Thinking of taking up meditation in the new year? I have been a long time user of various meditation and mindfulness apps. So after many years, I’ve decided to finally write a post about the three best known mindfulness apps and my experiences with them.
Too often, we find that being on our phones can often be a mindless distraction. I’ve written a few accounts on my own experiences with phone addiction. Apps can be addictive, be they social media, email, messaging services, etc. There seems to be an app for almost anything these days. Meditation apps have long been on the market, the most famous one being Headspace, and longstanding but lesser known apps Calm and Insight Timer.
Headspace was great for an introduction to meditation and mindfulness, with a clean look to the app and fun graphics. It has introductory packs (courses of around 10 sessions) that are accessible for free. There are mini sessions for that quick break, and other packs that are accessible on a subscription only basis. Headspace’s content is split nicely into different emotions, life events, interests and levels to make it easy for the user to select areas of interest. They also have some animations to help users better understand the basics of meditation.
I haven’t used Headspace for some time, but at the time all the recordings were by founder Andy Puddicombe. Thankfully I found his voice to be quite relaxing. However, it can be quite a personal preference when listening to someone’s voice. So for those who like the option to select a voice may prefer other apps.
I stopped using Headspace because I found I entered into practice with a sense of competition. I ended up meditating with a view to go up a level or get access to a new pack (at the time you could only have one pack running at a time, but now you can have multiple) rather than meditating to find any sense of peace or wisdom. I had inadvertently convoluted my mindfulness practice. Whilst I’m sure most people did not encounter this same issue, I found it wasn’t really the app for me. However, I really recommend it for beginners to meditation as it is easy to use and each practice is very clearly explained.
Calm has changed drastically since I used it many years ago when it first appeared on the app store. The interface now has beautiful images of nature and a navigation focusing on sleep, meditation and music.
At the time when I used it all those years ago, there were only two voices available for meditations and both grated on me. Thankfully now there are more meditation recordings. Listening to the current free recordings that are available, the introductory style appears scripted rather than discursive. Those preferring a more natural flow to meditation may find it offputting. However, some nice functionalities include bedtime stories, even featuring Stephen Fry as a narrator.
Calm now provide a 7 day free trial followed by a subscription. Compared to Headspace or Inisght Timer, their content is a lot more heavily gated which may not so easily draw in users compared to other apps.
Insight Timer arguably has a less clean look to it than Headspace or Calm. However, its navigation is clearly laid out to include meditations recordings, a timer for silent practice and a ‘course’ feature.
It has a lovely map showing where others are meditating across the world and presents a real sense of community. After each practice there is the option to see a picture and username (no other personal information) of other people who have been meditating at the same time and to thank them for meditating with you. There are many meditation and music recordings by a host of different teachers, the breadth of content far exceeding Headspace or Calm. They also have a variety of talks. The app has a timer function that you can customise with different singing bowls and gongs to count the length of your practice. The diversity of the app is simply wonderful and best of all, the majority of the content is absolutely free.
Recently, a pay per course function was released, allowing you access to some really quality course recordings. I enrolled onto Tara Brach’s ‘Free Yourself from Blame and Resentment’. It is such a good experience to have access to globally prevalent tutors’ recordings and an absolute pleasure to learn their teachings.
In case it wasn’t obvious already, Insight Timer definitely gets my vote for best meditation and mindfulness app. The app feels like it is built for a community rather than built as a business venture, making it all the more appealing. I feel that whilst Headspace is the better app for beginners to meditation and mindfulness, Insight Timer is better suited to intermediate and advanced meditators. It also contains a lot of insightful teachings for those interested in talks about self improvement rather than solely the practices. This really helps to provide different viewpoints and concepts to help the practitioner find nuggets of information that are useful to them beyond daily practice.
You can download Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer on the Google and Apple app stores.