And the price tag doesn't hurt. After all, nearly one in three adults will suffer from anxiety in their lifetimes. A top stressor? Finances. It would be nice if the tool you're using to help your mental health didn't actually contribute to weighing on your mind with a new monthly cost. Or, if you're living large, maybe you'd just prefer to spend that money on some meditation room essentials.
- Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health
Finding the right meditation guide is worth the effort, though. Meditation is an evidence-based method of reducing stress and anxiety.
“Practicing mindfulness meditation has a long history of being an effective way to reduce stress levels,” says Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, a family therapist, psychiatrist, and chief medical officer a LifeStance Health, previously told Well+Good about the anxiety-reducing benefits of meditation. One recent study found that practicing meditation for two and a half hours a day was just as effective as taking anti-anxiety medication. However, “if you don’t have hours to dedicate to meditation every day, that is okay," Patel-Dunn says. "You can still see benefits by spending five to ten minutes engaged in a mindfulness activity.”
Where can I meditate for free?
All you need to meditate is your mind.
“One of the benefits of meditation is that it is very accessible,” said Dr. Patel-Dunn. “While there are a number of apps that offer guided meditations, if you find additional guidance is helpful, you don’t need anything to practice meditation.”
However, getting started can be daunting. Some meditation techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, also require a bit of education to learn basic principles like beginner's mindset and non-judgement. See our comprehensive list of free meditation apps that will teach you everything you need to know, plus here are guides to online mindfulness courses and movement meditation.
Is there a truly free meditation app?
Yes! But we understand your skepticism. Many subscription-based apps offer free versions that are really much more limited versions of the full thing. However, several apps from non-profit organizations, universities, and government agencies are truly free and have the added benefit of coming from mental health research centers, so all of their offerings are evidence-based.
The best free meditation apps you can download
A long-time player in the meditation app space, Insight Timer is the closest thing you will get to a robust meditation app with a variety of content and a sleek user experience that's free-99. With 150,000+ meditations from a slew of traditions and teachers, the content well will never run dry. In addition to guided meditations, there are musical tracks for meditation, a meditation timer, sleep-based meditations, and breathwork sessions. A journal section lets you track your mood and insights about your mental health, plus yoga, sleep sounds and stories, and inspirational written contact to round out your wellness practice. There is a "MembersPlus" option that you can access through a paywall that offers some premium audio and offline features, as well as access to courses. But TBH, you could probably meditate for the rest of your life and not run out of guided lessons on this particular app.
Aura will serve you meditation content based on a sign-up quiz that gauges your interests. While it's hard to tell from the app's description where they really push users to sign up for a premium membership, there is actually still a free option, albeit a limited one. With a free tier membership, you'll get access to one new three-minute meditation every two hours daily. And if you're just getting started, that tiny chunk of mindfulness might be just what you want and need (especially since a three-minute meditation is the exact amount of time you need to reset your nervous system).
3. Smiling Mind
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Take a moment to STOP ? and focus on your BREATH. When you slow your breathing rate down the uncomfortable physical sensations of fear and anxiety start to subside ?. Read more on our blog - link in our profile! TAG a friend and give them a moment of calm ?
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I mean, who wouldn't want their mind to smile? An Australian non-profit determined to spread mindfulness near and far, Smiling Mind is also one of those companies you just feel good about supporting. And, in this case, that support comes for the low, low price of zero dollars. All of Smiling Mind's programs, which included exercises you do on your own and guided meditations, are completely free. One in particular called "Thriving Inside" just got moved to the tip-top of my meditation playlist. If you're an educator or a parent attempting to teach the practice to younglings, the app has tons of free content to help you do just that.
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Exhale is an emotional well-being app specifically created by BIWOC for BIWOC. According to the app's website, it was "born out of the idea that the Black and Brown community is holding its breath, waiting for the next video of police brutality, the next micro-aggression, or the next negative health impact statistic. It’s time to exhale – to breathe out all that isn’t serving BIWOC and breathe in healing, energy and love."
Most of the content requires a paid subscription, however when you download the app, you can still access a subset of the features for free. You can find meditations, guided visualizations, breath work, coaching talks, and affirmations. The topics are curated with the BIWOC community in mind, with topics around embodiment, microaggression, soul medicine, ascending, and more.
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Meditation Studio is an app with over 70 experts that provide meditations for specific goals around stress, sleep, deep sleep, work, gratitude, parents, entrepreneurs, and more. The app is free on iOS and the free version includes a dozen of the most popular meditations, an unguided meditation timer, and more. The Android app is $3.99.
If you appreciate some educational backing with your mindfulness, this is the app for you. Not only is it free, but the UCLA Mindful App also lets you access guidance from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center even if you're not physically in Southern California. You can find basic meditations, wellness meditations, videos, a timer, and weekly podcasts from UCLA's Hammer Museum.
Created by the Veterans Administration National Center for PTSD, Mindfulness Coach is completely free app won't supplement its content with advertising or sharing your data. It's designed to teach you about mindfulness through a self-guided mindfulness training program. It also has 12 guided mindfulness audio sessions, plus written articles, and other audio content that expands on a mindfulness practice.
Another app out of an academic setting, the Healthy Minds Program app has "hundreds of hours" of guided meditations and mindfulness and mental health learning sessions. It's made by the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, and incorporates the research of lead neuroscientists Dr. Richard Davidson. Program donors make the free app possible, and while it's totally free to use and download, you will also have the option to donate.
The Mindfulness App is really meant to be used as a subscription service, but if you cancel membership at the end of the free trial, you'll still be able to use a free and much more limited version of the app. This includes regular timed meditation sessions (so basically, a reminder and a timer), a new weekly guided meditation, and other supplementary content.
Another primarily subscription-based app, Ten Percent Happier does have a decent amount of free content available once you download the app. For example, it released dozens of free guided meditations to help people cope during the height of the pandemic. That includes sessions created for first responders, as well as resources for the general public, such as navigating through tough times.
YouTube is, of course, not strictly a meditation app. But if you search "guided meditation" or "mindfulness meditation," you'll find scores of meditations at your fingertips. You can also check out the YouTube accounts of popular (paid) meditation apps for tons of free meditation content. For example, Calm's "The Essentials" playlist contains 11 guided meditations for reducing stress and anxiety, doing a body scan, changing negative thought patterns, and more.
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