Do Meditation Apps Work?

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Do Meditation Apps Work? 2021-12-12T18:18:31+00:00

By Kelsey Fox
December 2021

If you have been feeling the effects of busy family life, pandemics, and other tumultuous world events, then you are certainly not alone. According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly 60% of Americans report feeling stress in their daily lives at the conclusion of 2021. That is almost two in every three Americans! No wonder meditation and mindfulness apps have become go-tos on so many of our smartphones. 

But do meditation apps really work? Can a simple product on our phone really get rid of that constantly stressed-out feeling? 

In this article, we answer just that question. We also highlight popular apps, break down the benefits of using meditation apps in particular, and offer tips for getting the most out of the app you ultimately choose to use.  

apps meditation free

The Benefits of Meditation Apps

Meditation apps mainly focus on mindfulness — that is, focusing on what’s going on both inside and outside of your mind and body (without getting overly wrapped up in any of it). 

In an article published by the National Health Service of the UK, Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, describes mindfulness as standing at a bus stop, watching as “thought buses” come and go, and not feeling the need to board a bus and be driven away.       

Related Reading: New and Emerging Therapies: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

As you probably already suspect, mindfulness is an important key to a happy and stress-free life. Unfortunately, in-person meditation sessions can be costly and time-consuming, and finding the right meditation facilitator can be a stress-inducing task in itself.

That’s where the meditation app comes in.

A study conducted by researchers at Arizona State University found that meditation and mindfulness apps are “effective” for 

  • reducing stress
  • improving mindfulness and overall mental health 
  • increasing self-compassion    

Other health benefits of mindfulness and meditation apps include

  • reduced aggression and blood pressure levels 
  • enhanced focus
  • less fatigue 
  • improvement in symptoms of anxiety and depression 
  • increased compassion for others 
  • fewer feelings of external pressure 

Popular Meditation Apps

As of this writing, there are about 300 meditation and mindfulness apps available in the App Store (Apple iOS) and Google Play Store (Android). But is there a difference between meditation apps? If so, which meditation app is the best?  

Every person is different, and there is no one app that works for 100% of people. The best meditation app is the one that offers the features you need, in the style you find beneficial, in the voice you like. 

Still, in terms of popularity, there are a few apps that have separated themselves from the herd. 

Calm

Calm ranks #1 among health apps, and it’s easy to see why. This flexible app offers a slew of guided meditations that cover everything from lack of focus, to anxiety, to insomnia and everything in between. Each exercise is easy to follow, and includes pleasant background music. Recently, Calm introduced its newest feature: Calm Body. 

Our favorite feature:
Calm’s Sleep Stories are bedtime stories narrated by people with soothing voices (like Matthew McConaughey!). Each soothing tale includes sound effects and music, and is purposely designed to help you get to sleep.  

Does the Calm app work?
Between its flexibility and its extensive library, Calm has something for just about everyone. The app has nearly 1.4 million reviews in the Apple App Store, and maintains an overall rating of 4.8 / 5. 

What does the Calm app cost?
New users can take advantage of Calm’s seven-day free trial. Annual membership costs $70, or you can pay around $400 for unlimited, lifetime access. 

Headspace: Meditation & Sleep

Headspace was co-founded by Andy Puddicombe, the popular British author and teacher of meditation and mindfulness. It is the ideal app for the person who often feels overwhelmed by the many responsibilities of daily life. Headspace is user-friendly, and offers lots of deep breathing exercises and ideas for winding down after a long day. Those new to meditation will even find guides made specially for beginners.     

Our favorite feature:
Anyone who has trouble falling asleep at night is sure to agree that the Headspace app’s big highlight is its Sleepcasts. These audio casts are specially designed to send you into a night of healthy, restful sleep.  

Does the Headspace app work?
Headspace works best for those who suffer from insomnia, or who have trouble falling asleep. The app maintains an overall rating of 4.9 / 5 in the Apple App Store, with nearly 900,000 user reviews. 

What does the Headspace app cost?
You can try Headspace for free for two weeks. After the free trial, you can subscribe either monthly ($13) or annually ($70).   

Unplug 

Unplug is a simple, yet powerful meditation app. Those who subscribe have access to dozens of expert-led meditations, both short and long. Though the meditations cover various topics, those that help with focus are especially well done.     

Our favorite features:
Unplug’s built-in meditation timer is incredibly helpful when it comes to forming the habit of meditating. Uniquely, Unplug also offers a helpful progress tracker.  

Does the Unplug app work?
The Unplug meditation app is especially helpful for those who wish to improve their focus and concentration. Currently, Unplug has about 5,200 user reviews. Its overall rating is 4.9 out of 5. 

What does the Unplug app cost?
You can try Unplug for seven days for free. Subscribing will set you back $8 per month, or $60 for an annual subscription. 

meditation apps that work

Insight Timer

For mindfulness training on a budget, check out Insight Timer. The app offers an incredible 45,000 free meditations covering topics like stress, self-esteem, and sleep. To keep users from getting overwhelmed by choice, the library offers filter options for goals, time limit, and specific benefits. Users also have access to a free social media-based community.     

Our favorite feature:
Those new to Insight Timer will benefit from the app’s free seven-day introductory course that teaches you exactly how to meditate. 

Does the Insight Timer app work?
There aren’t many free meditation apps, but Insight Timer is the best of the bunch by far. Insight Timer currently has just over 300,000 user reviews in the App Store, and an overall rating of 4.9 / 5. 

What does the Insight Timer app cost?
The Insight Timer offers 45,000 free meditations, including a week-long How to Meditate guide. To gain access to even more, you can purchase a premium subscription for $10/month or $60/year.  

Ten Percent Happier Meditation

If you aren’t yet sure about meditation, then Ten Percent Happier is a great place to start. The app offers beginner guides for different topics, and each meditation is fun, easy, and easy. There is nothing pretentious about this app, making it ideal for anyone who is worried they are “not the meditation type.” 

Our favorite feature:
If a question comes up before, during, or after meditation, simply access one of Ten Percent Happier’s many experts that are available to answer questions.  

Does the Ten Percent Happier app work?
Ten Percent Happier is strongest in the subjects of sleep and stress. The app’s App Store rating is 4.8 / 5 after 100,000 user reviews. 

What does the Ten Percent Happier app cost?
After a seven-day free trial, subscribing to Ten Percent Happier costs $99 per year.   

Buddhify

Buddhify describes itself as the “only meditation app designed to fit into a busy modern lifestyle.” The budget-friendly, Buddhist-inspired app is certainly easy to use. It is also nice to look at, and offers more than 200 focused meditations spanning four to 30 minutes.     

Our favorite feature:
When you open your Buddhify app, you are presented with the “What’s Happening?” wheel. The wheel allows you to choose your meditation or mindfulness practice based on what you are currently doing or what you currently need. Options include “Can’t Sleep,” “With a Friend,” or “Just Meditation.”

Does the Buddhify app work?
Buddhify currently has 5,400 App Store reviews, and an overall rating of 4.8 / 5. 

What does the Buddhify app cost?
Subscribing to Buddhify costs $30 per year. 

Waking Up: Guided Meditation

Author, philosopher, and neuroscientist Sam Harris offers quite a few meditation resources, including the Waking Up meditation app. This app is designed to meet you wherever you might be in your meditation journey, whether that be at the beginning or at a more advanced level. Besides mindfulness, other forms of meditation offered include Zen, Advaita, Dzogchen, and other practices.

Our favorite feature:
With its Introductory Course, the Waking Up app ensures that getting started with meditation isn’t an overwhelming process.

Does the Waking Up app work? 
Everything about the Waking Up app is based on the science of meditation. It currently has a 4.9 App Store rating, based on just over 28,000 reviews.

What does the Waking Up app cost?
Waking Up offers a free trial, but then costs $15 monthly or $120 annually. 

Related Reading: 5 Apps for Better Mental Health

How to Get the Most Out of Your Meditation App

If you approach meditation with a lackadaisical attitude, then even the best meditation app will seem as if it doesn’t work. 

To get the most out of your meditation app, we recommend the following tips. 

Make it a Habit to Meditate

Studies show that just 10 minutes spent meditating each day is enough to reap the benefits. Set a notification on your phone or commit to a few minutes before bed or after waking, but whatever you do, find a time each day that will work for meditation practice. After about three weeks, meditating will become a positive habit. 

Stick With the Same Type of Meditation Practice

Instead of jumping around from spiritual meditation to present moment awareness to mantra meditation, stick to just one for a period of time. 

Meditate First Thing in the Morning

Unless you are meditating to improve sleep, then you will likely find it helpful to begin your day with your meditation practice. Days are busy, so committing your first 10 minutes to positive emotions, visualizations, and mindfulness exercises will guarantee your day gets off on the right foot.  

Related Reading: 5 Tips for Successful Meditation

People Also Ask 

Do meditation apps actually work?
Do meditation apps work? Well, sure. Do meditation apps work for everyone? Not quite. Each of the (literally) hundreds of meditation apps available work differently and offer different forms of meditation and mindfulness. To find the right meditation app that works for you may require a few free trials and a little bit of time.    

Should you meditate with an app?
For many people, apps offer the best option for good, valuable meditation. If you cannot afford, or do not have access to, an in-person meditation facilitator, then using an app can prove beneficial. This is especially true during the first 2-3 months of taking up meditation, when you are first forming good habits and learning what works best for you.  

Do meditation apps help you sleep?
Lots of people with insomnia are regular users of meditation apps. Many apps offer free or paid features designed especially for those who are having trouble falling asleep. If you are interested in trying a meditation app to help with insomnia, then look for features that include guided sleep-inducing meditations using the spoken word. 

Do meditation apps work for everyone?
Generally speaking, meditation apps work. But not every app is going to work for every person. If you are interested in using a meditation app, then it is important to try a few different apps to find what works best for you. 

What are the best meditation apps?
The best meditation app is the one that offers the features you need, in the style you find beneficial, in the voice you like. Every person is different, and there is no one app that works for 100% of people. The most popular meditation apps, however, include Calm, Buddhify, and Headspace. 

Is the Calm meditation app free?
Like other “freemium” apps, Calm offers only a few features for free. These include daily meditations, a few sleep stories, some music, and a mood tracker. A 7-day free trial, and/or a monthly or annual subscription, unlocks over 100 guided meditations, expert-led masterclasses, music designed for sleep and relaxation, and the entire library of sleep stories.   

Are there any free meditation apps?
Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, and MyLife Meditation are three extensive, highly rated, and completely free meditation apps you can download today.   

Summary 

Mindfulness and overall mental health have never been more important. Fortunately, a slew of available meditation apps makes it easy to tap into your inner psyche. Studies have shown that the meditation apps you use on your iPhone or Android have the ability to reduce stress, improve focus, and increase feelings of self-compassion. Some popular apps, such as Calm, have even proven effective at aiding those with insomnia. Though not every meditation app will work for every person, you can maximize your efforts by staying consistent, meditating in a quiet spot, and choosing a meditation practice (such as mindfulness meditation) and sticking with it.