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7 apps that’ll kickstart your meditation practice—for good


Photo: Stocksy
Photo: Stocksy
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Meditation is simple, right? In theory, at least, it requires nothing more than functioning lungs—but as anyone who’s tried it can attest, focusing on your breath (and only your breath) is as tricky to master as a well-executed box jump.

Perhaps that’s why there are a crazy number of tools in the App Store to help us get in the zen zone, with another one launching seemingly every day. Designed in conjunction with various mindfulness luminaries and scientists, most of these mobile meditation tools have a few things in common: structured daily sessions that aren’t too long, intentions to focus on, velvet-voiced instructors, and digital reminders that nudge you to keep up with your practice.

So how to choose from all the options when the mindfulness market’s so saturated? Well+Good tested out some of the best (and best-known) programs on the market, narrowing it down to seven standouts.

Keep reading to find out which meditation apps we keep coming back to—once you’ve found the right one, clocking your 10 minutes a day will be as easy as breathing (no, really).

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Headspace app

Headspace

One of the first “gyms for the mind” on the market, Headspace launched as an app in the UK way back in 2010, gained international attention rapidly—“Andy Puddicombe is doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver has done for food,” gushed the New York Times—and grew into a resource used in 150 countries and translated into 12 languages.

Its refreshingly simple appeal still holds, helped along by charming, yet memorable animations—such as the one that likens trying to control our thoughts to running into traffic (in other words, it’s better to just hang out and watch from the sidelines). The sessions, which focus mostly on sensations in the body and the rhythm of the breath, are forgiving for beginners—they even include a bit of break time to “let the mind do whatever it wants to do.”

The guru: The LA-based Puddicombe has tons of East-meets-West cred. He spent much of his 20s in a monastery in the Himalayas, was ordained as a Buddhist monk in Northern India, and after his return to lay life, he wrote three books about mindfulness and gave TED Talks on the subject.

The voice: Puddicombe’s chilled-out English accent is inherently soothing. The man could read the phone book for 10 minutes and still have a hypnotic effect.

The induction: The free “Take 10” program consists of 10 intro sessions, each one 10 minutes long.

Price: The app is free, and after Take 10, daily meditations are available at many prices, from a low-stakes one-month membership for $12.95 to a lifetime deal for $419.95.

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Gaiam Meditation Studio

Meditation Studio

Wellness powerhouse Gaiam was late to the app game, but when it launched Meditation Studio in January, the tool shot to the top of its category in the App Store.

Meditation newcomers are encouraged to start with a 15-day intro course of 10-minute-or-less sessions, while seasoned practitioners can delve into more in-depth offerings. These include courses in changing habits or uncovering happiness; “curated collections” that address things like stress or sleep; or you can build your own bespoke library with modules cherry-picked from various collections. With more than 160 guided meditations in different styles taught by different teachers, some may find all this choice a bit overwhelming.

The gurus: Teachers include Michael Apollo, the Mindfulness Program Director at the University of Toronto; Elisha Goldstein, PhD, a cofounder of the Center for Mindful Living in Los Angeles; and mind-body personality Ashley Turner.

The voices: With this many options, it’s hard not to find a teacher you click with.

The induction: Apollo brings a nuts-and-bolts approach to the basics in his 15-day intro course, but users are free to jump into the app wherever they want.

Price: $2.99 buys ongoing access to the all-you-can eat mindfulness buffet.

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Calm App

Calm

The promise of Calm is simple: Work to achieve a calm mind, and eventually parlay that into better sleep and decreased anxiety.

The practical, dogma-free curriculum maintains a strong focus on feeling and following the breath. After the intro “7 Days of Calm” program, it offers a deeper “21 Days of Calm” series, then “7 Days” of various other things (sleep, gratitude). There’s also an option for unguided sessions, and hyper-focused one-offs for everything from confidence to commuting. An Emergency Calm option is reserved for exceptionally rough moments.

The gurus: The app was developed by tech entrepreneur Alex Tew and Michael Acton Smith, who shot to fame with kids entertainment company Mind Candy.

The voice: Imagine your most loving, accepting, and serene-sounding aunt.

The induction: The seven-day intro program consists of 10-minute sessions that emphasize paying attention and noting your thoughts.

Price: The app and “7 Days of Calm” program are free; after that it’s $9.99 per month or $39.99 per year.

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Whil app

Whil

Take a deep breath—Whil has a whopping 1,250 yoga and meditation recordings by dozens of conscious thought leaders. Luckily, it’s customized from the get-go. Users are invited to pick “a few things to work on” from about 25 options (e.g. “keep composure,” “quiet inner critic”) and to claim an experience level.  Everyone is steered towards Mindfulness 101, but after that, a WhilPower search tool helps you call up more than 400 meditations geared toward very specific intentions. (A sort of mood mad-lib helps you choose one.)

The gurus: The 101-level sessions are taught by Kelly Boys, a corporate mindfulness trainer and former program director at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (born out of Google), and Mark Coleman, a mindfulness consultant and executive coach for Fortune 500 countries.

The voices: As with Meditation Studio, there’s ample variety—of voices and cool accents.

The induction: The Mindfulness 101 series consists of seven sessions, each one five minutes long.

Price: The free app includes 23 days of guided mindfulness sessions from six trainers; after that it’s $14.95 per month for meditation and yoga sessions (they’ll throw in emotional intelligence and leadership sessions for another $7.97). A lifetime membership is $399.95.

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Simply Being App

Simply Being

As the name implies, Simply Being brings a stripped-down approach to relaxation and mindfulness. Rather than giving you a sea of instructors, intentions, and meditation traditions to navigate, you need only select a duration for the guided sessions (five to 30 minutes, depending on how long silences are between cues), pick background sounds, and balance the volume of each. After that, there’s just one meditation, which is meant to be repeated regularly (perhaps extending the duration as you get more comfortable with it).

The gurus: Mary and Richard Maddux are the couple who brought their 30 years of meditation and coaching experience to the popular Meditation Oasis podcast. A lifelong musician and composer, Richard wrote the soundtracks for the app.

The voice: The feminine voice is so soothing it’s almost snooze-inducing—perhaps that’s why reviews often say the app helps them fall asleep. Some may find the whole vibe a little new-agey.

The induction: Not applicable here.

Price: $1.99 for unlimited access to one customizable guided meditation

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Buddhify App

Buddhify

This easy-to-navigate app includes more than 11 hours of guided meditations for 14 scenarios ranging from the universal (“difficult emotions,” “can’t sleep”) to the ultra-niche (“being online,” “walking in city”).

Once you get past the irony of using an app on your phone in order to form a healthier relationship with your devices, many of the sessions are quite useful. Pick one from a multicolored wheel of options, and it will unfurl to show a handful of more specific choices; or select “just meditate” when you’re not in the mood to choose. Sessions range from five to 30 minutes, and there’s a handy option to skip back or ahead 15 seconds to hear something again (or not).

The gurus: This one doesn’t have any meditation A-listers involved; it’s a product of the UK creative studio Mindfulness Everywhere. Its Glasgow-based director, Rohan Gunatillake, has become an expert in what he calls urban meditation, using the sights, smells, and sounds of the city as prompts for mindfulness, calm and compassion.

The voices: Gunatillake, who wrote about three-quarters of the material, has that laid-back British thing going on. A half-dozen meditation teachers from the UK and US supply other recordings.

The induction: Choose your own adventure from square one.

Price: $4.99 for unlimited access.

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10% Happier App

10% Happier

This app is a companion to the book of the same title written by Nightline anchor Dan Harris—you know, the one who had a nationally televised panic attack, embarked upon a meditation practice, and became one of the discipline’s most public evangelists.

The linear course, billed as “meditation for fidgety skeptics,” features straight-talking daily video lessons on the essentials,  in which Harris interviews mindfulness experts; simple, five- to 10-minute guided audio sessions; and real-life coaches who check in via text message to help with follow-through.

The gurus: Harris is amusing and good at making material accessible. The mindfulness cred is boosted by Buddhism experts including Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, who leads the early guided sessions.

The voices: Harris sounds like an anchorman, and Goldstein and Salzberg sound like wise, yet warm, teachers.

The induction: The first full course lasts two weeks, but the sessions continue several more days. Then there’s “10% Happier, Part 2,” a “10% Nicer” course with Salzberg, and coming soon, an effective communication course with Oren J. Sofer.

Price: The app and the first seven days are free. To access the rest, it’s $9.99

You’ve probably heard that meditation reduces stress—but did you know it also decreases pain, enhances your workouts, gives you great skin, and helps you love yourself