The Best Meditation Apps to Actually Get You to Do it

I am not naturally a calm or relaxed person. While that can serve me well when it comes to energy and drive, it also means I need to find ways to take it down a notch for my mental health. In our fast paced, hyper digital world, most of us need to make a point of turning our brains off for a bit every day. This is where meditation becomes important.

There are countless studies that show just how amazing meditation is for us- there's even evidence that meditation leads to clearer, healthier skin. But it can be really hard to start a meditation habit- for one thing, our brains don't naturally want to turn off, so it's hard to find the motivation to do it. Which is why in the past few years there has been an explosion of apps built around helping us to foster a meditation habit. Since I need all the help I can get, I've given many of them a spin, and below I'll highlight some of the best for tuning in and turning off.

Headspace

What it is: One of the first to the meditation apps game, your appreciation for Headspace will largely depend on how you feel about the Headspace "guide," Andy Puddicombe. Andy is the mind and voice behind the Headspace app, and he guides every one of the meditations. I find his British accent soothing and delightful, but some people find it annoying, and if you're one of them, you're not going to like this app. Other than that, this is one of the most cohesive and visually pleasing of the meditation apps. You can choose "packs," e.g. sets of classes focused around stress, anxiety, focus, etc., or you can choose "singles," which are focused on a specific moment you're dealing with. Before most classes there's a sweet little animation that give some insight or instruction on how to make your meditation go better.

Nina's Totally Subjective Take: My only issue with Headspace is that I found it to be a little too confident in my meditation abilities. While Andy is truly a relatable guy and makes it very clear that he doesn't expect any of us average humans to be as comfortable with meditation as he, a Buddhist monk, he does sometimes get a little relaxed in his instructions, especially as a series progresses. I personally want guidance pretty much always, since my anxiety means I often start a new class feeling like I'm back to square one. But if you're someone who feels like you've got the hang of meditation, this might be a great bet for you.

Price: Cost-wise, this fits in competitively with most of the meditation apps, at $12.99/month or $7.99/month if you sign up for the year. Hey, that's less than you'll pay for just one in-person class here in NYC, so I find it reasonable.

Pros: Cohesive and appealing aesthetic, well thought out sessions, options for all types of moods and headspaces (ah! I get it now).

Cons: If you don't like male, British accents, you will not like this app. Also if you want more regular, granular guidance, this might not provide enough.

10% Happier

What it is: 10% Happier  was created by journalist Dan Harris, who had a panic attack a few years ago on national television, and in the wake of that, got very into meditation as a way to relieve his crippling anxiety and PTSD. He wrote a book about this called 10% Happier (I recommend it!) but found himself perplexed when more people didn't jump on the meditation train after he touted its benefits. He realized that, even with all the evidence pointing to meditation's awesomeness, it's still really hard for people to motivate themselves to do something that is so unintuitive. So he created an app.

10% Happier mirrors a lot of the Headspace structure. There are series and single sessions, and they are all focused around different themes, just like Headspcae. The main difference is that where in Headspace you just have Andy, in 10% Happier you can choose classes by many celebrated meditation teachers, who all have bios explaining who there are. Plus, Dan Harris often has 1-2 minute intro videos before the classes where he explains his hangups and where this class or a tip could come in handy.

Nina's Totally Subjective Take: This is my favorite app, as I find it best for my need for lots of instruction. I like that I can choose different teachers depending on the amount of guidance I want - some like to get more detailed with instructions than others- and I like hearing Dan, a regular, non monk human, talk about how hard this meditation stuff is for him. I find the whole thing just a bit more reassuring. However, the aesthetics and UX design in this app do not hold a candle to Headspace. Even something as basic as how to download a session so I can turn my phone to airplane and not be distracted by outside life proved difficult to figure out- where in Headspace this is so simple. 

Cost: It's slightly higher than most of the others at $14.99/month or $99 for the year but I think you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Pros: Lots of great instruction with seriously good teachers, and the ability to lengthen or shorten classes depending on your mood. Most classes can adjust from 10-30 minutes in length if not longer.

Cons: A massive downgrade in visual and UX design compared to Headspace.

Calm

What it is: Calm is another popular meditation app where the overall focus is on, logically, being calm. So, unlike the others mentioned above that focus solely on meditation, this app also has a section for bedtime stories to help you fall asleep, and a section for ambient music.

In terms of the meditations, you have the option to choose between two guides- either the calm, friendly voice of Tamara Levitt or John Armstrong. There are groups of different sessions around anxiety, sleep, breaking habits, and the like, but there are less options to meditate in general. 

Nina's Totally Subjective Take: Even within the meditations, Calm has a lot more ambient noise than the other apps- I think the concept is you're supposed to feel like you're in the great outdoors. There's birds chirping, waves crashing, and it all just felt a bit much for me. I do like that you can set this to not play noises outside the app. Seems like such an obvious option, yet not something I've found in the other apps. I did also appreciate the sleep stories- in one, another comforting British man tells you about a train going from station to station. It was very boring and deeply calming and I did indeed fall asleep! But all in all, this app was not meditation focused enough for my liking.

Cost: $59.99/year

Pros: One of the cheaper options, great for sleep issues and focusing on overall calm.

Cons: If you're not into somewhat cheesy ambient noise, or want to focus on meditation, this is less helpful of an app.

Bonus App: Nike+ Run Club

What it is: This is not really a meditation app, but it does have free awesome guided meditations, so I wanted to put in on this list. Nike+ Run Club partnered with Andy from Headspace for a free series in their app that guides you through running meditations.

Nina's Totally Subjective Take: I love these! Where sometimes in Headspace I wasn't getting enough guidance, there is something intrinsically meditative about running, so Andy's chiller vibe is just right for these runs. The first time I used this I was going through a particularly stressful night, and ran one of my best and longest runs ever thanks to this app.

Pros: It's free and a great way to meditate while you're running.

Cons: You'll only want to use it when you're running.

Price: Free!


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