As a meditation teacher, I’m naturally pretty darned interested in different mindfulness apps. Reviews for Headspace, Calm etc. are all over the internet. But I thought I’d share my opinion as a teacher.
There are so many different options available at the moment. I’ve been stuck on a perpetual cycle of Download / Install / Meditate / Repeat. So I thought I would review all ones I’ve tried, and give you my opinion on the best meditation apps.
One thing I would like to mention, however, is that meditation apps are not as effective as traditional meditation according to research from Harvard Medical School. Indeed, Mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn calls them “McMindfulness”. Andy Puddicombe might pretend that they are the real deal in his marketing for Headspace, but true gurus like Thich Nhat Hanh state otherwise.
Use apps at the beginning of your practice, when you are just starting to learn to meditate. Then when the time comes, book an actual proper meditation lesson.
You might also like to see my picks of the best tools
Best Meditation Apps
- Buddhify 2
- Insight Timer
- Simple Habit
- 10% Happier
- Also consider meditation games
Headspace (Free, optional monthly subscription)
Headspace is one of the most popular mindfulness apps. It’s been downloaded and installed by millions of meditators. And no wonder, because it is definitely one of the best and it is easy to see why. It does legitimately help you to get into the habit of meditating.
Simplicity is what sets Headspace apart. If you look at Headspace VS Buddhify (below), for instance, Buddhify offers lots of different ways to meditate in your daily life, where Headspace is entirely about developing a habit of meditating each and every day. It is the quintessential app for daily meditation.
(Alleged) former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe has poured his personality into this app. And it shows. If you look at Headspace VS Calm, for instance, you will see that Headspace has way more character. So, for simplicity and personality, choose Headspace.
Calm is both an application and website. It focuses on learning different techniques. When you download and install the free version of Calm you will gain access to a number of guided meditations, and you can unlock more by signing up for a monthly subscription. My favourite thing about Calm is that it looks beautiful. The design is gorgeous.
If we look at Calm VS Headspace I think you’ll agree that Calm has far more appealing visuals.
She’s a beauty. Not only does Calm look beautiful but it also comes with nature sounds, background music and animated backgrounds. In the battle of Calm VS Headspace, Calm scores big points for its superior presentation. Plus there is a lot you can get out of this app. It helps with anxiety, stress, and depression too… it’s not just about meditation.
There are definitely apps with better voices. If we look at Calm VS Insight, for instance, the latter has lots of recordings with noted teachers like Jack Kornfield, Bodhipaksa, Sadhguru, and Sharon Salzberg who know how to present guided meditations more effectively. But this is a relatively minor setback for a truly wonderful app.
Calm is the best app in terms of presentation and is highly recommended for anyone who wants a beautiful application with stunning production values.
>Buddify 2 ($2.99)
As you can tell by the name, this is a mostly Buddhist meditation app that is inspired by traditional Buddhist methods such as Anapanasati, Vipassana, and Samatha (although you are better off booking a lesson with a proper meditation teacher if you want to learn proper meditations like these).
Buddihfy 2 is a truly impressive app. What’s best about it is that it is so unique. Even if you already have a mindfulness app you should probably download and install Buddhify 2 anyway. It has features no other app does.
Buddhify 2 is designed for people living in urban environments. It will help you find mindful moments in the chaos of city life. It does this by showing you how to meditate at different times. It has meditations to do while exercising, while using the internet… so you basically meditate while doing all the stuff you already do. Guided meditations are presented by various guides, and they range from okay to brilliant.
Oh, and on a side note, I love the colour-wheel presentation.
Buddhify 2 sets itself apart from the pack. If we look at Headspace VS Buddhify 2, or even Calm VS Buddhify 2, it’s easy to say that this one has far more unique features. The guided meditations are useful for day to day life and it makes it easy for even the busiest of people to start meditating.
Insight Meditation Timer
The original Insight Timer is incredibly popular, with more than two million users.
That popularity is partly thanks to its versatility and ease of use. The ability to just time a session and use interval bells as markers… It’s all so easy.
Insight also offers guided meditations for free.
- There are more than 5000 different exercises published by more than 1150 teachers. And they feature recordings from the likes of Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, who are two very highly respected teachers.
By far the worst part of it is its design.
Take a look at Headspace VS Insight, or VS Insight VS Aura, and there’s just no competition. Insight desperately needs a paint job. And that’s a shame, given that everything else here is fantastic
Beautiful, she is not. Alas.
Even though it is not the best-looking option, it is definitely one of the best functioning, and highly recommended. There are tons of great free functions when you download and install it.
Insight Timer offers incredible content. I’d just prefer it if this sweet app came wrapped in better packaging.
Aware Mindfulness Meditation (Free)
Aware is entirely focused on mindfulness. It offers a great introduction to mindfulness with high quality guided sessions.
I particularly like the friendly voice that the guide has.
When I consider Calm VS Aware I have to tip my hat to Aware in terms of the voice. It’s so soothing and relaxing.
Another fantastic aspect of Aware is the quality of the guides. All the instructions are presented in meticulous detail. Being a teacher, this wasn’t particularly important for me. However, many of our Facebook readers have said that they found the guides on this app incredibly helpful.
If you have been looking for something to help you manage your thoughts, boost your concentration, and achieve other personal development skills, Aware is the best choice for you.
It’s also worth looking at Headspace VS Aware because both help you develop the habit. Personally, I find that Headspace offers more direct help, where Aware is more versatile and actually teaches you much more.
Simple Habit (Free / $9 a month)
If you struggle to keep a mindfulness routine, Simple Habit will help. It specialises in five-minute sessions, so they’re perfect for even the busiest of bodies.
These five-minute sessions cover a variety of topics and they come from highly experienced teachers, so you know that the instructions here are top dollar.
Simple Habit includes sessions for stress, sleep, and other common problems.
When you compare Simple Habit to the other options in this list, you’ll find that this one is a middle-of-the-road app in almost all ways. The voices are better than Calm but not as good as Insight. The presentation is better than Insight but not as good as Calm. And the habit-forming part is about equal to Headspace. So, this app sits perfectly in the middle, making it a good choice for most people.
I consider this one of the best meditation apps because it does everything you need and does it well.
Aura: Mindfulness (free / $12.99 month)
One of the best ways to boost your happiness is to develop a positive mindset.
Aura helps. It offers practices that help us to have a positive mindset throughout the day.
One thing that sets Aura apart is that it has a little bonus feature that helps you boost your gratitude.
Another fantastic aspect of the Aura app is that it uses your demographic and mood to determine the best type of meditation for you.
This app sets itself apart with advanced functionality. The presentation is beautiful, too.
Overall, Aura is one of the best apps for anyone who wants to make mindfulness a habit. The advanced functionality helps you to know which exercise to use at any given time, and this makes Aura a powerful app for boosting your happiness.
Synctuition Mindspa Meditation
Synctuition prides itself on being the most advanced mindfulness app. It is backed by more than 106 scientific studies and is the third largest mindfulness app in America. It uses 3D audio technology and soundscapes to produce truly relaxing effects. And to be fair, it is stunning. If we looked at Synctuition VS Headspace, its beyond obvious that Synctuition has way better production values and is a lot more advanced than Headspace. Highly recommended.
Stop, Breathe & Think
Stop, Breathe & Think is another app packed full of guided sessions. It separates itself with the inclusion of yoga and acupressure videos.
Plus, it offers a great way of controlling your emotions. It has trackers that let you keep track of your feelings.
This is one of the best free apps for anyone dealing with complications like depression, stress and anxiety.
Pacifica is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It’s designed with the express purpose of helping people deal with negative thoughts. This, in turn, helps counteract anxiety, depression and stress.
Pacifica comes fully-loaded with thought-recordings, daily challenges, a mood tracker and audio lessons.
Mindful Meditation Pro
Mindful Meditation Pro focuses on using the subconscious mind for relaxation and wellbeing. It combines mindfulness with hypnosis to help you get into a deep state of relaxation and focus.
The developers state that combining meditation with hypnosis creates a powerful tool for conquering stress and improving mental health.
The app has an average review of 4.6 from 658 Ratings at time of writing. It’s a fantastic mind therapy app. I particularly enjoy the Sound Method, which I find wonderfully relaxing. It also has specific sections dedicated to problems like confidence and self esteem.
Sattva is similar to Headspace in the sense that it helps you develop the habit.
It comes with the standard bells and whistles—guided practices, timer, mood trackers…
The most interesting feature in Sattva is an insight engine that shows you how your practice is changing your life.
What makes Sway different to other apps in this list is that it is what the developers call an “Interactive meditation”. Well, not to argue with the developers, but it’s really a form of dynamic meditation. These types of movement-based mindfulness are a great alternative to regular, seated exercises.
Sway focuses on mindful movement. It asks you to continually move—to “sway”, if you will—by moving your phone from side to side while lying down, or moving your entire body while standing up (you can even sway while you’re on the bus, the official website tells us).
While you’re swaying, it plays ambient sounds and music that calm and focus your mind. There are six different “levels” that push you towards developing mindful habits, and you must complete certain goals to progress to the next level, in a way reminiscent of a video game. Miss a day and you get pushed back a level.
So, is Sway any good?
One of my favourite things about Sway is that it has excellent production values. The sounds and the animations are delightful. And as for the actual exercises, they are simple and helpful. This app can definitely be used as a supplement to traditional practice.
What I appreciate most about Sway is that it is a truly unique product. There are hundreds of applications on the market that do precisely the same thing. Sway gives you a different way to meditate.
Sway is worth the $2.99 price tag. Whether you’re a well-seasoned meditator or a newcomer, you will enjoy Sway and find it very beneficial.
The best thing about all these applications s is that they offer different styles and different functions.
There is a clear winner for every purpose.
Best For Habit Building: Headspace or Simple Habit
Best For Beginner Meditators: Aware
Best For Relaxation: Calm
Best For Practical Applications Of Meditation: Buddhify 2
Best For Learning Different Meditation Techniques: Insight
Best For Making You Happier: Aura
What I realised when I did all these reviews is this: there is something for everyone.
Each one offers something different. They all have unique features.
My choice? As a mindfulness teacher, I have to tip my hat to Insight Meditation Timer because it has recordings from my favourite teachers.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison