In the last few months I tested ten of the top apps offering assistance in meditation and mindfulness. I was NOT confident that I could use my phone to help myself stop using my phone, and do my meditation practice, but I was committed to trying, and try I did.
These are the apps I tried, in no specific order.
First I tried Simple Habit, which offers an app & desktop version. While I had problems with it crashing on my Iphone, and eventually deleted it, I have used it with success on my laptop (www.simplehabit.com). When you log in, it gives you a choice between relaxing listening OR guided meditations of different themes, styles and lengths of time. The free content is shorter, but there is quite a bit to choose from, and the relaxing music & sounds could be played for hours. The main voice in the free content is female with an Australian accent. She is very pleasant. If you choose to upgrade to the premium version (costing about a tenner a month) there are over 1,000 sessions with more than 60 different teachers. The site claims that they are ‘Harvard psychologist-designed’ sessions and the site has a professional health-minded feel. There is nothing new-age or ‘alternative’- just clear instruction to help develop a ‘simple habit’. It is no longer on my phone, but I will return to the site and continue to enjoy the free content.
The next app I tried was Mind JRNY. It offers a range of things considered relaxing, as well as guided meditation & pleasant audio sounds and music. They include a video section with calming nature scenes & uplifting, cute animals, as well as a colouring area. You can select an image, then use your finger to zoom in, add colours & special effects. For me, this is not relaxing and just gets me stressed when my finger hits the wrong area or when I notice half-way through that the colours are mis-matched... and I don’t enjoy watching videos on my phone. As for the guided practice, you can choose a male or female voice, and they offer 10 hours of content to premium members, but just a few for free. Premium membership was on-sale for a once-off $49.99 USD in August or a monthly fee around €10. While this app wasn’t what I was looking for, I can see how it could be a great fit for others.
Next I tried Breethe which offers sounds & music, one-off sessions and themed series, as well as content for children of various ages. It has nice visuals and various voices. It crashed a number of times on my phone, but it does offer a 7-day Meditation series for beginners that as nice. The premium content is in the same price range as the others and can be canceled at any time. It seems that most of the children’s content is free and can be downloaded, so that is a plus.
Breathesynch is totally different, but fun to use. It is basically a tool that forces you to pay attention to your breathe and to breath slowly and deeply. It does this using your phones’ camera to monitor your heart beat, and provides a visual on-screen to try and synch your breath with, telling you to inhale or exhale. The standard length of time is one minute, but you can set it for over an hour and use it as your anchor in your meditation practice. I can see it also being very useful in settling oneself during a panic attack, or any time of high stress and think it would be effective with children as well. It is free and easy- simply teaching you to ‘breathe yourself better’. As it is totally free and totally different from the rest, this app will remain on my phone.
Headspace is another app, designed by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk and seasoned meditation teacher. He is your singular guide through a number of one-off sessions, children’s sessions & a 10-day guided intro series. I went ahead and chose to subscribe to the premium content for this one, and have used it nearly every day for the last 6 months. I find Andy’s voice calming & immediately trusted his instruction. Themes range from simply calming one’s mind, to dealing with anger, anxiety & stress, creating balance, developing kindness, and dealing with change. This app and others also have areas to help you relax and get to sleep. There is also an area dealing with sports, along with series focusing on work and performance. Mini sessions can be as short as 1-minute, while other sessions can be adjusted from 10-20 minutes. There are a number of kids sessions dealing with a variety of topics in an age-appropriate, easy way.
Calm was another highly-recommended app with quite a lot of free content, separated as Music, Meditate, Sleep. You can select music to focus, relax or sleep to, one free guided meditation per day, along with a 7-day series, timed sessions from 1 to 25 minutes, and what they call ‘sleep stories’- which are exactly that-- calming stories to help you nod off. These are visual stories with great descriptions of calm, natural locations and characters feeling safe and relaxed. There is a limited amount of free content, but what is there is good, and you could repeat it. There are a variety of voices, and the visuals & relaxing sounds are lovely. You can easily search content by category, and there is content for children. Pricing for full content depends on annual or monthly payment- ranging about €5-10 per month. This app will remain in my collection for sure!
Mindfulness is the name of 2 apps-- the first (with a human silhouette in a blue background) offers a 7-day free series along with timed sessionsranging from 1-30 minutes that are free of charge. You can also change the backtrack to the guided meditations, creating variations to your liking. The guide is an American mindfulness teacher, Catherine Polan Orzech, who trains hospital staff and teaches at University Hospital in Philadelphia. Like the others, you can subscribe for about €10 after a 1-month free trial to access the full selection. The other Mindfulness app (a teal background with m) offers a small selection of various teachers giving guided meditations. I was able to access four before being asked to share with friends to ‘unlock’ tracks. It was unclear if you could subscribe or purchase more content, so I was left at a bit of a loss on this one.
Aura was another good one. Unlike the prior app, this one offers a lot of variety- options to guide breathing, relaxing sounds and short meditations, offering a new one each day, even if you don’t upgrade. There is also a community and ‘channels’ led by different teachers offering a variety of topics from Mindful Parenting to Being Love. There are new channels added weekly and you can subscribe to these channels with your upgrade. You can start with one month free and earn more time by sharing with others or paying an annual or monthly fee between €5-8. Overall I like the environment and teachings on this app. I don’t find the community a great plus, but there seem to be a number of people who are very active, discussing topics and sharing learning, so if you ARE interested in that, you will find it here!
Finally, there is Insight Timer. It is a completely FREE app, and my number one suggestion for anyone starting out. There is the basic timer for unguided meditations, a huge range of music and sounds, as well as the meditation & talk area. There are literally thousands of offerings from short body scans lasting 3-5 minutes, to in-depth discussions on spirituality, guided visualizations, healing meditations, affirmations & teachings from experts like Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh. There are slo specialized groups you can join to discuss topics like lucid dreaming or Christian meditation. You can follow teachers, bookmark topics & selections, and each day they will also create recommendations based on your choices. If you like the idea of a community you can share ideas with others, team up with like-minded people and even make friends with other members. If you want you can see where others are meditating with the app around the world. You can invite friends or contacts to create a study group or share specific teachings. It is a truly fabulous amount of free content really well-organized and easy to use. So you can use it simply to structure a daily routine of short meditations or research and delve into a variety of spiritual practices. It will remain a daily-used app on my phone!
So, those are the apps I have tried so far. For me, the TOP FIVE keepers would be:
INSIGHT TIMER - all free, huge selection, easy to use
HEADSPACE - good free starter course; excellent children’s content; with premium subscription I feel I have an on-going relationship with one teacher that I trust.
BREATHSYNCH- this free app is so simple, yet so effective in calming and getting in touch with the breath. Everyone should try it!
CALM - Good content, easy to manage app & really visually pleasing. Sleep stories are cool & I will likely try the premium package as I am left wanting more. :)
Finally, SIMPLEHABIT will remain bookmarked on my laptop. While I am not likely to re-visit the app, since there are others, it is nice to have something saved on my computer, that can either play in the background, or be accessed for breaks in my work day. I like the overall design and the Aussie accent! I would consider subscribing for access to more content if I find myself using it regularly. I urge you to try one or all of the above, and find what works for you.
I began meditating while in college, and was only really able to do it successfully when I was in a group. We met once a week and learned various typed of meditation-- sometimes being led by a guide, sometimes focusing on a candle or flowers or a photo... at times we walked a path outside, or chose a mantra. When I was in the company of others I could do this for the hour or more, but when I’d go home, I would get distracted after 5 minutes, or never made time to begin with. Meditation is a practice. Mindfulness is a way to approach life-- one moment at a time, so we can always re-start.
If you are interested in group meditation, I will be leading a 4-week course at Soul Space beginning Monday, September 11 @8pm. Text me 086-854-0023 to save your spot!