Whether you have half an hour or 2 minutes, these meditation apps can help you relax, feel less anxious and sleep better.
Meditation apps have become one of the most accessible ways to maintain a mindfulness regimen. Whether you prefer deep breathing exercises, guided meditation or calming sleep stories, meditation can be a huge added benefit to your daily wellness regimen.
Research suggests that the benefits of meditation can include a reduction in stress levels, anxiety, depression and insomnia. And don't forget the physical benefits: Meditation and deep breathing can also reduce blood pressure and improve your heart rate variability, a metric that can tell you how well you handle stress. In addition, many studies show sleep meditation can calm your mind and help you get a more quality night's sleep.
For many people, finding the time or energy to commit to a regular practice is difficult, and though in-person visits to a meditation studio are a great option for some, for others they may not be a practical approach to consistent meditation. With a little help from the right app, zen could be as little as three minutes away. Here are the best meditation apps of 2020 to improve your mindfulness practice and relax your mind.
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Cost: One-week free trial, $11.99 per month, $84.99 per year
Nicknamed "CrossFit for the Mind," FitMind was developed by Liam McClintock after meditation helped him get off of medications and therapy for OCD and ADHD. McClintock believes that "mental fitness," a world in which we care for and train our minds, is the next major health revolution -- and it'd be a good thing if he was right.
FitMind helps you master meditation via a 30-day mental fitness challenge complete with charts and graphs so you can visualize your progress toward mindfulness. The app has daily challenges and other features typical of a meditation app, but what I really love about FitMind is that it offers point-blank scientific explanations about why the meditations work: If you're a meditation skeptic, FitMind might challenge your beliefs (in a good way).
Read more: 7 important signs you have burnout, and how to fix it
2. Unplug Meditation
Cost: One-week free trial, $7.99 per month, $59.99 per year
Born after the immersive Unplug Meditation Studio in Los Angeles became a massive hit, the Unplug Meditation app offers more than 700 videos that range from as short as one minute to nearly an hour. You can filter meditations by mood, outcome, length or teacher. The Unplug app has a unique dashboard on which you can view your total days, hours, minutes and seconds spent meditating, as well as set goals and write in a gratitude journal.
Unlike some guided meditation apps, all of the sessions on the Unplug app are filmed at the Los Angeles studio, so it really feels like you're in an immersive class with an instructor. This app is great for people who need a lot of structure when it comes to meditation and enjoy visuals in addition to audio. If you prefer to meditate on your own, however, you can choose one of Unplug's ambient soundtracks and set a timer.
3. Meditation Studio with Muse
Cost: $7.99 per month, $17.99 per quarter, $49.99 per year
There's meditation, and then there's electroencephalogram (EEG)-guided meditation. Muse is a high-tech headband that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and measures your brainwave activity, breathing rate and pulse. Its seven sensors collect data and translate it into easily comprehensible stats about your mental health.
With the headband's partner app, Meditation Studio, you can learn how your brain and body respond to particular meditation tracks, as well as how seemingly simple things -- like your posture -- affect the quality of your meditation session. Muse also analyzes your body metrics (pulse, breathing rate, and brainwave activity) and turns them into sounds that train your brain to focus and relax.
You don't need the wearable Muse headband to have a great experience with Meditation Studio, but it certainly offers a unique element for those who are interested in getting the absolute most out of their daily meditation sessions.
4. Apollo Neuro
Cost: The app is free; Apollo wearable costs $199 (preorder), $360 (list price)
Apollo Neuro is different in that it isn't intended solely as a meditation app, and you're not meant to use Apollo while doing nothing. Instead, Apollo is a wearable experience that looks to offset symptoms of stress and anxiety and restore your body to equilibrium. Developed by physicians and neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh, Apollo works by sending gentle waves of vibration to your body through your sense of touch, quickly improving your heart rate variability and signaling safety.
You wear Apollo on your wrist or ankle. From the app, choose the outcome you need in that moment -- energy, focus, mindfulness, sleep, relaxation, socialness, or recovery -- and set a timer for up to 30 minutes. Apollo will vibrate with frequencies that help your body achieve that outcome. You can choose to continue doing whatever you're doing or take a moment to focus on the vibrations.
Read more: 7 wearables that do so much more than count steps
Cost: $14.99 per month, $69.99 per year, $399.99 lifetime subscription
Calm app's wide range of guided meditations is mainly designed to assist people in relaxing (or calming down) in comparison to some other meditation apps that are designed to inspire deep thought or creativity.
Meditation length varies from 3- to 25-minute sessions. If you're keen on developing a daily meditation practice, try Daily Calm, the app's 10-minute program you can practice before the beginning or end of your day. Calm has a knack for creating interesting partnerships with celebrities -- for example, the newly released "Train Your Mind" series focuses on mental fitness with LeBron James.
Calm also offers breathing exercises, sleep stories and soothing background tracks to help you get a good night's sleep. The premium subscription includes all that and more, including Calm Body programs, monthly Calm Masterclasses and exclusive music. This is perhaps one of the best meditation apps for a newcomer looking to relax, reduce stress levels and get better sleep.
Cost: Free trial, $12.99/month, $19.99/month (family plan), or $69.99 for an annual plan
A "best guided meditation apps" list wouldn't be complete without Headspace, the mindfulness app developed by sports scientist-turned-Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. Originally an events company, Headspace now encompasses guided meditations, animations, articles and videos to assist beginners and experts alike in their meditation practice and has become one of the best known and most popular meditation apps in the category.
You can test out Headspace with the free Basics course, which offers 10 meditation sessions to teach you the foundations of meditation and get you in a mindful rhythm. You can also try a free session from many of the app's collections of meditations.
Oh, and if you're a runner, check out the guided runs with Andy Puddicombe on Nike Run Club -- if your run is the only time to fit in your meditation, these guided tracks are a good way to do it.
Read more: Nike Run Club, Strava, Daily Burn: The 7 best running apps
Cost: $9.99 per month or $99 per year; Wave hardware costs $199
Another immersive meditation experience, Wave utilizes beats from music to enhance meditation. The patent-pending Wave Bolster, a memory foam cushion that supports your head and back, is infused with technology that allows you to feel the beat of a soundtrack through vibrations. It also includes a pair of over-ear headphones and connects via Bluetooth to the Wave app, which is a subscription-based experience designed to look and feel like a music app, rather than a meditation app.
The Wave app features more than 80 music-driven meditation tracks, all designed with the intent for you to feel the meditation rather than just hear it. You can adjust the vibration intensity to suit your mood and sensitivity. This app and pillow combination is great for people who feel like meditation is a bit woo-woo and want something that doesn't seem as spiritual.
8. Simple Habit
Cost: $11.99 a month or $96 a year
Burnout is real -- seriously, the World Health Organization designated burnout an official medical diagnosis in May 2019. The meditations on Simple Habit focus on daily stress relief, and the developers know you're busy, so they make it as easy as taking five quick minutes for meditation time. In fact, the app even offers a special playlist just for burnout symptoms, with topics like "stay calm with a busy schedule" and "relieving morning anxiety." There's even a guided meditation program just for commuting.
9. The Breathing App
As you might gather from its name, The Breathing App focuses just on breathing and the physiological benefits you get from slowing your breath down -- increased pulmonary function, decreased stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and improved emotional balance, just to name a few -- all of which are beneficial for overall health and sleep patterns.
Developed by Eddie Stern and author Deepak Chopra, The Breathing App is simple and perfect for those who want the benefits of mindfulness without delving too deep into spirituality. You can only modify two settings for the meditation program: length of practice and breath ratio.
10. Declutter the Mind
Cost: 5-day free trial, $7.99 per month, $79.99 per year
Declutter the Mind is a no-frills meditation app that focuses on one simple thing: Pushing out unnecessary, chattery thoughts. Most people are familiar with the feeling of bouncing around from one thought to another, not really able to focus on a single task at hand or concentrate on one important thought.
Declutter the Mind aims to help you learn how to draw yourself back into that one thing you're supposed to be focusing on and training your brain to quit all that jumping around. You can search guided meditations by topics, of which there are many: stress, anxiety, body scan, depression, sleep, relaxation, concentration, clarity and cravings, to name a few.
First there was functional fitness; now there's "functional music." Soundly helps you sleep, focus and relax with soundtracks that go beyond just a good jam: These tracks are designed purposefully with ambient noise, soothing narrators, and soundwaves scientifically proven to help calm brain activity.
This functional music concept isn't entirely new -- people have been using music to help them focus and crush workouts for pretty much forever -- but Soundly newly applies it to meditation. You can discover mixes based on function, save your favorite mixes, create playlists with multiple tracks, speed or slow the narrator's words, and much more within the app.
Cost: $9.99 per month or $49.99 per year
Mindwell blends isochronic tones, solfeggio frequencies and spoken words to induce creativity and focus, which differs from the main goal of many other meditation apps that aim to promote relaxation.
Mindwell offers meditations to help you recover from stressful or upsetting moments that occur throughout the day. For example, say you experienced a client meeting at work that didn't go well -- you could use a Mindwell meditation specifically designed to dampen negative emotions and help you move forward with your day.
The app also offers a feature called MoodShift, which maps your mood over time and allows you to track your mood and meditation progress.
Cost: Free with in-app purchases.
I included this breathing and meditation app because it's even more convenient than iPhone ($699 at Amazon) or Android apps for busy on-the-go folks. Breathe is the mindfulness app for Apple Watch ($399 at Apple) that allows you to squeeze in short meditations without ever pulling out your phone.
Using one of three presets -- classic, focus or calm -- you breathe in rhythm with the animation on the screen. If you answer a call or text or move around too much during the exercise, your watch won't give you credit for that session.
Breathe is a native app on the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5, so it doesn't show up in the iTunes store. Breathe isn't compatible with Android devices.
Read more: Forest bathing: How nature can help you de-stress and get healthier
How I picked these apps
This guide to the best meditation app picks is a list of meditation, mindfulness and breathing apps that claim some of the best ratings on the App Store and Google Play.
In addition to ratings and favorable reviews, I looked for apps that offer more than just audio meditation. Throughout this list, you'll find options for customizable meditations, background music without words, engaging activities, inspirational push notifications and supplemental meditation or relaxation podcasts. Some apps go hand-in-hand with immersive experiences, such as a vibrating anklet or multi-sensor headband that translates body metrics (like your pulse) into sounds.
Lastly, nearly every app on this list was developed by a person or company with strong ties to meditation and mindfulness -- not just someone who hopped on the meditation train to make a few bucks, but rather touts formal training or developed their app after a personal revelation tied to meditation and mindfulness.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.