Meditation exercises, mindfulness training, learning to be grateful – these self-help practices have long since been used by regular people, and are now even used by managers and professional athletes. Meditation can help people to live healthier and happier lives. Of course, all this is also possible via an app. I have scrutinized five meditation apps in great detail and would like to present my views on this.
To keep things at the most basic level: In order to meditate, you need nothing more but yourself and a comfortable lotus seating position. However, anyone who has ever tried sitting still for several minutes and turning off their minds would have noticed just how difficult meditation actually is. This is especially true for beginners, who have never lived by being at peace with their inner selves, but constantly function only externally – they will need a lot of practice in order to arrive at the ultimate meditative state. This is where numerous lifestyle apps come into play, offering exercises, music, guided meditations, or hypnosis/sleep aids. Such apps can also help as reminders for daily meditation (2 x 20 minutes per day works wonders, believe me), so that you can integrate the healing power of solitude and silence in your everyday life. I have taken a look at the following apps:
A very comprehensive and yet free app would be Insight Timer. As the name suggests, this might seem to be a very simple application, but that is actually not the case. Insight Timer offers thousands (!) of guided meditations that will cater to different areas in your life:
- Learning to meditate
- Dealing with stress
- Sleep improvement
- Overcoming fears
- Strengthen your self-esteem
- Establish a morning routine
- Building relationships
- Meditation for children
Depending on which area of life you want to improve through meditation and mindfulness, courses, sounds and music, and live events, you can do so with renowned coaches from all over the world. What is really impressive is this: there is a large collection of guided meditations and coaching sessions that are available completely free of charge. This is a rarity in the health app field, as you will find out later in this article, and this is a really good thing. Small windows within the app do not get in the way of the aesthetics of the interface in any way.
In terms of content, everyone virtually gets their money’s worth with this app. There are meditations available across a wide range of languages. By default, Insight Timer is set to the smartphone language. But within the app itself, you can change the content language. If you do not want to do a guided meditation, you can create your very own meditation by setting a timer, selecting sounds of your choice, and customizing music according to your liking. You do not need an account to access the meditations and coaching sessions. However, if you create a profile, you will benefit from personalized lists and can track your progress and receive milestones.
Insight Timer is really accessible even in the basic version. If you want to support the developers, you can sign up for an annual subscription of €62.99. In the event where you have access to a better audio player, you can take advantage of all content offline and enjoy the new courses in your library as soon as they are released. But as I said, this is not a prerequisite.
- Available completely free of charge
- Exercises in many languages
- No account required
- Improved audio player performance only for the Premium version
- Offline mode only in Premium version
When I launched the Breethe app for the first time and the soft sound of peace and relaxation piped through my headphones and flooded my head, I felt detached from the world instantly. Easing into this app proved to be an incredibly lovely and tender process. Beautiful blue tones, a personal welcome note, and the soothing music immediately made me want to relax. Breethe also offers you different exercises in selected areas:
- Sleep better
- Overcoming fears
- Feeling happier
- Lose weight
- Get healthier
- Learning to meditate
- Positive ageing
- To be successful
- Improved relationships
Since the app was developed by American developers, users can currently also navigate to the “Election Stress Relief” section. “Election Stress Relief” is simply too funny not to mention, and the Americans can probably make use of it now. There are also available exercises in order to achieve inner peace in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the pandemic. So the app offers very up-to-date content and topics, which I like very much.
After I had selected my topic, however, came the disappointment: The app costs money. A whopping €13.99 per month, to be exact. But you can use the content for free without any restrictions for 14 days, and decide after that whether you are willing to spend that much money. Without any subscription, you will have limited access to 90 meditation exercises – which is not too bad after all. Unfortunately, all content on the app is available in the English language only for now. In order to make full use of it, you should have a good command of English in the first place, so that all of the verbal affirmation that you hear will be able to penetrate the subconscious for maximum benefit.
What I like about the basic version of the app is that there are already predefined daily routines. A good and mindful start for the day, meditations for traveling on public transport, two short meditations during your job, and finally, an evening meditation to wind down. If you take the time to really follow this program for two weeks, you will be a new person, I promise. But you will first have to really go through the motions. It is like sports in a way, by getting used to it with time.
- Very nice design
- Many different focus areas
- Preset daily routines
- Basic version offers “only” 90 exercises
- Very expensive subscription
- Only in the English language
The 7Mind app is probably the best-known meditation app in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Right after installation, you can begin with the basics of mediation and mindfulness. Right at the beginning of the introduction, you will notice the amazingly pleasant voice that will lead you through the first steps in 7Mind. The audio quality is top-notch and available in different languages, depending on the smartphone settings. First, you will learn how to breathe. This sounds too basic, but many people breathe incorrectly all day long. Even when you want to relax in the evening, the non-stop thinking brain does result in stressful breathing for many of us.
This is unhealthy, because when we are stressed, we are always on the alert, and the metabolic process of the body will continue for longer than usual. Learning how to breathe correctly is very important and extremely helpful piece of knowledge to have. Did you know that psychedelic states can be reached with breath mediation alone? On a side note, I would recommend the Instagram Channel by Eva Kaczor from Berlin, who happens to be the inventor of the psychedelic breath technique, which helps to achieve a very stable and peaceful inner state. A few months ago, I was allowed to interview her about meditation tips, which you can read about in Süddeutsche Zeitung.
7Mind also uses numerous breathing exercises and there are courses available for different areas:
- Exploring your potential
- School & University
In addition, there are also so-called “singles”, i.e. individual exercises from various areas:
- Situational scenarios (for example in case of a panic attack or for your morning routine)
- Sound & nature
- 7Minis (short meditation)
- School & University
As you can see, the 7Mind app is really very comprehensive, with one catch: In the free version, you have only seven guided available meditations. All contents can be unlocked with the €59.99premium subscription. Alternatively, you can purchase the lifetime subscription for €149. 7Mind is suitable for those who want to integrate the magic of meditation and mindfulness into everyday life. I can only take a venture that €150 is suddenly not such a high sum to pay for a lifetime subscription, in view of the high-quality content found in 7Mind.
- Very good coaches
- Short and long meditations
- Only seven guided meditations in the free version
- Subscription required
Offline tip: Book recommendation for meditation practitioners
What is considered as the Bible among self-help guidebooks contains no less than 1,313 pages and hails from the Indian guru Osho. “The Book of Secrets” contains “112 meditation techniques to discover inner truth” and is indeed a great treasure on my bedside table. Unlike other reference books, Osho really focuses on the practice in this one, without too much talking and fluff. Although this book does delve a lot into tantra and sexual energy, every fan of meditation will find something that will benefit them here. Osho writes: “Those who don’t find enlightenment in this book will never find it”. 112 meditation techniques is really an incredible amount to discover. I can do nothing else but recommend this book to you.
Besides 7Mind, Calm is one of the most popular meditation apps on the market. Right after installation, you can jump right into your first theme:
- Be happier
- Be less anxious
- Reduce stress
- Develop self-esteem
- Sleep better
- Be grateful
- Improve performance
What I didn’t like right from the get-go is the display shown after the installation – which nudges you to subscribe. That stressed me out immediately! After a seven-day trial, you can unlock Calm permanently with an annual subscription fee of €38.99 ($46). This is one of the cheapest prices that I have come across when it comes to meditation apps so far. With a subscription, you will receive a new meditation every single day and have access to more than 100 guided meditations and stories to help you sleep. In addition, “exclusive” music is available for sleep and relaxation.
Those who do not want to sign up for a subscription will have access to just a small amount of content in English. What impressed me was this: the voice of Stephen Fry, who reads a story with a soft, deep voice that will transport you immediately to a province in Southern France. This is a wonderful journey in the category “Sleep stories”. When I only think of Fry’s voice, I get goosebumps and long for my bed with doopy eyes. You will feel safe and protected. That’s how it must feel to be read a bedtime story.
The other voices in Calm, which will lead through various meditation exercises, are also of very high quality and give you a good feeling in your heart. The prerequisite is that you must have a good grasp of English. All in all, I like Calm very much. The only downside is this: there is a lot of locked content that remains visible in the basic version, and you need to jump through hoops in order to obtain the free sessions and stories.
- Sleeping Stories
- Professional speakers
- Account required
- Not clearly arranged
- Only available in English
Upon launching the Headspace meditation app, you will be treated to a beautiful animation that encourages deep breathing and exhalation for three seconds. This is deemed as necessary, because immediately after that the account login screen will appear.
The app will boot up in English, but you can choose your preferred language in the settings. Headspace also uses the course method for different topics. The focus here is on better sleep, concentration, and meditation. Headspace offers you some free content; but if you want more, you have to spend either €12.99 monthly or dig in and settle for an annual subscription of €57.99 – which equals to €4.99 monthly. Thankfully, there is a 7-day trial for you to figure out whether this is something that you would like to drop some coin on. However, I do think that this trial period is simply too short to really see where all the added value comes in.
Headspace offers you daily meditations and exercises for “S.O.S. situations”, such as a panic attack, tantrums, or fears. Sounds like the perfect app for the office! As with Insight Timer, Headspace also allows you to easily customize a timer that will suit your needs and create an unguided meditation session.
I find these meditations especially exciting and are more suitable for advanced students who already have trained their mind patterns to be kept well under control. For unguided meditations, ideally, the subconscious takes over at some point and you can learn incredible truths about yourself, discover new things about your body and feel and experience more intensely what it feels like to be simply conscious in the vastness of the universe. Without being encumbered by ego, without having a name, without any tasks to attend to, without any problems at all. Just being. Namaste.
- Simple interface
- Pleasant voices
- Requires subscription
- Very little free content in the basic version
Do you use meditation tips or take care of your mental health offline instead? What do you think about meditation and mindfulness apps? I am looking forward to a stimulating discussion in the comments.
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