You got the memo on meditation. You know it’s supposed to relieve stress and anxiety, which there’s no shortage of today. And you’ve heard it may also be good for:
- Reducing symptoms of menopause
- Lowering blood pressure
- Controlling irritable bowel syndrome
- Improving sleep
- Regulating the immune system
- Slowing changes in the brain due to normal aging
- Inspiring creativity
Of course, there’s an app for meditating. In fact, there are scores of apps to help you on the path to mindfulness. But there’s no need for you to wade through the clutter — we’ve done it for you, profiling seven of the most popular apps and who they might help, and noting some coronavirus-related resources they’ve made available this month.
1. You’re a skeptic
If you haven’t tried meditation yet, you’re probably a bit dubious about its purported benefits. The app 10% Happier bills itself as “meditation for fidgety skeptics.”
What makes it special? This app is based on a book by Dan Harris, a skeptic himself who came to appreciate the benefits meditation brought to his life. He shares a quick overview of his story — including how he suffered a panic attack on air as a news anchor at ABC — in a short video at the start of the program.
The app starts you out by asking whether you already meditate, what benefits you hope to gain from the practice, and what time of day you want to meditate. It includes 10 meditations specially designed for skeptics.
Cost: Free seven-day trial, then $99.99 per year. As the world struggles to cope with anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic, 10% Happier is available free to healthcare workers. A number of free meditations are available to anyone.
2. You want better sleep
Calm claims it is the top app for meditation, sleep, and relaxation. It offers the Daily Calm, a 10-minute-long guided meditation led by the soothing voice of mindfulness instructor Tamara Levitt. Each one focuses on a topic, like envy, contribution, or the gifts of failure.
There are also seven- and 21-day-long meditation series, designed to help you manage stress, practice mindfulness at work, or focus on gratitude, for example.
What makes it special? The Sleep Stories can help you drift off peacefully, tucked in and listening to the voice of Stephen Fry or Matthew McConaughey.
Cost: Free trial, then $12.99 per month or $59.99 per year. To help people deal with anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic, Calm is offering a collection of free resources — meditations, stories, music and more.
3. You need help sticking to it
Headspace promises a healthier, happier, more well-rested life. Who doesn’t want that? Headspace starts you out with three-, five-, or 10-minute meditations, depending on your experience.
What makes it special? You can select your main reason for meditating — sleep, stress, calm, focus, anxiety, or “just checking it out,” and pick a habit to anchor your meditation session to, like waking up or brushing your teeth, so you’re more likely to stick with it.
Cost: 10 sessions available for free, then $12.99 per month or $95.88 per year. Headspace is offering some free meditations during the current coronavirus crisis.
4. You need community
Insight Timer gives you free access to more than 15,000 guided meditations, including the popular timer, which you can customize with your favorite length, bell tones (to help channel you back to mindfulness), ambient sound, and ending bell.
What makes it special? There’s a strong community focus, with thousands of groups that offer members space to share their thoughts on topics like daily gratitude or lucid dreaming.
Cost: Free, $5 per month for premium
5. You hate to fly
The Mindfulness App includes a range of options including guided and silent sessions, courses, and more, designed to suit all types of meditators.
If offers everything from a quick, three-minute meditation fix to 30-minute-long sessions that give you a deeper dive into mindfulness.
What makes it special? Though it may not be necessary under quarantine, a section of travel meditations includes sessions focused on easing flight anxieties and an in-flight body scan.
Cost: Free seven-day trial, then $54.99 per year
6. You’re on the go
Buddify breaks the “sit quietly” meditation mold. It focuses on four- to 30-minute meditations that you can do out in the world — walking, at work, or taking a break with a cup of tea.
What makes it special? It emphasizes bringing mindfulness to your everyday life, rather than building a formal meditation practice. The team behind the app strives to bring a diverse set of voices to their team of instructors, with a roster that is 60% female and 35% people of color.
Cost: $2.99 for the app, $30 per year for membership
7. You commute to work
Simple Habit brings you 50+ free five-minute meditations. Some target specific scenarios, like pre-meeting anxiety or first-date jitters. And the makers claim that just one session of guided mindfulness can boost your creativity.
What makes it special? The “On the Go” series helps you meditate for five to 20 minutes while walking, commuting, or taking a break. And you can choose meditations led by specific teachers if you find a certain voice or style resonates with you.
Cost: Free for 30 days, then $10.99 per month or $95.88 per year for premium access. The company recently published a list of tips for dealing with the coronavirus.
Meditation and the brain
A regular practice can literally change your brain for the better, says Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist with Harvard Medical School. She’s been conducting research on the brains of meditators for over a decade; she’s particularly interested in how meditation impacts the aging brain.
One of Lazar’s first studies, which was published in 2005, examined the brains of people who had been meditating regularly from 3 to 28 years and for about 40 minutes a day.
She found that these serious meditators had more gray matter — brain tissue comprising cell bodies and nerve cells — in several key areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, when compared to a similarly aged non-meditators.