Meditation has been around for ages. But only recently have studies demonstrated that this ancient practice, which helps create mindfulness—a sense of being present and focused as you go about daily life—has real health benefits.
"There’s been a lot of research showing that even doing a few minutes of mindfulness a day has benefits for anxiety, for stress, and for your overall mood,” Talia Wiesel, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in clinical psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, tells Health.
“If you have a person with a lot of anxiety, oftentimes it’s hard to calm yourself down if you don’t realize that your anxiety has mounted to a high level. Mindfulness gives you that awareness; both the bodily awareness and awareness of your thoughts,” says Wiesel.
The more you meditate and achieve mindfulness, the better you'll feel. And thanks to some smart and easy apps, you don't need to leave your living room to reap the benefits. Thousands of free meditation apps offer guided sessions, calming playlists, and daily reminders to be mindful.
Yet with so many choices, how do you know which meditation app is right for you? Consider the guide below your cheat sheet. We tested 7 popular apps and rated them on a scale of 1-5 “ohms.” Read on to determine your meditation app match.
This app is simple and approachable for meditation beginners. Most of the free sessions work on teaching the user how to meditate and easing them into the practice, while also acknowledging that meditation can be difficult. Full disclosure: I had been using Headspace already, and I appreciate the app's introduction to meditation. Yet to get into the good stuff, you really need to pay for the full membership.
To unlock the rest of the library, pay $12.99/month or $95/year. From there, Headspace offers meditation for everything from stress and anxiety to sleep to personal growth and physical health.
The sounds featured in this app set it apart from the rest. Insight Timer offers a multitude of meditation bells and calming musical notes to listen to during self-guided meditations. I genuinely enjoyed sitting back and listening, especially when I didn’t feel like focusing on a guided session. Insight Timer also offers significantly more content for free users than other apps (25K guided meditations!) featuring a variety of professional instructors and courses. This is by far my favorite meditation app, one I will keep in my rotation.
Wiesel recommends finding a few teachers you like on Insight Timer and sticking to their sessions so you can narrow your search. “It can be a little overwhelming because there are so many [meditations] on there, so I have a few people that I listen to, like Jack Cornfield, a very seasoned and well-known meditation teacher, or Kristin Mass, who is big in self-compassion and is really wonderful,” she says.
While the free option is extensive, the premium version can be accessed for $5/month, paid annually ($60/year). Premium offers 10-day and 30-day courses, as well as downloadable meditations, night mode, and daily insights.
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This app was created by Dan Harris, author of the book 10% Happier and a former news anchor who turned to meditation after suffering a panic attack on live television. The 10% Happier app offers some free basic meditations and daily reminders, but the majority of the content is locked behind the $99/year membership.
Wiesel specifically recommended Harris’s book, and she noted his app “has really well-known meditation experts.” The app does offer a 7-day free trial for membership, letting you decide if it’s worth the investment.
Meditation Studio conveniently groups all of its free meditations together, so it’s easy to use the app without paying. These meditations run from 5 to 30 minutes and are available for download, a feature typically reserved for premium members among other apps. The amount of free content, however, was limited and included mostly basics. The design of the app was also relatively plain, although some people may find this calming and not distracting.
Use free or unlock 500+ meditations and 50+ experts with a premium subscription of $49.99/year or $7.99/month.
The Virgo in me was really excited for Simple Habit because it seems super practical to incorporate into daily life. The app offers on-the-go meditation for specific moments, like during your commute, after an argument, or before a big presentation. There are even meditations for improving your sex life! Not all of these are available for free users, but there’s enough of a sneak peek to let you know if you want to buy the premium version. I was happy with the free content, but if I continued to use it, I would consider purchasing the full version.
Use free or subscribe for full access for $11.99/month, $95.99/year, or $299.99 for a life subscription.
Stop, Breathe, and Think
My favorite part of this app is that it immediately has you take 10 seconds to self-assess, asking you to rate your physical and emotional state and list 5 emotions you're feeling at that moment. Stop, Breathe, and Think then recommends meditations based on this assessment. While you could still peruse different options, this mood-based scale takes away the stressful decision-making process of selecting a meditation and allows you to get right into it.
Use for free or access premium (100+ activities and features) for $9.99/month or $58.99/year.
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Breethe: Meditation and Sleep
A nice feature about Breethe is the calming background music that plays the entire time the app is open, even without opening a meditation or background music. I felt like I was instantly put into a calming mental state upon opening the app. Breethe offers a lot of sleep content, including visualizations and bedtime stories, and also features hypnotherapy sessions (only via premium, though). They do have a few 7-day courses for free, but the majority of the content (1,000+ meditations) is locked behind the paywall.
Use the free version or access all content with a premium membership of $12.99/month or $89.99/year.
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