If you’ve ever considered trying meditation but don’t know where to start, maybe an app will help.
There are dozens of meditation apps which have appeared in the last few years. Most of them are simply collections of audio recordings which serve as guided meditation sessions. A few meditation apps for beginners go a step further, though, and attempt to actually teach you how to meditate and develop a meditative habit.
I tried out some of these apps. Though I’ve had a meditation practice for quite some time, these reviews are from the perspective of a beginner trying to establish a meditative habit. When it comes to mindfulness, there are no “experts.” We’re all perpetual beginners trying to become more observant of our own thoughts. All of the apps in this post are both iOS and Android compatible.
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If there is one app which really captures the needs of beginners, it’s headspace.
When you download the app, you’re given a challenge to follow their 10-minutes-per-day-for-10-days program. The narrator speaks to you directly for the course of the 10 days at the beginning and end of each lesson, checking in on your progress. It also includes short animated videos to help explain the concepts being introduced. If you’re confused about how to meditate or need a kick getting started, this sort of structure can be very powerful.
Experienced practitioners will notice that this 10-day challenge contains a smattering of different meditative techniques. It’s really a sampling platter of different strategies, trying to help the user understand what works best for her.
Aside from a great onboarding experience, Headspace is also visually beautiful. The animated videos are of the same high quality. It’s a very aesthetically pleasant app, both visually and sonically.
My only real complaint about Headspace is, ironically, also its biggest strength: they try to force you into having an account. I’m personally not looking for a membership-based solution to my meditation needs. Others might found it to be a useful commitment device. It will help you set goals for learning meditation.
“Calm” feels like a friendly teacher trying to help you out. It lacks the strong structure of some of the other apps, providing suggestions and little tasks instead of a prescribed program to follow.
The first thing you see when you start the app is one of a few different calm scenes. It might be a lake, clouds, or the forest accompanied by some light natural music. I love this app for my daily practice, since it gives me that serene environment without extra bells and whistles.
Calm does have a “7 days to calm” introduction course which is pretty decent, and the guided meditations are nice as well. I don’t think it’s quite as strong as Headspace or Sattva is this category, but where it excels is the simple “give me a serene space to meditate in” task.
Again, we see this sort of gamification and “daily-journey” approach to meditation in Sattva. The use of “challenges” seems somewhat at odds with the idea of meditation to me, but I understand that they’re trying to get you motivated to try meditation. Still, I think they could have used language that was more in-line with mindfulness-based philosophies here.
The “feed” and “statistics” features are also extremely prominent, making the app feel like Fitocracy or Runkeeper or other “get motivated by your friends” style of apps. Again, I don’t quite understand this. To me, meditation is a personal practice and I have no interest in sharing or comparing myself against my friends. In fact, that whole concept of comparing yourself to others is rather antithetical to what meditation is all about.
For these reasons, Sattva is probably my least favorite of the four apps I reviewed.
Buddhify has fewer of the “tutorial” elements of other apps. In some ways, it’s a bit more of an advanced app: you’re meant to choose your own direction.
What I like about Buddhify, though, is the context-specific recordings. Instead of a “one-size-fits-all” approach, Buddify divides the lessons into situations. For example, there are meditations for taking a break at work, waking up in the morning, going for a walk, and so on. This leads to a sense of variety in the practice. It also feels a lot more relevant, using the situation which you are in as a part of the meditation rather than using meditation to remove yourself from the situation.
This is my go-to app when I need a break in the middle of the day. I like the diversity of meditations available quite a lot, and usually can find one that’s relevant to my particular situation. I don’t use it for my daily morning practice, though, since the answer to the question “what are you doing?” is always the same (“waking up.”)
- The Mindfulness App ($2.99)
- Simply Being ($1.99)
- Mindfulness Meditation (Free)
The easiest way to understand the differences is to look at the prompt each app gives.
Headspace asks you to take 10. Calm suggests you try this little meditation. Sattva gives you challenges. Buddhify asks what you’re doing right now. Each of these are suggestive of the tone and approach the app takes towards meditation.
Maybe one or another of these prompts will resonate better with you and help you stay on-track with your mindfulness practice. Since many of the apps are free, it can’t hurt to give them a try and see what works best for you.
If you have any thoughts to add, or if I missed any apps, let me know with an email or a comment!