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7 best meditation apps 2021: From Calm to Headspace

7 best meditation apps 2021: From Calm to Headspace
(Image credit: Getty)

Meditation has many benefits for your health, and the best meditation apps are a way for you to begin meditating if you are new to it, or to deepen your practice if you have been meditating for a while. According to a 2016 study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation helps reduce stress, headaches and other chronic pain, and it can reduce your blood pressure. It’s also used as a tool to help manage a range of mental health conditions such as depression. 

The ironic thing is, when you first start meditating, you can feel a little stressed out ‘trying’ to meditate. But the best meditation apps have been created to help you understand that you don’t have to ‘try’ at anything. In the beginning, meditation is about simply observing your thoughts and feelings without becoming invested in them, and allowing them to come and go, like fluffy clouds passing overhead. 

A good meditation app can help you regain some emotional calm and not feel so reactive or emotionally raw, especially if you’re dealing with anxiety, stress and burnout. Among our guide to the best meditation apps you’ll come across a couple that are perfect for anyone having trouble sleeping. We’d recommend Calm Premium in particular here, as it has a wealth of bedtime stories for adults and soothing sleep sounds to help you overcome sleep anxiety. 

If you think your bed is the culprit behind your sleep issues, read our guides to the best mattress online and the best pillows for sleeping. For now, let’s take a look at the world’s top meditation apps and how they could help you get your mindful groove on… 


1. Calm: Best meditation app for sleep

Best meditation apps: Calm

(Image credit: Calm)

Calm Meditation app

Your one-stop meditation, mindfulness and sleep sounds app

iOS or Android: Both | Free trial?: Yes | Cost after trial has ended: $14.99 a month | $69.99 a year | $399 lifetime

Beautiful-looking app
Meditations for all
Bedtime Stories for better sleep
Expensive

There’s a reason why you’re instructed to take a deep breath when opening this app, as stepping back from the pressures of everyday life into a more peaceful mindset needs a little moment. When you open the Calm meditation app, you’ll be greeted by inspirational mountain views and hear the relaxing sound of rainfall, both of which can be customized. Little wonder that Calm has been downloaded over 50 million times.

With an extensive menu to explore, Calm has something for everyone, whether you’re new to meditation or have been practicing for years.

Our top pick for the best meditation app was created to ease feelings of anxiety, boost confidence, and help you create happier and healthier relationships. You’ll be guided by Calm’s Head of Mindfulness, Tamara Levitt (by the way, she has a very soothing voice), plus special guests including renowned meditation teacher Tara Brach.

If lack of sleep is your biggest challenge right now, you couldn’t be in better hands. That’s because Calm has one of the largest collections of sleep stories for kids and adults. We’d also suggest taking a good look at your sleep setup too, as investing in one of the best pillows for your sleep style, or the best mattress for your posture needs, can also improve sleep. 

Calm also has a series of Bedtime Stories, narrated by actors, authors and other celebrities. So if being lulled to sleep by Eva Green or Matthew McConaughey sounds more than appealing, Calm is without question the best meditation app to also help you sleep better.


2. Headspace: Best meditation app for beginners

Best meditation apps: Headspace app

(Image credit: Headspace)

Headspace Meditation

Learn how to meditate and how to practice mindfulness

iOS or Android: Both | Free trial?: Yes, 7 days | Cost after trial has ended: $13 a month, $70 a year

Perfect for beginners
Mindfulness made easy
Now free for unemployed Americans

Co-founded by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, Headspace is the best meditation app for newcomers looking to learn the ropes. A narrator walks you through each meditation, and there’s an in-depth section on meditation technique and common obstacles that you might come up against during your first few meditation sessions.

Headspace offers a variety of courses on everything from mindful eating to handling change in your life, such as a job loss. In fact, unemployed Americans can now get a free subscription to Headspace. There are also stand-alone mindfulness sessions designed to help you manage stress and moments of frustration. 

There’s also a brilliant SOS section featuring 3-10 minute meditations that you can access throughout the day for those moments when you feel like you’re about to lose your temper, or at night when your mind won’t stop racing with anxious thoughts.

If you’re looking to gently ease yourself into meditation and slowly build up those mental muscles then Headspace is well worth considering, and you can even download your favorite meditations and enjoy them offline. We like the mindful breathing feature too, which is something you’ll also find on some of the best fitness trackers, such as the Apple Watch Series 5.


3. Aura: Best meditation app for stress

Best meditation app: Aura sleep and meditation

(Image credit: Aura)

Aura Meditation app

Meditation for fast-paced modern living

iOS or Android?: Both | Free trial?: Yes, 7 days | Cost after trial has ended: $12 a month, $60 annually, $400 lifetime

Bite-sized meditations
Helps you sleep better too
Option to track your moods
Life coaching section is hit and miss

Barely have time to catch your breath during the day? Wondering how on earth you’re going to choose a meditation app, let alone have time to actually use it? If you answered yes to either of those questions, stop reading now because your search is over: Aura is the best meditation app for you. Aura’s 3-minute meditations and 30-second anxiety busters are perfect to regain emotional calm and mental clarity.

The app’s stylish interface makes you feel like you’re entering a tranquil space, and with everything from gentle nature sounds to inspirational stories available to listen to when you’re not meditating, you’re bound to find something that sparks joy here.

As well as meditations, Aura also offers a life coaching section. Here you’ll find short sessions designed to improve your relationships and personal happiness, and to reduce stress. 

By asking you how you’re feeling, Aura can generate meditations and make other suggestions based on your mood. There’s also the option of tracking your moods over time – a great feature if you want to see whether or not having a daily meditation routine has any impact on how you feel on a day-to-day basis.


4. Insight Timer: Best meditation app for guided meditations

Best meditation apps: InsightTimer guided meditations app

(Image credit: InsightTimer)

Insight Timer Guided Meditations

With over 45,000 free meditations, you’ll never get bored

iOS or Android?: Both | Free trial?: No, as free basic access is continuous | Cost of premium version: $60 a year

Huge amount of free content
Lots for seasoned meditators
Hugely motivating
Amount of content is overwhelming

If you want to add a meditation practice to your daily routine but can’t afford the extra expense right now, Insight Timer is the perfect choice. Reading like a ‘who’s who’ of the meditation world, the app features courses and guided meditations led by the likes of bestselling authors and Buddhist practitioners Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg. 

For those who prefer a dash of humor and a slightly more eclectic approach, comedian Russell Brand also makes an appearance.

If none of those appeal, don’t worry. With over 6,000 teachers uploading content on a daily basis, you’re bound to find something that appeals, with topics covering everything from facing fear with compassion to changing habits.

Insight Timer comes with a progress tracker to help you keep track of how many minutes you’ve meditated for, and awards you with badges along the way - perfect for keeping you motivated and on track.

While purchasing a subscription brings a few perks, such as being able to fast forward and rewind audio, the sheer volume of free content means there’s more than enough to keep you happy if you don’t upgrade.


5. Ten Percent Happier: Best meditation app for skeptics

Best meditation apps: 10% Happier meditation breathing exercises app

(Image credit: 10% Happier)

Ten Percent Happier

Meditation breathing exercises made easy

iOs or Android: Both | Free trial?: Yes, 7 days | Cost after free trial has ended: $99 a year

Realistic approach to meditation
Simple, clear layout
Customized meditation plans
Expensive annual cost

If the mere thought of sitting cross-legged on the floor makes you feel fidgety, 10% happier, the brainchild of journalist and ABC news correspondent Dan Harris, might just be the meditation app you never knew you needed.

After having a panic attack on live TV, Harris knew he had to make some changes to his life. Spoiler alert: he found meditation and created 10% Happier, an app designed to appeal to those who feel meditation isn’t for them.

It may market itself as a no-BS, no-frills app, but don’t let that fool you. The quality and tone of the courses offered (many of which are led by the architect of the modern mindfulness movement, Joseph Goldstein) sets it apart in a saturated marketplace.

Because it’s targeted at beginners and skeptics, this meditation app does a good job of not overwhelming you with content that would have you quickly throwing in the towel. By asking you a series of questions designed to understand your current level of meditation experience and goals, the app customizes a plan to suit your needs.


6. Sanvello: Best meditation app for anxiety

Best meditation apps: Sanvello meditation for anxiety

(Image credit: Sanvello)

Sanvello

A wellness toolkit with meditations for anxiety and stress

iOS or Android?: Both | Free trial?: App is free during the COVID-19 pandemic | Normal subscription cost: $8.99 a month

Combines meditation with CBT
Helps you manage anxiety...
...and stress

Designed in collaboration with doctors, therapists and researchers, this app uses tried and tested techniques wrapped up in a thoughtful and beautiful design. Combining meditations with CBT activities aimed at helping not just to alleviate symptoms like stress and anxiety, but to help you understand why these things are appearing in the first place, Sanvello is grounded in empathy.

The app offers a variety of unique features including a weekly check-in, which measures your distress across three areas: stress, anxiety and depression. A Thought Record enables you to record and explore the relationship between your experiences, thoughts and emotions.

There are inspiring daily quotes, which you can add to your own quote board within the app, as well as a weekly music playlist on Spotify. Meditations cover everything from positive visualizations and checking in with your body, to handling anxious feelings in stressful situations such as social events, public speaking or going to a medical appointment.

You can track your feelings across the week, and participate anonymously in a variety of chat groups covering everything from relationships to gratitude, the latter helping you feel connected to a wider community.


7. Portal: Best meditation app for nature lovers

Best meditation apps: Portal meditation sounds inspired by nature

(Image credit: Portal)

Portal Meditation Sounds

Relax with soothing sounds inspired by nature

iOS or Android?: iOS only | Free trial: No, as 5 soundscapes are always free | Cost of premium version: $3.99 one-off charge

Relaxing nature sounds
Guided breathing exercises
Affordable for all 19 soundscapes
Basic compared to the others

Have you ever found yourself stuck in traffic yet wishing you were lying on a beach under a palm tree, the sound of waves lapping at your feet? Enter Portal. This hugely relaxing soundscapes app enables you to travel the world from wherever you are right now.

Elegantly simple, Portal enables you to immerse yourself in peaceful sounds from some of the world’s most tranquil, naturally meditative locations. There are 19 individual soundscapes to drown out the noise of the world around you, enabling you to focus more deeply on work, study or relaxation.

Portal comes with three different interfaces, each with its own unique set of features. The Escape function includes a variety of different breathing exercises, while the Focus function aims to boost your productivity by allowing you to write down the one thing you want to concentrate on the most that day. Thirdly, the Sleep function comes with a timer so you can choose when to switch off those soothing sleep sounds.

Portal also allows you to sync its sounds with other apps, meaning you can enjoy your audiobook while immersing yourself in the birdsong of California’s Redwood National Park. You won’t find any guided meditations here, so this app is perfect if meditation to you means straight-up mental relaxation, no effort required. 


What are meditation apps?

A meditation app enables you to start practising meditation and mindfulness if you are a beginner, or to deepen your practice if you have been meditating for quite some time now. There are specific meditation apps for beginners, and others created to offer longer, guided meditations to people who are more experienced. 

Meditation apps are widely available for both iOS and Android platforms, with most compatible with smartphones. You can find them for other devices too, but the way most people access a meditation app is to download it from the Apple App Store or Google Play, straight to their phone. 

Most meditation apps offer a free trial period, usually averaging seven days, before you then move to a monthly or annual subscription fee. The cost of a meditation app varies, but we haven’t come across any that are terribly pricey. Calm, recognized as the world’s best meditation app, regularly offers discounts on its Calm Premium annual subscription. It normally costs $69.99 a year, but we have seen notable discounts offered on it. 


Are there meditation apps for kids too?

In a word, yes. There are a growing number of meditation apps for kids now, and some of them aren’t necessarily marketed directly as kids meditation apps. For example, Headspace is widely accessible to adults and older children, and offers child-friendly meditation and mindfulness content to help little ones regain emotional calm and clarity. 

Other top meditation apps for kids include Mindful Powers, which we love because of its superhero design theme. It’s free to try (costs $4.99 for the full app), and is a good choice if you’re looking to get grade-schoolers into mindfulness and the basics of meditation. The Mindful Powers meditation app uses a kids voice and has a fun feel. 

If you have an older child (middle school age) who’s trying to understand how they are feeling, and how different feelings affect them physically, they might enjoy using a meditation app called Stop, Breathe & Think. It offers guided meditations and effective breathing exercises, and your child can write down how they are feeling, mentally, emotionally and physically. The app then suggests a suitable meditation based on your child’s answer. 

We’d recommend downloading a kids meditation app that offers a free trial, and simply letting your child use it and get used to it. Set a reminder in your phone’s diary to cancel it before the free trial period ends and you won’t get charged if your child decides this is not the meditation app for them.

The best meditation apps are a way for you to enjoy the benefits of meditation daily, especially through the winter months when some of us are more susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder. If that’s you, also take a look at our guide to the best light therapy lamps, as well as the best sunrise alarm clocks.