You don’t have to forsake your life for a Tibetan monastery to reap the benefits of meditation. With the help of a peaceful meditation app, you can learn to be more mindful and relaxed wherever your life takes you.
What to Look for in a Meditation App
These apps help you learn how to meditate and focus when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. They’re also a great medium for helping you get in the habit of being more mindful, and often offer extras like bedtime stories, playlists, and mini sessions for kids. Here are a few other things to look for when considering which app is right for you.
- Session Length Options: Everyone’s lives and needs are different, and we don’t always have the luxury of having a dedicated 30 each day for meditating. Luckily, good meditation apps understand that and offer a wide variety of session lengths, typically ranging from 3 to 60 minutes, making them easier to fit into your busy schedule.
- Multiple Session Types: In addition to allowing you to choose how long you want to meditate, the best relaxation apps also understand that there are a variety of reasons why you may need a meditation session. Whether it’s working on managing difficult emotions, relaxing on your lunch break, or learning how to wake up focused and with more energy to start your day, look for an app that gives you a variety of scenarios, moods, and goals to choose from.
- Panic and Anxiety Help: It’s perfectly natural to have moments where you feel overwhelmed, and many of these apps are a great place to turn when these feelings arise. Some offer calming words and breathing visualizations for you to focus on, while others may work to train you to feel more confident in handling those scenarios without an app. As a side note, while this is a helpful feature, it isn’t intended to be a substitute for professional medical knowledge or treatment. If you are experiencing panic or anxiety attacks, you may want to consult your doctor.
- Cost: Yes, these apps are designed for your benefit to help you relax, but their costly nature may just throw you off your groove. Most of the meditation apps we looked at (including three of the ones on our list) require subscriptions that will cost you between $30 to $100 per year. However, there are a few free options as well. They can be beneficial, but consider what you want to get out of these apps and try free trials before you sign up for an annual subscription.
Best Overall: Headspace
Headspace ($12.99/mo or $69.99/yr) is our pick for the best overall meditation app thanks to its warm and professional design, library of themed sessions, and extensive soundscape and music options. The audio options can be played during sessions, while you’re nodding off, or even in the background while you’re at work.
Although Headspace is a solid app for intermediate and advanced users, it is a fantastic resource for absolute beginners. Initially, the app asks you how much experience you have with meditating, followed by other questions like how often you want to meditate and how long you want your sessions to be, so that it can get a better sense of what you want to achieve. It also asks when you prefer your sessions to be held (in the morning, say, after a shower to get you ready for the day, or in the evening, after work so you can unwind). It also offers super-short sessions perfect for squeezing in between classes or clients, and resources for when you’re having an anxious or panicky moment. Headspace excels with these features, along with additional resources for stress management, mindfulness training, and other areas, and even allows you to add Mindful Minutes to your Apple Health app if that’s your thing.
Best Budget Option: Insight Timer
Though some apps would have you believe otherwise, you don’t actually have to pay a king’s ransom to bring some mindfulness into your life. With Insight Timer (Free), you can focus on relaxation or a guided meditation session without having to worry about annual subscriptions. Insight Timer has an extensive library of curated and guided meditation sessions (24,000 to be exact), which can be filtered by time, need, or benefit. These are especially great for when you’re in a funk or struggling to be grateful for things.
Insight Timer has courses designed to teach beginners how to meditate and cope with anxiety, as well as meditations on bigger topics like modern spirituality. For advanced users more experienced with running their own meditation sessions instead of opting for a guided one, you’ll still have access to basic session tools like a timer, ambient sounds, and interval bells. And, the kids’ options are fun if they want to meditate with you and helpful when they want to use it on their own. Insight Timer is great for those on a budget, as well as those who don’t want the fancy extras that other apps offer.
Best for Advanced Users: Calm
Well-seasoned veterans of meditation typically know how to run a session for themselves, but sometimes it’s nice to try new mantras or listen to different calming music. Calm ($59.99/yr subscription) is great for advanced users who want just that. Of course, intermediate and beginner users can also benefit from the app, which offers guided sessions, independent exercises, and relaxing music so you can create your ideal session.
Calm goes above and beyond other apps with its library of relaxing audio and video clips where you can listen to rivers and birds, for example, or watch a video of rain falling onto garden leaves. You can also access breathing visualizations with a timer and listen to Calm’s teachers read meditations with nature sounds playing in the background.
Being able to customize these options is a fun way to personalize your meditation experience and become more excited to participate every day. It even includes bedtime stories for kids and adults called “Sleep Stories,” with readings narrated by celebrities like Matthew McConaughey and Lebron James. Overall, Calm is a great app that thinks outside of the box with its flexible options for advanced users and bedtime stories.
Best On-the-Go App: Buddhify
It’s okay to be busy and not have dedicated time every day that you can spare for aligning your chakras. Buddhify ($30/yr) offers lessons that focus on mindfulness wherever you are, whether it’s on the train, going for a walk, or working from home. Sessions range from 4 to 40 minutes, and are available to users of all skill levels, with formal guided options for those who are new to meditation and customizable solo sessions for experienced users.
Buddhify offers over 200 guided meditations designed to help you through various situations you may be struggling with, like relaxing during your work break, falling asleep at night, or managing stress and other difficult emotions. With the colorful “What’s Happening?” wheel on the app’s home page, you can create a course for your specific needs at that moment.
You can also join in group meditations with friends, family, and colleagues if you want to simply share a meditative thought with them from the app. And, if your kids are stressed, it also has 60 simpler meditation sessions that you can do with them that focus on calming down, feeling better, and going to sleep. Overall, Buddhify is a great meditation app. It has a welcoming interface and 200+ calming meditations that are great for busybodies and those who prefer a guided experience.