Meditation apps have become one of the most accessible ways to maintain a mindfulness regimen. Whether you prefer deep breathing exercises, guided meditation or calming sleep stories, meditation can be a huge added benefit to your daily wellness regimen.
Research suggests that the benefits of meditation can include a reduction in levels, anxiety, depression and insomnia. And don't forget the physical benefits: Meditation and deep breathing can also reduce blood pressure and improve your heart rate variability, a metric that can tell you how well you handle stress. In addition, many studies show sleep meditation can calm your mind and help you get a more quality night's sleep.
For many people, finding the time or energy to commit to a regular practice is difficult and though in-person visits to a meditation studio are a great option for some, it may not be a practical approach to consistent meditation for others. With a little help from the right app, zen could be as little as three minutes away. Here are the best meditation apps of 2019 to improve your mindfulness practice and relax your mind.
October 10 is World Mental Health Day, check out these stories that can help you support your mental health:
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How I picked these apps
This guide to the best meditation app picks is a list of meditation, mindfulness and breathing apps that claim some of the best ratings on iTunes and Google Play. None fall below four stars, and they all boast gushing reviews from happy customers.
In addition to ratings and favorable reviews, I looked for apps that offer more than just audio meditation. Throughout this list, you'll find options for customizable meditations, background music without words, engaging activities, inspirational push notifications and supplemental meditation or relaxation podcasts.
Lastly, nearly every app on this list was developed by a person or company with strong ties to meditation and mindfulness -- not just someone who hopped on the meditation train to make a few bucks, but rather touts formal training or a commitment to the ancient and universal practice of mindfulness and meditation.
Cost: Free or $9.99 a month.
Stop, Breathe & Think calls itself the emotional wellness platform for the "under-25" generation. This app offers mindful meditation sessions designed to help teens and young adults tackle tough emotions like depression and anxiety. In addition to meditations, you can engage in short meditation exercises that allow you to check in with yourself, ask questions and truly notice how you're feeling.
With the premium subscription, you get access to more meditations, music, ambient sounds and other mindfulness exercises.
Cost: Free with in-app purchases ($60 annual subscription).
Calm app's wide range of guided meditations is mainly designed to assist people in relaxing (or calming down) in comparison to some other meditation apps that are designed to inspire deep thought or creativity.
Meditation length varies from 3- to 25-minute sessions. If you're keen on developing a daily meditation practice, try Daily Calm, the app's 10-minute program you can practice before the beginning or end of your day.
Calm also offers breathing exercises, sleep stories and soothing background tracks to help you get a good night's sleep. The premium subscription includes all that and more, including Calm Body programs, monthly Calm Masterclasses and exclusive music. This is perhaps one of the best meditation apps for a newcomer looking to relax, reduce stress levels and get better sleep.
Cost: $4.99 for iPhone, $1.99 for Android. An additional premium membership is available for $30 per year.
Buddhify categorizes all of its guided meditations by activities and emotions. Examples include walking, taking a break from work, going to sleep, stress and empowerment. Buddhify is an advanced meditation app, so it's better suited to people who have already broken into the world of meditation and mindfulness and want to develop a regular practice.
Buddhify taps into the social nature of humans: The creators of Buddhify developed some meditations that only work if you're meditating with a friend, your partner, a coworker or someone else. Additionally, the app's Give feature offers users the unique ability to send a targeted meditation to a friend. For example, you can send a calming meditation to a friend who's going through a hard time, or send a cheerful one just to brighten someone's day.
Cost: Free with in-app purchases ($5 per course).
Insight Timer offers a paid subscription, but if you're new to meditation or only meditate occasionally, chances are you won't need to purchase anything. This app offers 15,000 free guided meditations from more than 1,000 meditation teachers, as well as access to 750-plus soothing music tracks.
This app is unique in that it allows you to design a custom meditation practice suited to your needs and interests. A $5-a-month subscription gets you premium meditation courses, offline listening and other extras related to mindfulness and meditation.
Cost: Free with in-app purchases.
Omvana offers hundreds of free guided meditations across several categories: improving sleep, focus, relaxation, body, productivity and more. Created by the mindfulness experts at MindValley, Omvana can help you find the perfect guided meditation by individual mood, stress level and other factors.
You can choose from a variety of instructors and program length, and you can tailor the background music to meet your preferences.
Richard and Mary Maddux, creators of the popular Meditation Oasis podcast, developed Simply Being. This app gives you gentle nudges to meditate regularly, encouraging you to practice meditation at different times during the day -- complete with soothing graphics and music.
You can customize the length of meditations, choose to listen to meditations with or without music and nature sounds, or simply stream the audio to help you focus on another task at hand.
As you might gather from its name, The Breathing App focuses just on breathing and the physiological benefits you get from slowing your breath down: increased pulmonary function, decreased stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and improved emotional balance, just to name a few. All of which are beneficial for overall health and sleep patterns.
Developed by Eddie Stern and author Deepak Chopra, The Breathing App is simple and perfect for those who want the benefits of mindfulness without delving too deep into spirituality. You can only modify two settings for the meditation program: length of practice and breath ratio.
Cost: Free seven-day trial, $100 annual subscription.
The app 10% Happier is a mindfulness app for meditation skeptics and fidgety people. The app offers a no-nonsense, relatable way for beginners to dip their toe into the meditation experience, and it's more geared toward performance enhancement than soul-searching. It's great for people with high-pressure jobs and busy lives.
One of the best meditation apps for beginners, 10% Happier offers a free trial which includes a basic one-week introduction to meditation and mindfulness, but after that, the free offerings become sparse. You can always listen to the free 10% Happier podcast, though.
Cost: $11.99 a month or $96 a year
Burnout is real -- seriously, the World Health Organization designated burnout an official medical diagnosis in May. The meditations on Simple Habit focus on daily stress relief, and the developers know you're busy, so they make it as easy as taking five quick minutes for meditation time. In fact, the app even offers a special playlist just for burnout symptoms, with topics like "stay calm with a busy schedule" and "relieving morning anxiety." There's even a guided meditation program just for commuting.
Cost: Free trial, $12.99 per month, $95 per year or $400 lifetime subscription.
A "best guided meditation apps" list wouldn't be complete without Headspace, the mindfulness app developed by sports scientist-turned-Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. Originally an events company, Headspace now encompasses guided meditations, animations, articles and videos to assist beginners and experts alike in their meditation practice and has become one of the best known and most popular meditation apps in the category.
You can test out Headspace with the free Basics course, which offers 10 meditation sessions to teach you the foundations of meditation and get you in a mindful rhythm. You can also try a free session from many of the app's collections of meditations.
Cost: $9.99 per month or $49.99 per year
Mindwell blends isochronic tones, solfeggio frequencies, and spoken words to induce creativity and focus, which differs from the main goal of many other meditation apps that aim to promote relaxation.
Mindwell also offers meditations to help you recover from stressful or upsetting moments that occur throughout the day. For example, say you experienced a client meeting at work that didn't go well -- you could use a Mindwell meditation specifically designed to dampen negative emotions and help you move forward with your day.
Mindwell also offers a MoodShift, which maps your mood over time and allows you to track your mood and meditation progress.
Cost: Free with in-app purchases.
I included this breathing and meditation app because it's even more convenient than iPhone or Android apps for busy on-the-go folks. Breathe is the mindfulness app for Apple Watch that allows you to squeeze in short meditations without ever pulling out your phone.
Using one of three presets -- classic, focus or calm -- you breathe in rhythm with the animation on the screen. If you answer a call or text or move around too much during the exercise, your watch won't give you credit for that session.
Breathe is a native app on the Apple Watch Series 4, so it doesn't show up in the iTunes store. Breathe isn't compatible with Android devices.
Originally published earlier this year.