As I mentioned in this year’s September Unplugged post, the back-to-school seasion is a great time to meditate! So, in August, I did my research on several free mindfulness apps before choosing four apps to download onto my iphone and use amidst the b-t-s chaos! I had my own criteria for picking the best of the best. I was looking for the amount and quality of free content, ease of use [particularly in unconnected situations like on the subway or in air-plane mode], and overall effectiveness, i.e., did it give me joy?
Here are the results of my Road-Test of Four Free Mindfulness Apps, from faves to bust!
Easiest Get Up and Go!
PROS: Stop, Breathe & Think was, by far, the easiest mindfuless app to use of the four I chose. There are no uncomfortable sign-up or registration pages to fill out before beginning with the straightforward program. You can choose to read a few helpful slides about how to begin to meditate. Or, you can simply switch over to the “Quick Picks,” 16 downloaded-at-the-install meditations ranging in length from about 3 to 10 minutes. The more apps I tried, the more I appreciated that I didn’t need to worry about downloading any of these items before using them. This means that you can choose and use them in the subway or with your phone on airplane mode.
The free menu spans a wide range of needs, from “falling asleep” to taking a “mindful walk,” practicing “gratitude,” or exploring “the commonality of suffering.” Certain meditations, like “mindful breathing,” also allow you to choose a time option. I really liked the choice of options, especially the walking meditation and the body scan. I used this app in the subway and got to my stop in a fabulous state of mind!
This app also offered more “available” features than “add-ons.” In addition to the 16 free meditations already downloaded, you can use the free meditation timer. You do need to create a profile on the app before you use this, but it is easy to do. Four additional meditation packages are available to purchase [no more than $4 each] from the app store, including a 5-pack of extended versions of the existing meditaitons, a K.D. Lange 5-pack of meditations, oh, and, wait… I believe that the 4th package was actually free! In any case, I’m including these add-ons in the “pro” section, because I think the price is right. And there’s no added commitment to a monthly or yearly subscription. Additionally, 10% of the funds for these purchases go to toolsforpeace.org. The entire cost to upgrade would be about $12.
CONS: Not many. To use the meditation timer, you need to create a profile. But the sign-up is free and easy. At first, I wasn’t quite comfortable with the voice talent on this app. Though, after hearing all of the free offerings, I find the woman’s voice in this app one of the most engaging of the bunch. Also, some of the guided meditations are a bit on the “talky” side, but they are still quite calming. Will I grow tired of these free meditations? Perhaps. But, I could see myself purchasing one or two of the extended packages in order to complement the practice. And, for the purposes of having a range of meditations and exercises to choose from and without the pressure of subscribing or doling out any cashola, I am willing to go light.
WILL I KEEP STOP, BREATHE & THINK ON MY PHONE?
Best Sounds, Graphics, and Options
PROS: Calm started as a website in which you could look at pretty wallpapers and listen to nature sounds. This aspect of the app is, dare I say it, my favourite part. Who doesn’t want to switch over to a rainy scene and the sound of rain when stuck in a doctor’s office. I did that, and it was wonderful! All of the scenes and sounds are quite beautiful. Three come pre-loaded once you install the app, and other free packs are available to download. I freaking love this app!
There are also a lot of free meditation options here: a “7 Days of Calm” program, two “Unguided” options and two “Guided” meditations. The “7 Days of Calm” program consists of seven 10-minute guided meditations designed to bring more “calm, clarity and joy” into your life. This introduces newbies to basic forms of mindfulness, such as a breathing meditation and guiding yourself from distraction to the here and now. I tried the whole program over the course of a week and I usually felt quite energized afterward. The “Unguided” option of “Time Meditation” allows you set a timer ranging from 1 minute to 8 hours, and the “Open-Ended” Meditation will, if you like, play bells for you at varying intervals from 2 minutes to every hour. These features will always be useful. There are also two additonal “Guided Meditaiton” options of a “Body Scan” available in intervals of 3 to 30 minutes and a “Loving-Kindness” practice in intervals of 5 – 30 minutes [both of these require an internet connection to download]. So, there’s quite a lot of free stuff!
The app is also quite flexible! You can choose to do any of these 11 free programs and their options with or without the audio nature sounds in the background. I was quite surprised how much I liked meditating with the nature sounds on, especially when I was sitting at home alone. Also, I quite like the female voice talent in this app, and could see myself listening to more of her. This app doesn’t force you to create a profile at the outset. However, it does suggest you do so in order to track your progress. It still seemed to track my progress without a sign-up, for which I was grateful.
CONS-ISH: This app delivers a lot. In comparison to Stop, Breathe, and Think, you get fewer guided meditations, but a much larger set of wonderful independent counters and bells, and more time options. But, because it is such a potentially expansive subscription app, it sometimes promises more than it delivers. The app lists all sorts of cool looking “Programs” and “Meditations” that have a pretty little padlock on them, all of which lead you to their subscription page. These additional packages require not an in-app purchase but a “subscription” of about $17.99 a month, $84.99 a year or $399.99 for life [I’m not sure if that’s in U.S. or Canadian dollars]. The yearly option costs about as much as Netflix. And, I am looking for free! For this reason, it’s my second choice, not my first! Also, you cannot skip forward from day 1 to day 7 but must complete each approximately 10 minute meditation. And, I wasn’t keen on the “our addicton to thinking” terminology in day 3 of the 7-day meditation. It’s an odd phrase, and it really threw me for a loop. Finally, I couln’t access all of the features of this app on first go without being online. So, no subway quick-fix from the get-go. This won’t be a problem for everyone, obviously. But, it was high on my criteria for ease of use!
WILL I KEEP CALM ON MY PHONE?
Yes! YES! Yes! The nature sounds and the timed guided and free meditations are the bomb! Overall, I still think this is a great app. And, if I was looking for something to commit to in the form of a subscription, this would definitely be the #1 app for me! It’s pretty much a close tie for #1, anyway.
Most Free Programs
PROS: Smiling Mind is a great app for people looking to introduce not only themselves but family, students, athletes, or co-workers to a practice of mindfulness. It comes with several free programs for different age groups, as well as some free sports-related meditations, “bite-sized” meditations, and workplace meditations. In fact, this app might have the most free meditations of all of the apps I tried! The “adult” programs I chose to follow over the course of August ranged from body scans to healthy eating. And, they all left me feeling refreshed, grateful, and invigorated! You certainly can’t go wrong with this app. It’s insanely flexible! Also, I liked how this app linked up to mental health resources (in Australia) for when Mindfulness might not be enough! Good for you, Smiling Mind! And, it’s absolutely free! Yippee!!
CONS: The graphics weren’t exactly sleek. You have to create a profile in order to access this site…no biggee, really. After installation, it required an almost immediate update, bummer. And, strangely, because of its range of free stuff, it was a bit harder to navigate, at times, than my top two picks. For instance, it can be difficult to tell the difference from what will be a guided meditaiton and a bit of a “chat.” Additionally, because the app has so much to offer, you have to download most of the meditations on the spot. This doesn’t really work for me, as I like to meditate in the subway or in airplane mode. And it made me wonder if my previously-used sessions would just sit on my phone’s memory long term. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of the voice talent here, either. If you like an aussie-gent, though, this might be your top pick!
WILL I KEEP SMILING MIND ON MY PHONE?
Probably not. I think that the other apps were stronger candidates for me, personally. However, it is vast and it is the free-est of the free! I will recommend this to friends new to meditaiton. I would definitely load it to a tablet if I were to bring it on a retreat with friends, business, or school. And, I’d certainly let me kids loose on it!
Solid Introductory Routine
PROS: Headspace is a cheerful app with a solid, free, 10-day guided meditation. And, you can fast-forward through bits of these meditations, which can be helpful, at times. It also offers some solid resources for kids, especially a few neat “singles” meditations. I also liked the easily accessible fear of flying meditation single. Bravo!
CONS: You have to create a profile in order to use the app. Aside from the 10 day plan and a few fun “singles” meditations, almost every part of this app requires subscription (for the monthly price of 17.99, yearly for 129.99, or forever for 549.99). Unlike Calm, there’s certainly not enough to try before you buy. And, sorry, folks, but am I the only one who thinks mindfulness should set you free, not keep you tied down to your credit card bills? Also, while lots of people love him, I wasn’t a fan of Mr. Puddicombe’s voice. And, the supposedly “helpful” introduction videos embedded in a few of the days of the 10-Day free offering became bothersome and required an internet connection – more data/wifi! In fact, hardly any of the free meditations come pre-loaded on installation, requiring wifi or an internet connection, which was, again, a deal-breaker for me. Using this app gave me very little joy.
WILL I KEEP HEADSPACE ON MY PHONE?
No. But, it might work for you! The features for kids are especially promising!