Mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzzword recently. More and more people – including schools, prisons and government institutions – are realising that mindfulness is the key to navigating our busy, stressful lives, and reducing our susceptibility to both mental and physical illness.
And of course, as with most things these days, there’s an app for that! Although many of us are looking to reduce our screen time and reliance on devices, the truth is, they can come in very handy sometimes. And if we’re going to be using our phones anyway then why not use them for something beneficial, something mindful? After all, awareness is the key to any mindful practice.
There are 4 mindfulness apps I’ve come across recently which I find really useful in different ways. So, I thought I’d share them with you and offer some insights into the benefits each one provides. Whether you’re a seasoned mindfulness practitioner, or just getting started, one of these apps is sure to be right for you.
Insight Timer is probably one of the longest running meditation apps. It started as simply a way of timing your own meditation practice, with different starting bells available, including the traditional Tibetan singing bowl. You can set the duration, number of intervals and ambient background sound to create different presets for your meditation sessions.
However, it’s now evolved into much more than this. It’s effectively an online meditation community, which allows you to connect with other meditators around the world. You can make friends, see who else is using the app at the same time as you, and even send them a “Thanks for meditating with me” message!
Insight Timer has a huge, ever-increasing library of guided meditations and talks from a wide variety of teachers, including ‘big names’ such as Tara Brach, Wim Hof and Judson Brewer. You can search for topics centred around different emotions, benefits, types of practices and traditions. You can listen to thousands of different music tracks and stories to help you sleep. And if you upgrade there are also 10-30 day courses you can take, in subjects as diverse as anxiety, grief, Buddhism, Chakras, addiction, fertility, masculinity, tantra, attracting love, Ayurveda and mindfulness for teens.
The great thing about this app is that most of the content is free. You can upgrade to the premium version for £59.99/year (after a 7-day free trial) to access their ‘Daily Insight’, additional material, downloadable content and their entire catalogue of 150 courses. But, personally, I think the free version is more than adequate.
- Preset timers to keep you on track for your own meditation sessions.
- Huge library of guided meditations and talks.
- Bookmarks for your favourite meditations and teachers.
- Personal profile with stats, milestones, messages, notifications and groups.
- Most of the app is free and it sounds like they want to keep it that way.
- Half of all their income is paid directly to the teachers.
- The only bad thing I can think of to say about Insight Timer is the ‘My Progress’ section of the profile. Whilst I’m sure this is helpful for many people and can help keep them on track with their meditation practice, I personally find this has the opposite effect! If you’re anything like me – task-driven and ruled by my to-do list – then you might find the urge to rack up a higher and higher number of consecutive days becomes the focus of using the app, rather than the actual meditating! After a while I found I was listening to a quick 5 minute guided meditation just to keep my consecutive days up, which was kind of missing the point! So I had to let go of the ‘progress’ part of the app, and stop comparing myself to how often my friends were meditating. All useful lessons of course!
The first thing you’ll notice about Headspace is the playful illustrations and animations they use, which show people meditating in everyday places, such as on park benches, on public transport and in gyms. As Anna Charity, the app’s head of design says, “Often people have been put off meditation by the mystical language, and visually they think of chakras and pebbles and incense. We show our meditators sitting on trains or in the park so people can visualise themselves engaging with the practice in everyday situations.”
The main focus of Headspace is helping people learn to meditate, so it’s great for beginners. You can sign up for free and access their ‘Basics course’, but after that you’ll need to subscribe to access the full library. This includes: hundreds of themed guided meditations; on-the-go exercises for activities like cooking, eating, commuting, and more; and ‘SOS sessions’ to skilfully manage moments of panic or anxiety. There’s also a sleep section offering sleepcasts and sleep sounds, an animation library, and Headspace for kids.
You can pay £9.99/month for the app, but it’s cheaper if you opt for the annual subscription at £71.88. There’s also a family plan for £14.99/month which includes up to 6 accounts. According to Apple’s App Store, there’s also a Forever subscription where you pay a one-off upfront fee of $400 USD (around £310) for lifetime access.
- The app feels friendly, lighthearted and welcoming.
- Offers a great way for beginners to learn how to meditate in just a few minutes a day.
- Subscribers can access the full library of content, including exercises, bite-sized meditations and sleep sounds.
- The family plan option means you can get your kids involved and the whole family can benefit from learning to meditate.
- Although you can get started for free, you need to subscribe to access most of the content.
The deal with Calm is that you have to buy a subscription – you can’t access any content until you sign up and start your 7 day free trial. But I actually liked it so much I decided to buy it anyway.
They claim to be the number one app for meditation and sleep and offer an extensive library of guided meditations as either one-offs or series. These are based around topics such as sleep, anxiety, beginners, stress, self-care, focus, relationships and kids.
One of their USPs is their ‘Sleep Stories’ – “soothing bedtime stories to help you fall into a deep and natural sleep”. At the time of writing some of the narrators of these included Stephen Fry, Matthew McConaughey, David Walliams, Jerome Flynn and Leona Lewis, so they’ve got some big names on their side.
There’s also a music section offering varying lengths of ambient sounds to help you sleep, focus or relax, plus lullabies, soundscapes and nature melodies. I’ve been trying these out while I work and practise yoga.
There’s a ‘Daily Calm’ you can listen to, which is usually around 10 minutes long, and they also have a Calm Kids area, Calm Masterclasses from world-renowned mindfulness experts, and Calm Body. This includes various types of exercises to relax and stretch your body in the morning or evening, to warm up or cool down, or to look after your back.
After your 7 day free trial, a subscription costs $59.99 USD/year (around £46 at the time of writing). Or you can get lifetime access for $400 USD (around £310).
- Calm is aimed at helping beginners learn to meditate, as well as offering hundreds of programs for intermediate and advanced users.
- If you have trouble sleeping, their Sleep Stories, guided sleep meditations, lullabies and sleep sounds could be really beneficial.
- Many of their meditations are offered as series around a particular topic, to encourage daily or regular practice.
- I like that they include a physical aspect too, with their Calm Body stretching section. After all, a calm body leads to a calmer mind.
- You have to sign up in order to access any of the content.
Happy Not Perfect
I can’t remember how I first came across Happy Not Perfect but I think it’s great! Their whole ethos is around creating happiness in your life by using simple tools for just a few minutes each day.
I’ve been using their ‘Happiness Workout’ which is, “filled with science-backed exercises to help you find a positive mindset and keep you feeling cool and calm”. It takes you through 7 steps using a combination of the following:
- Mood selection: allows you to check-in with yourself to see how you’re feeling by selecting from a list of positive and negative moods.
- Deep breathing: guides you through taking just a few deep breaths to help you connect to your mind and body.
- Grateful diary: invites you to write a few things you’re grateful for in your life today.
- Letting go: asks questions around getting things off your chest, which you type and then virtually ‘burn’ to destroy the evidence!
- Compassion: provides writing prompts to help you fill your compassion cup, such as, “Name two things you admire about yourself”.
- Goal setting: allows you to set your goals for the day because, “Small wins everyday helps happiness stay”.
- Challenges: invites you to create your own small challenges to help you feel good about yourself.
- Positive vibes: you can choose from a selection of encouraging images and messages to send to a friend.
- Drawing: invites you to draw a picture from a prompt, such as your favourite place, or something that makes you happy.
- Mindful games: these are simple games to focus your mind on the present moment, such as a maze, a puzzle and a not-touching-the-sides game.
- Meditation: the Happiness Workout always ends with a simple 2-3 minute guided meditation to help you connect to your breath, body, mind and emotions.
There are also guided meditations and courses available, mostly split into a few minutes over several days, but you do need to upgrade to access these. The library doesn’t seem nearly as extensive as the other apps mentioned above, but I think this expands when you upgrade, as they claim to offer, “400+ meditations, coaching sessions and life hacks from world experts”.
There’s a ‘Daily Dose’ of a few inspiring, uplifting or thought provoking words, which is usually less than a minute long, you can set reminders and track your progress in your profile, and there are also inspiring quotes dotted around throughout the app and that pop up when you complete a workout or task.
When you upgrade to Premium, there’s a free trial for the first 7 days, then it’s £54.99/year.
- Offers a great way to start developing a more positive mindset in just a few minutes per day.
- Includes practical tools and exercises, rather than simply meditations.
- The Happiness Workout is free when you first download the app, but at some point it tells you you’ve reached your limit and you have to upgrade to continue using it, which felt a bit misleading to me.
- I found the typing area in some of the exercises quite frustrating to use. It’s a very small area, you can’t scroll or move around easily, and once you’ve hit ‘Done’ you don’t seem to be able to go back and edit it before submitting.
Which mindfulness app is right for you?
There are lots of meditation and mindfulness apps out there, which can help us tune in, block out external noise and stress, and hopefully find some inner peace and clarity.
The apps I’ve mentioned here are either very well known, or ones I’ve personally found useful for my own mindfulness practice. So, which app is right for you? Below is my summary, depending on what you’re looking for.
- Most cost effective – you can access most of the content for free.
- Best for seasoned meditators – timer option for unguided meditation.
- Best for online community – connect with friends and send messages.
- Best for beginners – a straightforward, accessible approach to learning to meditate.
- Best for families – get the kids involved with their monthly family plan.
- Best for sleep issues – strong focus on encouraging better sleep.
- Best for mindful movement – includes Calm Body.
Happy Not Perfect
- Most interactive – includes writing, drawing, games and other exercises.
- Best for increasing happiness – centred around creating a more positive mindset.
What do you think?
Have you tried any of the apps mentioned in this article? Do you agree with our reviews? Are there any parts of an app you think work really well or you don’t like at all?
Or are there other meditation or mindfulness apps you’ve come across that you’d recommend?
We’d love to know what you think, especially if it helps others live a more mindful life. So, feel free to leave a comment below.