While mindfulness isn’t a new idea, it is something that has recently seen a rise in popularity thanks to scientific studies that suggest that regular meditation can help reduce stress, improve focus and even increase brain cell growth. As a result, it’s not surprising that more and more apps are popping up to help people get into the habit of daily meditation. While the quality of these apps varies, most aim to provide a convenient way to clear your headspace and train your brain to be less reactive in stressful situations.
Most mindfulness apps offer a variety of meditation tracks and sessions, with many featuring topics like sleep, compassion, gratitude, relationships, and stress management. Many also have a selection of bite-sized meditations, which are great for times when you’re short on time. Others, like the UCLA Mindful app, include guided talks and lessons before and after your meditations to teach you mindfulness concepts.
What’s more, some mindfulness apps will track your progress to help you build a regular meditation practice. These types of apps tend to cost a little more than others, but they’re often worth the investment if you want to commit to long-term mindful living.
Aura calls itself the “Spotify of meditation,” with a library of tracks ranging from five to 45 minutes. Its content is grouped into programs, such as Mindful Foundations, Sleep, and Digital Detox, making it easy to find a track to suit your needs. The app also offers a paid subscription that allows you to download meditations for offline use, and gives you access to instructors with a long history in the field of meditation, including former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe.
While all of the apps we looked at featured a variety of guided and silent meditations, only three of them emphasized intrinsic or self-directed meditation, focusing on the act of meditating without any verbal guidance. These included Insight Timer, Tide and Meditation Timer, which primarily serve as simple timers with chime alarms that can be set to start and end your meditation sessions.
The free app Smiling Mind features an introductory course for beginners and also offers a range of guided meditations that span from three to 30 minutes. It also has an optional premium subscription that includes courses on relationships, focus and calmness and more guided meditations.
A recent study by researchers at Brown University found that participants who used an app to learn meditation in the weeks leading up to a stressful task (like giving a speech or solving a complex math problem) didn’t perceive that their stress levels were higher than those who hadn’t, but they had significantly lower systolic blood pressure and cortisol reactivity afterward. It’s important to note that these results aren’t necessarily replicated by other scientists, but it does speak to the promise of mindfulness apps as effective tools for reducing mental and physical stress. As more and more of us turn to these types of apps for help with our daily grind, it’s likely we’ll see even more innovation in the future.