How to Pick a Meditation App
November 17, 2015 MVP Blog comments
By now you’ve probably read about how meditation may help you manage anxiety, stress and blood pressure, and help you sleep better, be more creative and improve your relationships. While researchers are still debating many of these claims, a number of apps offer guided meditation specifically designed to take you from a first-time meditator to mindfulness guru.
(NYTimes.com, by Brian Hamman)
But the popularity of meditation apps has led to a crowded field. With so many different meditation apps available, it’s tough to know which one to choose. Here are a few things to consider when looking for an app to help you learn how to meditate.
Start with an app that will teach you the basic techniques of meditation through a free, guided program. Calm and Headspace seem to be the best for this, with sessions that introduce you to concepts of mindful awareness and techniques such as focusing on your breath and body. Calm has a free seven-day introduction; you’ll need to subscribe for a more robust 21-day program ($39 for a year, or $9.99 monthly). The meditation for each day takes seven to 15 minutes and includes a few minutes of background on a meditation technique and then a practice session.
Headspace has a 10-day introduction that consists of 10-minute segments that teach the concepts of meditation through short, well-produced cartoons and videos. After the free 10-day program you will need a $12.99-a-month subscription ($7.99 monthly for a full year). A subscription unlocks two levels of the program with longer meditations as well as programs around topics such as stress, creativity, pregnancy and sleep. Each of the programs includes videos introducing new concepts of mindfulness and more than a dozen focused meditations.
If a 10- or 15-minute meditation seems too time-consuming, Mindfulness Daily ($1.99 on iTunes) offers a 21-day introductory program with most meditations clocking in at shorter than five minutes. I found the slightly longer meditations in Calm and Headspace worth the extra time, but the Mindfulness Daily meditations are a good, bite-size alternative. And it’s cheaper.
Be warned that some apps don’t offer much of an introductory program at all. Omvana, for instance, works more as a clearinghouse for meditations, offering a few free meditations, with others available for $2.99 to $7.99 for a single meditation track. There are a few beginner meditations included, but I found their pacing rushed and more focused on selling the idea of meditation than on helping you to learn how to do it.
Alerts to Keep You Motivated
One of the more challenging problems in learning to meditate is remembering to do it. Most apps allow you to set reminders to meditate each day. Headspace will send your phone up to five daily doses of inspiration. An example: “A closed mind thinks only of itself and dwells on its own worries. An open mind lets go of its own worries to focus on others.”
Mindfulness Daily offers the most innovative alerts of the apps I tried. Swipe the alert to open a soothing 15-second video overlaid with a sequence of instructions to “Breathe in” and “Breathe out.” It’s a potent reminder of how even a few seconds of focused breathing can cause you to stop what you’re doing and change your mood.
The 10% Happier app, based on a book by Dan Harris, a co-anchor of “Nightline,” takes a different approach to keep you coming back, by introducing the user to meditation with a personal coach. To use the app, you put in your phone number and then you immediately get texted by your coach asking if you have questions — which might feel helpful or intrusive, depending on your personality. The app is $19.99 for a two-week introductory course that pairs each meditation with a slick video in the style of a television newsmagazine.
Adding Meditation to Daily Life
Once you’ve made it through the introductory programs, or if you are interested in adding some variety, there are apps designed to bring meditation to your daily activities. Buddhify 2 (a $4.99 download) begins with a wheel of more than a dozen activities such as walking in the city, being online, and eating, and offers guided meditations for each activity. Unlike the seated-with-eyes-closed routine of most other apps, Buddhify 2 cleverly weaves lessons of mindfulness into your daily activities in a way that broadens your experience. The downside is that it doesn’t include a guided introductory program or daily reminders.
Stop, Breathe & Think, which seems largely directed at children and teenagers, focuses on the user’s mood — angry, anxious, disgusted — and suggests one of 15 free meditations and others that you can pay to download. The app rewards your progress with virtual stickers for meditating several days in a row, or completing a certain number of minutes.
Tracking Your Progress
In this age of fitness trackers it’s no surprise that most of the meditation apps offer a way to track your meditation. Both Calm and Headspace dig into stats around your average meditation, your longest meditation streak and total time you’ve spent meditating. Buddhify 2 and Stop, Breathe & Think both allow you to rate your mindfulness, concentration and balance and track those ratings over time.
Mindfulness Daily takes this further by prompting you (more aggressively than most apps) to check in with your feelings each time you meditate or view the 15-second pause. While it’s possible to skip the questions about your mood, I found them to be an annoying interruption.
The Voice Inside Your Head
While the features and strengths of each app vary, the app you choose may ultimately come down to something incredibly basic — do you like the voice and tone of the individual meditations? Look for an app that allows you to test the voice for free before you commit.Andy Puddicombe, the British founder of Headspace, is the voice of its app. Calm and Mindfulness Daily both feature female American voices. Buddhify 2 includes a mix of male and female voices with British and American accents, so you may like some better than others.