I decided to try the best meditation apps for the first time and share my experience below.
I've heard so many amazing things about Calm. For starters, it's free, and it has rave reviews for its ability to ease stress and help you sleep better. There are endless features, ranging from sleep, stress, and anxiety to relationships, happiness, gratitude, and more. I chose the Daily Calm program, which is just 10 minutes. I wanted to start with a shorter time.
The first two minutes were really hard. I tried it in the morning, and my mind was crowded with my to-do list for the day. The next few minutes didn't get easier, and the first day just simply didn't work. The next day, I tried the same program before bed because I have trouble slowing down my mind when it's time to sleep. I immediately began to focus on my breathing and eased right into the meditation. After trying this for a week, I realized I was able to meditate better in the evenings. It's because I feel somewhat fulfilled by my accomplishments from the day and don't feel like my tasks are attacking me.
2. Insight Timer
This free app feels like a community. I love the social media aspect of Insight Timer. As soon as you open the app, it notifies you of how many other people are meditating at the same time as you, so I didn't feel alone. While meditation is typically about solitude, it's comforting to know that others are practicing it at the very same time.
This was week two of meditating from the Calm app every evening, so I felt in a groove. What really hooked me with Insight Timer is that it's only 10 minutes as well, i.e., beginner-friendly. There are over a thousand music choices, so I didn't get annoyed by the pre-set, basic music choices. I chose melodies that felt calming to me personally. After trying this app for a few days in the evenings, I seriously slept like a baby. I didn't pick up my phone afterward, and I felt ready to take on the next day. This download will be a permanent fixture in my phone.
Sattva means "existence" in Sanskrit, so right from the start, you can tell this is an app for those more advance in their meditation practice. The app offers meditations, chants, and mantras from industry experts, plus includes gamification components that help track your progress. Health-minded folks will appreciate the heart rate monitor and mood tracker that allow you to see the short and long-term results of your practice all in one space.
If you're ready to commit to the pursuit of Zen, you can download Sattva here and purchase a lifetime membership for $108.
Headspace is great for those who want to integrate mindfulness and meditation into their everyday routine without carving out additional time to fit it into their schedules. New Yorkers swear by the 10+ minute sessions to help tune out other subway commuters, while others plug into the app as part of their morning wakeup or evening wind-down routine.
"I just started using Headspace a few weeks ago and it’s been so helpful for this newbie. I used to think I would never be able to meditate because I’ve never really been the type of person who could really be still and in the moment. But, I’ve been able to learn how to do it at my own pace and set my own preferences. The app has guided meditations for all types of moods or needs (sleep, anxiety-reducing, work/productivity, etc.), and they’re at different time increments—some are 3 minutes and others at 20 minutes. What’s also really cool is that the app doesn’t just provide meditation tools—you can stream workouts on demand, and also watch advice videos covering a bunch of topics, like how to put down your phone, or how to deal with loneliness." — Sarah Yang, managing editor
6. 10% Happier
It's no surprise that beginners love 10% Happier. Created by the same people who brought us the self-help book by the same name, this app has a reputation for converting fidgety skeptics into regular practitioners. Offering a direct connection to real-life expert teachers and coaches, this app provides a personal touch that makes it stand out amongst the pack. Not sure achieving 10% more happiness is actually possible through an app? Give it a go with a seven-day free trial.
5. Smiling Mind
Developed by educators and psychologists, Smiling Mind is Australia's leading mindfulness app. Focused enhance mindfulness through meditation programs for all ages, this free app wants to bring more balance to your life in just 10 minutes a day. If you're ever feeling anxious, uncertain, or just plain stressed out, this app is easy to use and has unique offerings for each member of the family, including kids and young adults.
If you aren't able to visit the physical Inscape space in New York City, don't worry—the app is the next best thing. Fire up your diffuser with your favorite blend of essential oils, then clear your mind using an array of guided meditations, stress reducers, customizable sleep-sessions, and even pre-set playlists with titles like "Overcoming Your Fears" and "3 Minutes to Reset."
8. Stop, Think & Breathe
They say you can't put a price on happiness, which is why we were thrilled to discover the 20+ activities available for free on Stop, Think & Breathe. Each session begins with a check-in on your mood, followed by. a quick survey that directs you to a list f meditations to target your specific needs at that moment.
At the very least, the name of this app alone should help you to pause and reset.
Curious about adding a little "Buddhification" to your everyday life? Touted as "the mindfulness app for people that don't have time," Buddhify is a non-religious app that focuses on mobile and on-the-go meditation.
Consider the prompt, "What is happening?" and choose from a list of sessions like "Waking Up," "Walking," "Using Your Phone," and "Can't Sleep" to set the tone for your practice. With subscriptions costing only $30 annually, you can enjoy your slice of zen for just $2.50 a month.
10. Simple Habit
"I am obsessed with Simple Habit. I love that you can select how much time you have 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc. and select from an endless menu of states of mind such as preparing for the day, break from work, getting ready for bed. But what really stands out to me about this app is the variety of less standard meditations. They get really specific. For example, there's one when you're at the tail end of a vacation and how to manage anxiety about going back to work/soaking up your last moments of vacation. They also have playful ones like ice cream meditation where you practice very slow, mindful and present eating. It sounds kind of funny, but I also enjoyed how the dishwashing meditation because it helped me change my mindset about doing the chore to something that is enjoyable, peaceful, and filled with gratitude. They also have a helpful one about difficult conversations at work, which is taught by the same teacher that Google uses for its employees." — Kat Collings, editor-in-chief
Aura felt like the most personal meditation app of the bunch. You can track your mood and learn about your different mood patterns throughout the day, which was really helpful for me, and the app suggests different meditation practices based on how you're feeling.
When I first started the app, it asked about my stress and optimism levels. It also asked about my approach to mindfulness, so I love how the app shaped its meditations around my personal preferences. I also signed up for daily reminders that encouraged me to be more mindful. I loved seeing these positive little messages pop up on my phone.
I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm an experienced meditator now or anything, but I'll definitely be practicing this more in the future. My anxiety and stress come in waves, but they're not permanent—and I'm happy about my growth.