7 Meditation Apps to Download in the New Year
Relaxation is probably the first thing on your mind after the flurry and hurry of the holiday season. It may be the most wonderful and festive time of the year, but it’s not exactly the most relaxing. With 2017 on the horizon, you might even find yourself jotting down a new resolution: meditate every day. Science shows meditation permanently alters the brain, decreasing anxiety or depression and even making you less self-centered. But even though it seems easy—it’s just sitting still for five minutes, right?—taking time out of your busy day can be a struggle. After all, you only remember to grab your pre-packed lunch out of the fridge every other day… and forced silence and solitude is even less exciting than your leftover chicken and broccoli. Load up your phone with one of these seven apps to make meditation less of a chore. Who knows, you might even find the whole exercise fun and something to look forward to during the day. And yes, your smartphone might be one of the reasons you’re so anxious. But it’s not all bad: These apps can help cultivate a meditation habit that changes your life. Some future zen masters might prefer a simple, straightforward program that lets you pick and choose whichever guided exercise suits your mood. Others may want tailored programs that teach the basics before launching you on a custom-made track designed to tackle your biggest demons. No matter your preference—or whether you’re a beginner, amateur, or meditation virtuoso—you can find an app that suits your style.
For Building a Habit
You know meditation is a good idea, but squeezing in pre-planned zone-out time between breakfast, your 12 p.m. lunch meeting, and walking the dog seems impossible. But any effort is better than no effort. Even five minutes makes a difference, and Simple Habit has a meditation for any free stretch of time in your overpacked day. Tune into a short meditation custom-made to calm you down—there’s one for symptoms like stress or depression, and for a specific part of the day, like waking up and commuting. No matter whether you prefer a traditional meditation led by a former monk or want a modern alternative (think: experts trained through Google’s mindfulness program), Simple Habit will give you the peace you need—in less time than it takes to finish a cup of coffee.
To buy: Free 7-day trial, iOS and Android. $12 per month, simplehabitapp.com.
For Longer Sessions
Has your practice moved beyond short meditative sprints? Cultivate your skills with Calm. Abbreviated exercises are available for busy mornings, but this app is better suited for longer sessions of up to 25 minutes. (Unguided and open-ended meditation is also available.) Hold yourself accountable to your New Year’s resolution: Calm tracks how much time you spent meditating and records your daily streak. And you can stop struggling to slip into slumber. A 10-minute Daily Calm soothes your worries and brushes away nighttime anxiety. Or, the app’s collection of short, relaxing stories promises to take you to snooze-town.
To buy: $13 per month, iOS and Android, calm.com.
For Meditation Newbies
Unsure how to get started with this whole, strange, “meditation” thing? Try Headspace. Calling itself a “gym for the mind,” this app promises to get you up to speed—and teach you how to slow down. Whether you’re crippled with anxiety or struggling in your relationship, Headspace designs a series of 10 free 10-minute guided meditations perfectly catered to you. You can sign up for a paid subscription to get a more personalized experience. Some days you might practice focusing; others, you’re banishing intrusive thoughts like an unwanted dementor. But you’re not restricted to Headspace’s pre-defined path. On days spent struggling with health concerns, skip to the appropriate path—or just select a short “SOS” exercise to clear your mind.
To buy: Free for the 10-minute meditation set, $13 per month with a yearly subscription, iOS and Android, headspace.com.
For Customized Sessions
Mental health is a large, complex puzzle, and meditation is only one small piece. Yes, this app offers short, guided exercises on everything from gratitude to falling asleep. But with such a wealth of options, choosing the right one can be a challenge. “Check in” before your day’s meditation, tapping buttons for your mental state (are you feeling more “meh” than “great”?), physical pains, and choosing five emotions currently distracting your mind. A quick calculation, and the app picks the perfect meditation (it has over 50 tailored versions) to perk up your day. This one also integrates with the Health app on your iPhone.
To buy: Free for basic meditations, $5 per month with a monthly subscription, iOS and Android, stopbreathethink.org.
For Those Seeking Variety
Proper meditation doesn’t mandate quietly sitting in a chair. Yes, you can squeeze in some zen even if you’re cooking dinner, taking a long walk, or browsing the internet. Designed to be used on the go, Buddhify offers more than 80 guided exercises short enough for a car ride or subway trip. And data junkies will find it particularly useful: gorgeous graphs and statistics quantify your progress, telling you precisely how successful this year’s grand resolution has been. Even the interface is relaxing, letting you pick your mood and meditation on a gorgeous color wheel. Just opening the app might be enough to calm you down.
To buy: $4.99, iOS and Android, buddhify.com.
For Sheer Selection
With more than 3,000 guided exercises to choose from, even the pickiest meditator will find something to love on Insight Timer. This no-frills app provides a big bang for zero bucks—especially if you’re finicky about the voice guiding you towards zen. Choose from more than 800 different meditation teachers to create your ideal, relaxing environment. Nothing jarring will ruin your chill: choose your favorite end-of-session chime—from a gong to a gentle ding. Your choice of ambient background track (from ocean waves to zen guitar) runs underneath the meditation, creating a perfectly customized experience. Found the ideal combo? Save it as a preset for easy access whenever you need a break.
To buy: Free, iOS and Android, insighttimer.com.
For Taking Deep Breaths
Or maybe you don’t want your meditation app jam-packed with bells and whistles and fancy charts. Perhaps you just want something simple guiding you through life’s most important activity: breathing. Built into the Apple Watch, you can set how long you want to relax (from 1 to 5-minute sessions). A calming, flower-like animation will light up the screen, telling you precisely how long to breathe in and out (the default “breaths per minute” rate is 7, which the app developers found was comfortable for most people). Once you’re finished, the Watch reads your heartbeat—instant proof of your meditation success. And don’t worry about remembering your daily sessions: The Breathe app will remind you at preset intervals with a gentle tap, ensuring no day goes by without a little relaxation.
To buy: Free with watchOS 3. apple.com.