The coronavirus pandemic has caused many of us to upend nearly every aspect of our daily routines.
For some, the confusion and fear could lead to an increase in stress or anxiety. Experts have consistently recommended meditation as a way to cope with stress. It’s a practice I’ve never dedicated time to before these past couple of weeks.
My sleep quality has become dismal since I started working remotely. It’s harder to get in and out of work mode. So, I decided to try some meditation apps to see how much they help.
Here’s a few I’ve tested and what I like about them.
Headspace is my favorite meditation app. it’s also likely the most recognized meditation app offered today, for good reason. It offers simple, guided meditations and workouts for everyday use, no matter the time of day or mood you’re in.
Headspace is free with a few meditations, but access to its full library will cost you $69.99 per year, with a free two-week trial, or $12.99 per month, with a one-week trial. Healthcare professionals working in public health settings in the United States get free access to Headspace Plus through 2020. Coming in at $70 per year, it’s pricey and not accessible for everyone.
The thing that first struck me was the app’s simplicity. The screen doesn’t feel cluttered with content. I like the variety of the sessions, which makes it easy to pick a practice that fits the time of day and my mood. I also like that the app has “SOS” meditations, so if I’m feeling overwhelmed or panicking I can do a three minute session and reset.
I wouldn’t enjoy the app as much without its full features, so it’s an all-or-nothing platform for me. I started its restlessness course, did a guided 9-minute walk, a couple of SOS meditations and used the goodnight wind down (and slept well!)
All of that bundled together is worth the price to me, since it’s all good content and I seem to be sleeping better. I also think that, as I continue learning from the courses and getting better sleep, I’ll have to do fewer of the SOS meditations.
The meditations are silent when the instructor isn’t talking, so there were several times I thought my app shut off and I had to snap out of meditation and check. There needs to be a way to add background noise to the app, and if there is then it’s not easily accessible.
Calm app screens on an iPhone
Calm is another popular app. The company says it will help you sleep better, stress less and live better through its guided meditations, soothing music and sleep settings.
It’s free, but the company charges for access to the bulk of its content. Calm Premium has a seven-day trial period and then costs $69.99 per year. You can also pay $399.99 upfront to have service for life.
I like Calm because of its daily check-ins, which allow me to track my mood over time. The voices are soothing and the instructions are clear, so it is a simple experience once you find what you need.
The biggest draw to Calm is its bedtime stories, which knocked me out, and its celebrity partnerships. As far as I know, it’s the only app you can choose to have Bob Ross or Matthew McConaughey lull you to sleep. Calm also has a free resources page on its website, with calming music, meditation and mindfulness resources to help get you through the pandemic.
It’s a bit hard to navigate through the meditations, so I spent more time than I wanted to finding a practice based on my emotion and what was needed at the time. I was also a little annoyed by how loud the default background noises play on the home screen.
I found Headspace easier to use for daily, basic meditations and courses than the other apps listed here. If you’re looking for sleep stories and music, Calm is a great app.
Simple Habit app
If Headspace and Calm had a baby app that grew up in Silicon Valley, it would be Simple Habit. It’s a 5-minute meditation app for people who want to meditate but are also extremely busy.
It also offers longer sessions, if you want to expand your classes. I would try the free version of this one out to see if you prefer it over Headspace, but I found it best for people who just want a quick meditation each day.
Simple Habit offers many sessions for free, though you’ll have to upgrade if you want to download sessions and access all of its meditations. Premium access costs $89.99 per year, $11.99 per month or $299.99 for lifetime access. The company said it will provide free premium content to “all people who are financially impacted by this difficult time and can no longer afford to pay,” but you’ll need to email them first.
Similar to Headspace, Simple Habit has SOS meditations, which I liked when I was panicking and needed to calm down. I’m a huge fan of the option to turn on and off background noises, so I know the session is still going even if the instructor is silent.
I think the selling point is that it has meditations for several specific activities like preparing for a date or a difficult conversation. I tried these and I felt more present and prepared waiting for an important call.
Because of the quick nature of the app, some of the meditations feel rushed. If you upgrade, it’s also very pricey for what you get. If you have specific activities you want to meditate during (doing the dishes, getting ready for a date), it’s good for that. But, I found the other apps more valuable.
Insight Timer app homepage
Insight Timer has a slew of free meditations, talks and its own meditation timer, which lets you customize your experience.
It comes with a free 30-day trial and then costs $60 per year for its premium content. But you should be fine without the upgrade, unless you want to download content or access courses.
At first I thought the large amount of content was going to be a mess, but It’s surprisingly easy to sift through Insight Timer’s 40,000 meditations, since you can search by things like benefit (sleep, stress, health, etc.), time, narrator and popularity under the “Guided” tab at the very top.
Those filters are necessary to fill in, but simple and easy to do so, which is good. I also like that each class has an outline for what will be covered, so you can see if it’s something that would benefit you.
You also can’t beat the fact that it’s free, so it’s an app I may return to in the future or would recommend anyone who isn’t able to pay for content. Overall, it’s a great, economic-friendly app if you want to get into meditation.
You’ll need to find which instructors and types of meditations you like, since its content is not as tailored as other apps. That’ll take some trial and error.
Aura is an app designed to manage emotions and improve sleep through meditations, coaching, stories and more.
Aura immediately asks you to set your sound preferences that play while the app is open, so you’re not bugged by whatever the default is. Aura has a couple of options for picking content, and the standout feature is one that it gives you a meditation based on how you’re feeling. That’s great if you really can’t be bothered by choosing a meditation but know what specific mood you’re in.
Aura has a free 7-day trial then costs $59.99 per year. Aura is giving away 3 months of premium access due to the coronavirus, though it asks people to pay for the content if they’re financially able to.
Aura reminds me more of a radio with channels rather than an app with specific programs.
Once you find an instructor you like, you could probably stick with them, but there’s no clear set of courses like with the other apps. It’s also hard to jump in and out of meditations as you search for one and read the descriptions. I could see it being a good self-help/motivation app, rather than one to ease my anxiety over time. If you’re willing to give up that control over your meditation, it’s a fine app but my least favorite of these reviewed since it’s hard to sift through content.