How did we go from meditating in dark and silent hermit caves with a quest of achieving spiritual enlightenment, to meditating in 15-story high-rise apartment buildings with headphones on trying to boost performance and productivity in our day-to-day life? Times have changed it seems and, in some ways, we’ve evolved and come a long way, while in other ways, some would argue, that we’ve gone astray.
Whatever the case may be, meditation as a lifestyle and practice is growing more than ever in the western world, but also to some degree globally. We live in increasingly hectic and stressful times, bombarded by distractions at every turn. Our smartphones have become our extended limbs and minds, without them we feel compromised when navigating the world and that it’s increasingly getting harder to sit in solitude and silence without getting bored. That being said, this great power present in our smartphones comes at a certain price, namely continuous distractions and a certain degree of disconnection from our immediate surroundings.
Meditation, and mindfulness in particular, has proven itself to be a helpful tool for many problems we’re each facing individually but perhaps also collectively.
The topic of this article is mediation apps and their attempt to solve this somewhat problematic state of affairs from the very thing that’s in many ways responsible for it. A Zen trojan horse if you will.
Having said that, in this article we’ll go through some of the best meditation apps available on the market.
First however, we need to ask ourselves…
What is meditation?
Meditation is a big term nowadays, too big in fact, as it has become an umbrella term that contains in it many different techniques, disciplines, methods and what have you. For our intents and purposes, we’ll describe meditation simply as the
cultivation of conscious awareness of oneself, i.e. the body, senses, thoughts, feelings and the external world.
In this increasingly psychologically distracted world we’re living in, one thing is for certain, the cultivation of conscious awareness is something we need more of.
Why you should meditate
Besides the obvious reasons of learning how to cut distractions and reconnect with ourselves and the world around us, meditation techniques has other benefits too noteworthy to simply overlook. For example, among many things, meditation has scientifically been proven to:
- Reduce stress and anxiety levels
- Potentially alleviate symptoms of depression
- Improve sleep quality
- Reduce chronic pain
- Boost focus and lengthen attention span
If that isn’t enough to implement a meditation practice to your everyday life, I don’t know which carrot to dangle before you. Hmm, perhaps spiritual enlightenment? Or never mind, that is for the spiritual seeker of truth, which most likely cannot be discovered in nor delivered to you through an app.
Having briefly gone through what meditation is and some of the various benefits, let’s now get on to actual goodies of this article, namely the best meditation apps of 2020.
- Meditation and relaxation techniques in the form of both audio and video
- Sleep stories with famous people narrating
With over 75 million downloads and 700,000+ 5-star reviews, Calm is one of the biggest names in the meditation app market. In the app you can learn the basics on how to meditate, how to improve your sleep but there’s also guided meditations, an array of relaxing music, plus scenes and sounds from nature to soothe your mind.
One of the perks with Calm is that it offers exclusive stories to help you sleep, stories or guided talks narrated by famous people like Matthew McConaughey, Eva Green and Harry Styles to name a few.
- Free to download with a seven-day free trial
- $60 annually for a regular subscription
- $299 for a lifetime subscription
- Has a warm and cartoonish interface which makes it quite fun and engaging
- Hundreds of guided meditations on a variety of topics
- Stories, sounds and music to improve your sleep
- Committed to the science behind meditation and mindfulness
Headspace was co-founded by Andy Puddicomb, who in his early adult life left his university studies to become a Buddhist monk.
Headspace is very keen on the science behind meditation and mindfulness, as they’re currently involved in conducting one of the biggest mindfulness meditation studies in the world.
- 2 weeks free trial if you order an annual plan and 1 week trial if you order monthly.
- $12.99 for a monthly subscription
- $69.99 for an annual plan
- Has the world’s largest collection (55,000) of free guided meditations
- No need to hand over credit card details.
- Meditation timer with stats and milestones to track progress.
Insight Timer is another highly popular meditation app that supposedly has the double amount of time spent on its app than Calm and Headspace combined. The team behind the app emphasizes that while most people are looking at how much downloads or money an app is making, few seem to look at how much time people are spending in each app. In other words, Insight Timer is the most active meditation community on the globe.
Insight Timer is mostly free though for a small monthly fee you can subscribe to get access to additional features found in the “offline mode” and “explorer mode”. Offline mode allows you listen offline i.e. download to your device and pick up where you left off. While Explorer mode allows you to customize and organize your bookmarks, playlists and also listen to playlists curated by teachers.
- There are two separate modes that you can pay for, offline mode and explorer mode. Both cost $2.99 per month each.
- Narrated by Sam Harris
- 50-day introductory course that will teach you the basics of mindfulness meditation
- Conversations, lessons and guided meditations by Sam and other talented teachers
- Meditation timer and tracking
Waking Up by Sam Harris is one of the more underappreciated meditation apps on the market. Harris is an influential neuroscientist and philosopher who has a special talent in communicating simple and complex with remarkable lucidity. Having more than 30 years of experience in meditation, his calming voice also hosts a great podcast with the same name as the app. In the app you get access to more advanced meditative insights, talks, interviews, methods and practices accompanied with a more intellectual perspective on meditation in comparison with the more popular apps on the market.
- $14.99 for a monthly subscription
- $119.99 ($10 per month) for an annual plan
- If you can’t afford the app, you can contact the support team behind the app to get free access to it. This is because they believe that money should never be the reason that you’re not granted access to the knowledge found in the Waking Up app
- Simple, sleek and minimalistic design
- Features meditative sounds (chimes, bells, bowls and gongs)
- Reports and stats to help you track progress
If you’re looking for simplicity when it comes to your meditation app, Ensō could be the sleek and minimalistic app you’re looking for. Especially if you feel that those other meditation apps are too filled with diverse content, content that end up making you more distracted and scattered.
Ensō is an easy to use meditation timer accompanied with high-quality meditation sounds in the form of bells, bowls, chimes and gongs.
Having said that, the Ensō app really lives up to its name and history, namely the simplicity in the hand-drawn Zen circle which expressed effortless creativity when the mind was/is clear and free.
- Free to use and download though additional bells or sounds can be purchased in the app.
- Interactive interface that targets current states of mind or specific needs/wants
- 3 minute daily guided meditations for those that are busy
Aura calls itself the number one app when it comes to emotional health and sleep. Meditations, sleep, stories, nature sounds, music and gratitude journals are some of the features they provide. The most notable thing with Aura is the interactive interface, as it asks you personal questions in order to provide tailored content. The more you use it, the better it gets to know you providing you with a better session each time.
- Free to use when it comes most features
- Has three plans, namely monthly subscription for $11.99 per month, yearly subscription for $59.99 or a one-time charge of $399 for lifetime access to the app.
It’s time to balance Candy Crush and the myriad of other games you have installed in your phone with a good meditation app that will deliver result. The more we go into the future the more we seem to battle with both subtle and gross phenomena affecting our psychological states. The art and practice of meditation is one of the best ways to reclaim your mind and empower your direct experience.
One last thing. It’s important to know that you don’t need an app to meditate. I dare say that the profoundest realizations from your meditation practice will most likely be when you’re alone, far from technology and in silence. However, that doesn’t mean that meditative tools like these meditation apps can’t help you in living a more mindful and stress-free life. Simply make the best of what you’ve got!
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel currently studies history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet, as he is currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.