Do you feel anxious? Is your boss checking in to see how you’re using your time at home? Are the kids interrupting a vital conference call? Are you bored, angry, short-tempered, or having problems concentrating or sleeping? Did anyone do the dishes?! How are you and those around you adapting to the new stay-at-home life?
The good news is, our adult brains aren’t static, they are still alive and growing. And like our children’s brain development, our adult brains can also adapt to almost any situation, even the Coronavirus pandemic. A great way to strengthen our minds, while experiencing some amazing benefits, is by practicing mindfulness. For more in depth look at how mindful practices work on the brain check out my earlier blog Why Mindfulness and Being Present is Good for Our Kids. While there are a lot of different resources available, be sure to also check another of my blogs 5 Simple and Mindful Exercises You Can Teach Young Kids at Home, in this blog I want to introduce you to 10 apps that will not only teach you more about mindfulness and meditation, but also help you set up a daily practice.
Why Practice Mindfulness? What’s in it for Me?
I recently learned, from a mindful practice app, that the adult brain creates 5,000 to 10,000 new brain cells every day. As parents, we know that our kids’ brains grow and create neural connections at an exponential rate. Until a few years ago, scientists believed that adult brains either stopped or significantly slowed down the production of new cells and neurons. So, what does this mean for you?
Mindful practice exercises, also known as meditation, affect several areas of the brain, including the frontal and parietal lobes, thalamus, and reticular formation. These are basically the regions of the brain responsible for reasoning and planning, emotions and awareness, time and space, and how you process sensory information. Mindful practice exercises also help your brain switch off its default, high-alert setting.
In the last thirty years, as brain science and imaging have improved, we understand more and more how mindful practice exercises can impact even beginning adult meditators. These demonstrable benefits include:
- Reduced levels of cortisol, stress, and anxiety.
- Improved sleep.
- Increased capacity for compassion-empathy, pain tolerance, and self-acceptance.
- Strengthened immune system and ability to concentrate.
- Increased telomerase, basically slows again down, you can look it up!
Think of the benefits like this too. Mindfulness exercises and mediation teach us how to calm down, pause, and reflect before automatically responding to whatever is going on around us. This is a fantastic skill to be able to teach our kids.
Mindfulness Apps—What’s Under the Hood?
As you go through the list below and visit the links provided, you’ll find most of the apps share a variety of standard features. All of these apps are actually free, or free with in-app purchases, so download any app that catches your attention and take it on a test drive. Or, really, a test sit! Here are a few of the standard features found across most of these apps:
- Guided mindful practice exercises or meditations—audio and video.
- Introduction to mindfulness and meditation courses.
- Content for kids.
- Guided sleep meditations, including soothing music tracks and ambient sounds.
- Tracking, to keep up with how often you are meditating.
- Technology integration, such as Apple Watch and Health Apps.
- The app allows you to download content for offline use.
My main goal in the choices I have made is to provide a variety of apps. The point is, find an app that fits your needs, preferences, and personality. Happy searching!
10 Best Mindfulness and Meditation Apps
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.9 stars (out of 5) and over 630,000 user ratings. Google Play 3.5 stars (out of 5) and over 120,000 user ratings.
Cost: Free—Offers In-App Purchases. First 2 weeks free; Annual membership is $69.99 $5.83 / month; Monthly $12.99 / month; Student and Family plans available.
- This is the primary app I use. Headspace is ranked in the top 3 of many best mindful practice and meditation app lists.
- Includes guided meditations, pro packs for more advanced meditators, Wake Up Mode with advice and real-life stories designed to inspire you, Move Mode that combines mindfulness and exercises, Headspace for Kids, and Sleep programming. Great app for beginners.
- Coronavirus Offer: Currently offering its top tier access for free to US healthcare professionals. Headspace is also currently offering several premium guided meditations for free.
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.8 stars (out of 5) and over 770,000 user ratings. Google Play 4.5 stars (out of 5) and over 215,000 user ratings.
Cost: Free—Offers In-App Purchases; First 7 days are free; Annual membership is $69.99; Calm for Life is $399.99.
- Like Headspace, Calm is ranked in the top 3 of many best mindful practice and meditation app lists. I have several friends who love Calm
- Includes guided meditations for beginners and more advanced practitioners. Specific programs include Calming Anxiety, Breaking Habits, Mindful Walking, and Calm Kids. Content can also do downloaded for offline use. A great all-around app, especially useful for sleeping with its Sleep Story series.
- Coronavirus Offer: Calm is currently offering several meditations for free. Check them out on their website.
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.8 stars (out of 5) and over 58,000 user ratings. Google Play 4.8 stars (out of 5) and over 9,500 user ratings.
Cost: Free—Offers In-App Purchases; first 7 video lessons are free; Annual Membership $99;
- The app is based on Dan Harris’ memoir 10% Happier.
- Includes guided meditations and courses taught by well-known teachers and mindfulness experts. The 10% Happier app also includes sleep meditations, personal teachers you can connect with online, daily reminders, and downloadable content that can be used offline. Created for the skeptics, more of a no-nonsense, few frills, approach to a mindfulness app.
- Coronavirus Offer: Has a great, free Coronavirus Sanity Guide with a lot of resources. It also provides free access offer for Health Care providers here.
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.7 stars (out of 5) and over 40 user ratings. Google Play 4.5 stars (out of 5) and over 40 user ratings.
Cost: The App is currently free because of the Coronavirus.
- This is another app I currently use.
- The Healthy Minds app is built on Dr. Richard Davidson’s decades of work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds. I first discovered Dr. Davidson and his collaboration with the Dali Lama in the fascinating book Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dali Lama.
- Includes a Healthy Minds Program focused on lessons and how to use mindfulness through a set of practical tools in four areas: Awareness, Connection, Insight, and Purpose. Includes lessons by experienced meditators, neuroscientists, and behavioral science experts. It also includes an emotional well-being assessment that periodically checks in with you to document your progress.
The Mindfulness App
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.7 stars (out of 5) and over 2,400 user ratings. Google Play 4.1 stars (out of 5) and over 11,000 user ratings.
Cost: Free—Offers In-App Purchases; First five days free; Monthly $9.99; Annual $59.99 (7-day free trial included).
- Overall a well-reviewed, straight forward mindfulness app that is noted for being user-friendly.
- Mindfulness App Includes a five-day guided practice and introduction to mindfulness, many of the other standard features, and a library of guided meditations and courses through its Premium Option.
Stop, Breathe and Think
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.8 stars (out of 5) and over 14,800 user ratings. Google Play 4.7 stars (out of 5) and over 17,500 user ratings.
Cost: Free—Offers In-App Purchases; Monthly $9.99; Annual $58.99.
- Stop, Breathe and Think App Offers guided meditations, acupressure, and yoga videos based on how you are feeling.
- Includes guided meditations, a daily check-in function to document your mood and progress, and other standard features.
- It also offers a separate app for kids—Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids. You can bundle both apps for $11.99 a month or $70.99 for the year.
Wake Up with Sam Harris App
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.9 stars (out of 5) and over 20,000 user ratings. Google Play 4.8 stars (out of 5) and over 8,800 user ratings.
Cost: Free—Offers In-App Purchases; $14.99 month; Annual $99.99.
- The app is based on the work of Sam Harris, a noted philosopher, neuroscientist, host of the popular podcast Making Sense, and New York Times best-selling author. I have recently downloaded the app and am enjoying the content.
- Includes a focus on the science of mindfulness and less on the tradition of meditation. Features included guided meditations, a 50-session progressive introductory course, and short lessons on topics like science and philosophy.
- Wake Up notes on its website that if you can not afford the premium version of the app, write them at their support email, and they will set you up with a free account.
UCLA Mindful App
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.5 stars (out of 5) and over 30 user ratings. Google Play 4 stars (out of 5) and over 40 user ratings.
- The UCLA Mindful app is user friendly with a simple design and content in English and Spanish.
- I included this app because of its focus on those suffering from challenging health conditions. It’s no-nonsense, fundamental approach, is potentially a good fit for older practitioners or those focused on health and well-being through mindfulness.
The Breathing App
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.6 stars (out of 5) and over 120 user ratings. Google Play 4 stars (out of 5) and over 260 user ratings.
- The app is inspired by resonance, the scientific term when the heart rate, blood pressure, and brainwave function optimally synch together.
- The Breathing app focuses on helping you regulate your breath to a beneficial ratio of inhalations and exhalations within a set period of time.
- The app is developed by and inspired by the bestselling author Deepak Chopra and another well-known author and yoga teacher Eddie Stern. For music fans from the 1990s, Moby, yes Moby, developed the breathing cue sound.
Ratings: Apple App Store 4.8 stars (out of 5) and over 3,300 user ratings. Google Play 4.1 stars (out of 5) and over 3,100 user ratings.
Cost: Free—Offers In-App Purchases; Annual $30.
- The Buddhify app is focused on appealing to those with a busy lifestyle. Think, meditation on the go.
- Includes mindfulness exercises that fit within your everyday routines such as eating, sleeping, traveling, and going to work. The app contains guided meditation and video content for both beginners and advanced practitioners.
Start Your Practice
In making these selections, my main goal is to provide you with a variety of well-reviewed apps. All of these apps are either free or have a free trial option. My best advice, take your time and download any of the apps that speak to your needs and interests. While Headspace is my main, go-to, daily practice app, I also visit a couple times a week, Healthy Minds because of its grounding in neuroscience, and Sam Harris’ Wake Up because I enjoy his podcast and his approach to mindfulness. If you are home alone, with kids, or working an essential job on the front lines, the time may never be better to learn more about mindfulness and start a daily practice.
If you have a favorite mindfulness or meditation app, please share yours in the comments below!