Read more from our #MEDITATION primer here.
If you’re looking to tap into a place of quiet calm and create a little breathing space in your day, it would make sense to unplug from your electronics. In this age of the app, however, it should come as no surprise that a full-on digital detox isn’t necessary on the path to inner peace. Whether you want to learn the basics of meditation, tackle troubling issues like insomnia, ease your mind with the soothing sounds of nature, or simply take 10, there is an app to see you through. While dozens of guided meditation apps have sprung up in recent years, there are a few that truly stand out. Here are four well worth noting.
With a mission to create “a happier, healthier world one mobile device at a time,” Headspace was created by Andy Puddicombe, a trained Tibetan Buddhist monk turned entrepreneur, and his partner Rich Pierson. Since its launch in 2012, the app boasts over 3 million downloads for Android and IOS combined. Fans include Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Watson, the Seattle Seahawks and Virgin Airlines. There’s no doubt that Headspace helped usher in the cultural shift in how we think and talk about meditation.
Headspace is organized into various programs. The first, Take Ten, which is free, nails meditation basics with a guided 10 minutes a day for 10 days. A paid subscription ($94.99 per year; $399.99 for “forever” access in the app store) gives you the keys to the inner circle: hundreds of hours of original Headspace content, including guided and unguided exercises lasting from two minutes to an hour. Meditations organized into series include the Discovery series, where you learn how your mind works; the Mind series, which helps you explore your thoughts; and the Heart series, geared towards relationships, just to name a few.
There are also one-off “singles” on a variety of topics including eating, running and commuting; all are narrated by Puddicombe. Another handy feature: S.O.S. sessions to help in those “meltdown moments.” You can track your mindfulness status through personalized progress reports, set reminders to keep you on track, and download meditations for offline use. There’s even a buddy system so you and your spiritually enlightened friends can motivate one another. Use the app on your smart phone, computer, or Apple watch.
Calm.com started as a web page where users could pick from a variety of nature scenes and soothing sounds (gentle ocean waves, rain on leaves, a mountain lake) to chill out for a few. The equally easy-to-use and extremely popular app—promising to bring “clarity, joy, and peace of mind to your life”—mirrors the web page with free access to its 7 Days of Calm feature. If you want more than to auto-repeat those seven days, you’ll have to pay to unlock newer content.
Meditations run from two to 20 minutes, and include recorded modules for creativity, anxiety, sleep, confidence, and energy, among others. Calm is almost entirely focused on the effort to eliminate distractions. Whether tapping into guided imagery, or simply letting the soothing sounds of a running brook lend a peaceful backdrop to a hectic day, there are a number of ways the app explores the idea of mindfulness — the stunning visuals alone may even get the job done. You can choose a soundtrack, set the timer and drift off to sleep, or heed the recorded voice instructing you to “let your thoughts pass like clouds in the sky.” In-app upgrades for IOS and Android range from $.99 to $49.99. There are also two yearly subscriptions available.
Buddhify2 offers a simple but effective interface to bring mindfulness and calm to your busy day. The app is centered on a color-coded spinning wheel that asks the question “What are you doing?” Tap your response—working online, feeling stressed, going to bed, etc.—and the app gives you a choice of targeted meditations. New sections address difficult emotions and dealing with pain and illness. All told, there are more than 80 guided audio exercises that help you cultivate mindfulness, calm and compassion in the midst of your day—wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. If you prefer to meditate without guidance, you can simply set the solo timer. There’s also a Stats tab where you can chart your progress.
One of the draws of Buddhify2, which was launched in 2014, is that there are no subscription or hidden charges, just the one-time purchase price of $4.99 for IOS; $2.99 for Android. According to app’s creator Rohan Gunatillake, the goal is for users to learn what they can from the app and then take those skills and integrate them into their daily lives. “Buddhify is like training wheels or stabilizers for a bicycle,” he’s said. “Once you learn the mechanics and the basics, you can really go by yourself.”
A great choice for beginners, this app bills itself as a friendly, simple tool to provide people of all ages and backgrounds practical methods to develop compassion, peace, and wellbeing. Plus, it promises to have you meditating in five minutes. Launched by the non-profit Tools for Peace (k.d. lang is a board member), the app puts learning in the spotlight and includes a Basics page that explains some of the science behind meditation.
The app prompts users to check in with how they are feeling, or what they are experiencing, and then offers suggestions on meditations relevant to their specific situation. For example, if you say you’re feeling angry and anxious, the app might suggest you try mindful breathing and the kindness meditation, to help you stop, breathe, think — and gain some perspective on your particular situation. A progress page tracks the time you spend meditating, your most frequent emotions, and your “Weekly Settledness” score. The free version of the app for IOS and Android includes 15 guided meditations on single topics, including kindness, compassion, change and equanimity. In-app upgrades, ranging in price from $.99 to $2.99 (The Gratitude by k.d. 5-pack is $1.99, for instance), unlock meditations on dealing with cruelty, sadness, and anxiety, among others. You can also access the program via the web.