Take a deep breath: 5 meditation apps reviewed

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Meditation and mindfulness seems like the new buzzword: mindfulness for toddlers, mindfulness in 8 weeks, 3 days to mindful, etc! But mindfulness is actually a really old practice, and I first encountered it more than twenty years ago in the books of Thich Nhat Hanh. Also called Thay by his students, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr in the 1960’s. He teaches that mindfulness is a practice that you bring everywhere- while you’re walking, doing the dishes, etc, and not only sitting cross-legged on a mat. Relatively new, however, is learning and practicing meditation from an app.

Why learn meditation? I recommend a meditation practice to many of my patients, along with talk therapy and sometimes medication if needed. A nice run-down of the research can be found on the American Psychological Association’s website (below), but studies have found that patients have less anxiety, improved stress, get upset less often, and feel more compassionate and empathetic towards others (which, not surprisingly, translates to better relationships). There are also benefits to memory and focus, whch may be why meditation has also been found in studies recently to be helpful for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Another interesting fact: I’m reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris right now, where he boils down the wisdom of billionaires, Olympians, etc, and 80% of the people he interviewed have some kind of mindfulness practice!

Let me make it clear that NEARLY every app I looked at says it is the “Number one meditation app!” and “found in the pages of…” Using the app store, I looked for the top grossing and downloaded apps. I reviewed five based on this, downloading them onto my iPhone, and practicing with them. Of the apps below, Headspace, Calm, and Omvana have apple Watch support.

  1. Headspace (www.headspace.com): app is free, subscription costs about $12.99 per month, but less if you sign up for a year or more. You get 10 free initial sessions with the app. This app had my favorite narrator, Andy Puddicombe, who had a relaxing, approachable voice. Appears to be the app most often used in research studies on using an app for meditation. Has a foundation course with three levels, then series for health,, performance, relationships etc. Cute interface, with mini-monsters.
  2. Calm: meditation to relax and focus (www.calm.com): free app, subscription based at $12.99 per month, $59.99 per year. Programs and individual sessions for all skill levels.  Lovely, simple interface with nature photos; a daily meditation that changes each day (on Christmas Eve, this was “festivity”), has guided and unguided meditation with nature sounds. You choose your nature sound behind the meditation, and then the meditation occurs over the top of the sound. Could be annoying for some. Friendly sounding narrator- is she smiling while she talks? Unique to this app were sleep stories- basically low key bedtime stories read to you. There are also meditations for kids. Just eight meditations are available with free app without subscription.
  3. Meditation studio (www.meditationstudioapp.com): $3.99, 5 star rating on iTunes, ability to schedule your sessions, clean attractive interface. 200 different meditations. No subscription required. Examples: meditation for beginners, happiness, helping your change habits. Multiple different teachers, from different walks of life- meditation teachers, monks, yoga teachers,  (Rodney and Colleen Yee, Beryl Bender Birch). Nice: meditations for mom, kids, veterans, first responders. Can superimpose meditation over nature sounds.
  4. Stop, Breathe and Think (www.stopbreaththink.org): Free app, but subscription based. $4.99 per month, 10% of revenue goes to a non profit, Tools for Peace to help at risk youth learn mindfulness and meditation. Basic meditations are free. I’ve used this one for a long time, and really like it- it has K.D. Lang music on some of the apps! However, it used to be a free app that you purchased a limited number of meditations available, but has recently switched to the subscription model. Even with the meditations I purchased in the past, there are less than in the Meditation Studio app.
  5. Omvana: (www.omvana.com): app free, meditations are charged per series or class. Store is iTunes like, with a wide variety of options for different classes available for purchase, around $3.99 to $5.99 or so, or a $7.99 per month subscription. If you sign up, you get 25 free meditations. I wasn’t impressed with the store on my Macbook air, which had several broken links and loaded samples indefinitely- the iphone version worked better. This seems to be a common theme as the iTunes reviews are either ecstatic or angry because the app and store were buggy. It crashed on my iPhone after limited use (twice). Some of the courses are kind of cheesy: “The Art of Sexual Invitation”, etc. 4.5 star rating. Integrates with the health kit.

My choice: I kept the Meditation Studio app on my phone. If I subscribed to a service, I would probably choose Calm, unless the Omvana store and app become less buggy in the future. Tell me what you think in the comments below! Have you tried any of these apps? Or do you use a different app?

(http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx)