mindfulness · technology

Meditation apps: a non-systematic survey

Our lives would be very different if we didn’t have smartphones apps to occupy our time and attention. They help keep us on track with schedules of waking, working, taking breaks, moving, eating, playing games, shopping, and all the other things that comprise our daily routines.

A world inside a phone: the app.

But what about when we want to be still, stopping all those activities or distractions? Worry not, there’s an app for that, too.

Some of the many apps for meditation out there in phone-land.

I’ve added and deleted loads of meditation or chill-out/relaxation apps over the past years. Once the novelty wore off, I would move on to something else, or more likely just revert to my default non-mindfulness routine.

In July, when I restarted a daily meditation practice, I found myself looking for guidance and accountability to help me make sitting a habit. Apps can be great for this– they track your sessions over time and the time you spend each session. They also tend to offer a variety of guided meditations of different lengths and for different times of day and different purposes. Apps are nothing if not extensive in their offerings. Here are some I’ve tried and what I think about them.

  1. For many years, I’ve used old-fashioned recordings of guided meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs. I just discovered: there’s an app for that! The series is available on Google Play for $10 each–look up JKZ series 1, 2, and 3. I use series 1 often, but the others provide that variation I was talking about.
I still own the 4-CD set of these meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn. They’re the Chanel suit of guided meditations.

2. Meditation Oasis is one of the OGs of the meditation app world. It started as a podcast and expanded to apps, each focusing on a specific purpose of meditation, like sleep or stress/anxiety reduction. One crucial feature of any meditation app is the voice, and I happen to like Mary Maddux– she is calm but also sounds like a real person. You can add in sounds or music to the background, which I’ve enjoyed from time to time. There are individual apps or bundles that range in price from $3 to $12.

A bundle of apps from Meditation Oasis. Not fancy illustrations or features, but very solid content.

3. The newest app that I’ve added to my meditation routine is 10 Percent Happier, which is a book and a podcast and a blog and an app. Dan Harris is the author of the book (which I haven’t read, but hear good things about). He has brought together a group of some of the best English-language meditation teachers and created a one-stop shopping mall of secular meditations for many aspects of modern life. There’s a coronavirus section, a section for busy parents, and other areas that we care and worry about. I use this app every day– mostly before bed (I do a different meditation in the morning). However, it’s expensive– $100 for a year’s subscription. Yeah. That’s a lot. For me, it’s worth it. There are courses, lectures, and a lot of top-quality content. Can you get great content without paying $100? Oh yes, for sure. But this is an excellent resource if you don’t mind the price.

I like the simplicity of this icon. And it looks like it’s smirking.

4. On the advice of a friend who loves it, I tried Calm, which bills itself as the #1 app for meditation and sleep. Like 10 percent happier, it is very professionally done and has loads of content from a lot of meditation teachers and writers. One thing Calm has that the other apps I’ve tried don’t have is a large selection of bedtime stories. These “sleep stories” are “soothing tales that mix music, sound fx and incredible voice talent to help you drift into dreamland” says Calm. It also has meditations, body scans, video of calm nature scenes with sound, classes, and (as they say) much, much more.

So (as they say), how much would you pay for this? The regular price is $70 a year, but when I clicked on the links, it offered me $42– such a deal!

I did a 7-day free trial (10 percent happier offers a free trial, too), but ended up not buying it. The sleep stories were nice, but I found myself too interested in them to fall asleep. I was really more interested in a meditation-focused app, not a sleep or stress reduction app. But YMMV– a lot of people love Calm. And it’s certainly got all the bells and whistles you would want.

Simple icon, complex world of Calm inside.

5. Finally, there’s one of my favorite stand-by meditation apps: Buddhify. First of all, the name is awesome. Second, it’s cheap– $4.99 for the phone or tablet app. Third, it’s so pretty:

Just looking at this color wheel, opening like a fan, makes me happy.
Just looking at this color wheel, opening like a fan in the app, makes me happy.

Buddhify has the usual varied content, with different voices leading you through a guided meditation. Their approach seems very personable to me; the recordings are part meditation guidance and part therapeutic/friendly reassurance. This is my go-to app when I’m really having trouble sleeping, as I find those voices and words soothing in addition to grounding.

I just saw that Buddhify has an expanded version for $30/year. Here’s one of the features:

Karaoke and meditation together in one app? Done!
Karaoke and meditation together in one app? Done!

Wow. I never thought I’d see the words “karaoke” and “meditation” together in one sentence. But I’m liking it. Maybe not enough to buy the membership, but it’s undeniably cool.

My very unsystematic review has barely scratched the surface of meditation apps. But I hope it offers you some information if you’re looking to get started.

Dear readers: have you used any of these apps? What did you think? Do you have other recommendations? I’d love to hear about them.

4 thoughts on “Meditation apps: a non-systematic survey

  1. Thanks a lot for the survey, it is very useful. I was wondering whether you have tried Headspace and of so your thoughts on it. A friend recommended it. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Maria– I haven’t tried Headspace. But your question prompted me to check it out. It seems to have a similar organization to 10 percent happier, but it’s got animated drawn whimsical characters illustrating its app. I really liked this– it was very cheery. I don’t know if they’ve gotten fancy/famous meditation teachers to do recordings (like 10 percent happier does), but of course that’s not important. You’ve gotten me curious now, so I’m going to sign up for the free trial (it’s $70 a year). Will update once I’ve tried it. Thanks for the question!

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