In January 2018, more people Googled the term “meditation app” than any other recorded month. Although it’s no longer time for New Year’s resolutions, it’s never too late to invest in feeling cool, calm and collected.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that meditation works — just look at the reviews section for any meditation studio, book or video. But, thanks in part to researchers from Johns Hopkins University, there’s also scientific evidence for the practice itself. They sorted through close to 19,000 meditation studies to pinpoint 47 that held up under their criteria for a well-designed study. Their subsequent conclusion: Mindfulness meditation programs could help improve levels of anxiety, depression and pain.
Looking to get in touch with your inner zen but don’t know where to begin? We’ve laid out five of the best meditation apps to try.
Why We Love It: Calm was named Apple’s 2017 App of the Year for a reason. Its interface makes heavy use of picturesque landscapes in nature, and its more than 100 courses range from “7 Days of Calm” (an introduction to meditation) to “Body Scan” (learning to be more present) and “College Collection” (mindfulness 101 for students). Beginners can opt for seven-day programs, while more advanced users may gravitate towards the app’s 21-day offerings. And if you’re having trouble getting shut-eye? Calm has a collection of bedtime stories to lull you to sleep.
What Users Say: One reviewer writes, “I meditate using this app every single day… The scenes and background sounds are beautiful, and there are so many meditations to choose from. And it’s all cleanly organized, unlike some other meditation apps… I am noticing differences in my daily life as well. I am less impulsive, more peaceful, less angry.”
Another says, “After using this app, my sleep cycle has improved by leaps and bonus. I also keep more active and attentive throughout the day, and I don’t get easily tired.”
Why We Love It: If your top consideration is simplicity, ZenFriend may very well be the meditation app for you. It offers a timer that begins and ends with a soft bell sound, as well as a meditation log where you can keep track of each session’s duration and your notes on how it went. Users can also opt to try out motivational challenges, like the “Starter’s Challenge” or the “10 Days in a Row Challenge.” ZenFriend’s top priority, however, is to connect users with a community of other meditators, with the option to share your progress in a worldwide news feed. The app’s paid version unlocks over 10 guided meditations.
What Users Say: One reviewer writes, “The whole app has a calming appearance and is intuitively navigate-able. I love the refreshing backdrop for the counter, the musical chimes to choose from, the vibrant community of meditators to observe… I haven’t missed a day.” Another says, “I have used ZenFriend now for several years and find it a solid companion for my meditation practice… Additionally, the guided meditations are a good kick-start if you are just getting started or want a change of pace.”
Why We Love It: Headspace offers a host of different meditation courses — “Basics,” “Sadness,” “Restlessness” “Happiness” and “Balance,” to name a few — as well as instruction in mindful eating, managing anxiety and pain management. Users can choose between guided and unguided meditation, as well as different narrated sessions for working out, enjoying alone time or sleeping. And if you’re on the go when you experience something that threatens to lead to losing your temper, panicking or feeling overwhelmed, the app offers exercises for letting go and staying in the present moment.
What Users Say: One reviewer writes, “I’ve used the app for about a month now but found benefits after four days of use. It’s not some kooky zen thing to do — it’s better than any cup of coffee to perk you up… If you can find time to scroll through the nonsense on Facebook feeds, you can find time for this.” Another says, “Headspace is a no-frills, beautifully designed mindfulness app that I’ve incorporated into my life daily… This app has become an integral part of my morning routine. It’s the first thing I do after I wake up.”
Why We Love It: This app’s tagline is “made by meditators for meditators,” and it offers multi-session courses like “5 Mindful Mornings,” as well as guided sessions in categories like meditation essentials, breathing, emotional wellness, focus/vitality and sleep/nighttime. When you’d like to start meditating, a simply designed home screen prompts you to choose a duration — like 8, 12, 20 or 32 minutes — then begins and ends your session with a gong.
What Users Say: One reviewer writes, “This app is exceptional. The design is elegant and minimal, with great visuals and everything you need to learn, track and grow your meditation practice. I was really impressed with the quality of the guided meditation… I can’t stop recommending this app to my friends and family.” Another says, “The awareness it teaches is next to none. It has shown me how to calm down and relax my muscles, mind and body… If you take this app seriously and simply follow directions, I guarantee anyone will be satisfied.”
Best Place to Download: iPhone, free or paid ($15.99 per month or $71.99 per year)
Why We Love It: In 2004, ABC anchor Dan Harris had a panic attack on live television. He calls the experience the most embarrassing day of his life, but it sparked the former skeptic’s personal discovery of what meditation can do. This app’s name comes from Harris’s own estimate that meditation can make you 10 percent happier, and it has a spot-on tagline: “meditation for fidgety skeptics.” As per the app’s target audience, it promises “no robes” and “no crystals.” Signing up for the free trial involves choosing answers to questions like why you’re interested in meditating and what, if anything, has stopped you in the past. Then, it offers different goal-based meditations and courses — “Less Anxious,” “Rage Relief,” “Communication” — with upwards of 14 different teachers to choose from.
What Users Say: One reviewer writes, “Having a meditation tracker is a nice reminder of how much time I’ve put into this practice, and after 537 minutes I’m happy to say that it has improved the quality of my life and daily routine, and this is just week 3.5. It’s particularly helpful to have different types of practices for different mind states like difficult emotions, gratitude and winding down for sleep.” Another says, “It’s real, straight to the point and helpful… I’ve meditated every day since I downloaded it.”