Meditation is good for you, right?! At least, that’s what everyone says.
And the research behind that is pretty solid, so why don’t more of us actually do it?!
Personally, I’m more prone to flip out then zen out, so I’m definitely interested in what meditation can do for me.
But I get bored with routine, and I don’t think there’s any meditation groups nor classes in my rural neck of the woods, so I’ve been on the hunt for the right meditation app for me.
So with that in mind, let me share my experience of trying 10 meditation apps in 10 days.
In my never-ending quest to provide you all with the most up-to-date, helpful information, I thought I’d pass along my experience. Who knows, maybe someone out there will find a great fit based on this.
My criteria was:
1) It’s an app
There are some great YouTube channels offering meditation, but because for many the app-based meditations will be more engaging (such as tracking your meditation, keeping a list of your favorites, online communities, messaging/ friending others, etc) I kept this list to apps only.
I gathered a list of app recommendations from others around me, as many of these I would not have happened upon on my own.
Here’s a brief overview of the apps I tried, with my detailed experience below, roughly in order of my trying them.
I will tell you up front that I only paid for a membership to two of these, HeadSpace originally, and currently Calm. So all the rest of my experiences and opinions are only based off the free introductory versions of these apps.
The quick low-down on the meditation apps (name, focus, what you get for free and membership details):
Meditation courses and one-offs
10-day foundation course
Meditation courses and one-offs
5-day foundation course plus several stand-alones
Meditation courses and one-offs
Two 7-day foundation courses
Meditation courses and one-offs, available for free after the foundations course
21-day foundation course
Intensive self-work on anxiety: 5 week meditation training, community support, live video calls
5-day foundation course
$30/month, $140/6 months, $210/year
Recording and listening to your own self-affirmations
Record 5 affirmations, default audio settings
$2/month, $15 lifetime
12,000 meditations- professionally recorded and recorded in community, can find by topic or talks, community insight groups, can have friends and message
Seems like most everything on here is free
Stop, breathe & think
Using meditation to affect current mood: checks in with your mindset (select emotions) before and after meditation
10-day foundation course plus many other sessions of various themes
$60/year, $250 lifetime
Meditation courses and one-offs, most are 5 minutes
The Mindfulness App
5-day foundations course, then guided and silent timed sessions
This journey for me started about two years ago, when I first tried out HeadSpace.
Charming English accent, check.
Ten days to try it out for free, check.
It was my first real experience with actually trying meditation, and I really enjoyed the prompts and cues.
I ended up purchasing a membership, going through many of their courses and overall engaged with it for about another 8-9 months before falling off. This may sound like a silly critique, but the only thing I wasn’t a super fan of was the illustrations. All the “people” are these weird not-quite-human entities, free from any concept of race or gender. I dunno, they just look weird and was slightly more off-putting than engaging.
Overall, no big complaints, but there was not a lasting big “wow factor” to really draw me in.
Maybe I shouldn’t be looking for a wow factor in meditation apps, but I am.
So that lead to my interest in trying many different meditation apps and styles, to see what suited me best.
And before you cry out, “hey 2 years ago is not 10 days,” well, the rest of these I tried out within 9 days, so I considered my HeadSpace trial the jumping off point for all that follows.
The second app I tried was Waking Up, by Sam Harris, which came recommended by Dr. Peter Attia and Tim Ferriss in podcast episodes of both of them. And since they’re both big names in the Human Optimization/ Performance realm (a hobby/ interest of mine) I definitely wanted to give it a shot. I liked the idea of a meditation app specific for the mornings, as that is when I usually meditate, so this one at least sounded like it might fit the bill.
For myself, I didn’t really resonate with the prompts, having been able to compare it to other styles by this point. I can’t quite pin anything in particular negative, I just didn’t jive with it. I think it would probably be a good fit for someone who has never, ever meditated before. Also, I think for many the free content is not adequate enough to decide on a membership.
Calm was the next app, and I will tell you up front it is now one of my favorites.
Ok, not one of, it is my favorite.
First off, I find this one most visually engaging. I am a visual learner and communicator. I want pretty pictures on my meditation app, not blah white screen with black words. I like all the options to change scenes and views. It is visually slick in a way that I guess sounds skeezy, but was actually a major draw.
That, I've come to find out, is my preference, but you may want something cleaner and not distracting.
I also find this one among the top few I’ve tried in terms of usability and user interface. The main tabs are Sleep, Meditate and Music. Simple and easy to navigate.
This app also turned me onto Sleep Stories.
Yes, they are bedtime stories for adults.
Depending on the story, they are part guided breathing and relaxation process, part fluffy story about someone walking through the woods (or some other light story).
Let me tell you that I am not someone who ever falls asleep if there is any sound in my environment (even white noise keeps me up. Go figure), but after listening to a handful of these, I am usually zonking out before the character reaches the waterfall, or whatever plot is happening.
The one thing this app is missing, when comparing to others, is a search function. For all of them, it is quite easy to scroll through meditation courses, or stand-alone offerings. For those without a search bar, it can be difficult to find that one meditation about the forest you wanted to hear again, unless you selected it as a favorite previously.
Now the next few I really didn’t dig too far into, but I will share what I did see and do and why I didn't quite match for each.
Aware I would compare to HeadSpace or Waking Up. However, none of the meditations are unlocked in the free version without completing the 21-day foundations course.
I just wanted to poke around, without completing their 21 day course.
I have done many, many foundations intro courses and frankly didn’t have the time, patience or interest to complete 21 days before investigating the app’s offerings further.
So maybe that means I need more meditation. Fair critique. I'm trying though.
The next, Unwinding Anxiety, was recommended to me as, “not just another meditation app,” and I would have to agree with that.
If someone is just looking for some prompts and guide to find their breath, increase awareness, and other good-for-us activities that meditation involve, this app is far beyond that.
But for someone who experiences debilitating anxiety, this could be their most effective self-help tool.
Beyond a 5-week foundations course (which only the first 5 days are free, but extends far beyond the typical intro course), there is an extensive and active online community present, as well as live video calls with a psychiatrist.
It is the most expensive app I tried out (over $200 a year compared to the $60 a year average), because it spans much more offerings in terms of a multi-pronged approach to addressing anxiety.
Also, they offer scholarships for those unable to afford the retail price.
Thinking Up, next on my list, was the one I spent the very least amount of time on.
From what I could see, you record self-affirmations (which you can then edit, add music, etc in the premium version), then you listen to them.
Nothing sounds more unrelaxing to me than to hear my recorded voice. Isn’t everyone like that?
Listening to my own voice is about last on my list of things I want to hear while meditating.
I will admit I didn’t even give it a shot. Hey, this is my experiment, and I opted out of this one.
Insight Timer is the meditation app for someone who wants it all.
Though I just played around with the free version, I never ran out of options.
They have the largest list of meditations that I came across, adding up to over 12,000 offerings.
A big plus of this site was the Talks page, where you can find meditation teachers talking about concepts (such as mindfulness, behavioral change, etc) along with the thousands of actual meditations available.
The big turn-off to this app was the variable quality of some recordings- some are professionally recorded, others sound like a Teddy Ruxpin recorded a meditation class in a cathedral, which I guess should be expected with such a large catalog.
Stop, Breathe & Think had a fun novel feature of Check-ins before and after meditation.
Along with the traditional foundations course of guided meditation, emojis of all kinds can be chosen before and after the meditation, which are then tracked in the profile.
One aspect of this app I liked was that in addition to the foundation course, there was quite a bit of free sessions, in many different themes (Sleep, Stress, Focus, etc) that you could peruse at your own leisure, instead of the free version having a certain time limit (giving someone with anxiety a 5-7 day free trial then asking $60+ for a yearly membership is, well, anxiety-provoking).
Simple Habit’s stand-out feature would be that their meditations are on the shorter end, with most being 5 minutes. So if you’re looking to meditate and say to yourself that you never have the time, and sitting and breathing for 10 minutes at a time seems daunting to you (which is standard for a lot of the other apps), give this one a try.
Rounding out this list of 10 apps is The Mindfulness App. The free version includes a 5-day foundations course and timed sessions.
The nice thing about these is the customizability.
I wish more meditations had more options like this. You can select the length of the meditation (which are short as far as meditation go, at 3, 5 or 10 minutes), guided or unguided, and also what background noise you would like (beach, forest, rain, stream, waves or none).
Other features which many of the apps have include downloading for offline use, alerts prompting you to breathe, be aware or meditate (personally, I get way, way too many alerts in my life and always shut these off immediately) and saving meditations in a Favorites folder. Some features I came to enjoy were changing the background (maybe today I’m feeling like a mountain scene instead of the beach) and changing narrator.
One big surprise to me was that I didn’t realize what I huge difference the narrator made.
Over the course of this experiment, I have come to be very picky in matter of meditation narration voice.
My experience of their accent, cadence and pronunciation have a notable impact on my meditation session.
If I’m not digging the narrator’s voice, I shut it down right away.
I will give a shout out to my favorite meditation narrators, Calm’s Tamara Levitt and Peter Sklar. Tamara Levitt narrates both meditations and both narrate sleep stories.
Here are a few videos of Tamara Levitt:
And here is a sleep story I found, narrated by Peter Sklar. Just tuck yourself into bed, and tell me that this soothing baritone voice doesn't just put you to bed!
If you are still awake, the moral of the story is to find what works best for you.
Meditation is good for your brain, mood, heart, health and longevity. Yes, basically for everything.
So find what app, video, class, whatever gets you meditating. And switch it up whenever you need to keep it interesting and engaging.
Let me know if you have any good resources to share below, I'm always on the hunt for more options!