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The 5 best meditation apps for 2024

Meditation is often touted as a mental cure-all, purported to help with stress, sleep, mood, focus and even certain medical conditions. I’ve been meditating most of my adult life. I’ve done silent retreats. I’ve been formally trained in various techniques. I’ve had someone in my contacts list who I referred to as a “guru.” So I feel I’m relatively qualified to give some bad news: Meditation won’t fix your life, despite what David Lynch says. However, there’s also some good news: Despite not actually being a cure-all for everything bad in the universe, meditation can certainly take the edge off.

This is where meditation apps can come into play. Of course, practicing mindfulness doesn’t require an app; people have been doing it for thousands of years, with nary a smartphone in sight. But mindfulness apps can be useful in a number of ways. They provide access to all kinds of guided meditations to suit different styles. Some even offer social connections, which can motivate you to keep up your practice via the magic of peer pressure. They are also particularly well-suited to beginners, with many of them offering a free trial. With all of this in mind, I downloaded some of the most popular meditation apps and set about sitting calmly on a comfortable chair to test them out. What follows is a comparison aimed at real people just looking to squeeze a bit more joy and relaxation out of daily life.

How we tested meditation apps

Every brain is different, so I did not rate these apps based on if they sync up with my preferred meditation style. First and foremost, I looked for apps that cater to various methods and those that offer guided meditations that go beyond what’s free on YouTube. All of the items on this list are available on both Android and iOS, so you won’t have to worry about something being only for iPhone owners.

Of course, there’s lots of free stuff out there, from podcasts and videos on YouTube to audio tracks on streaming services. You can even find guided breathing sessions on an Apple Watch or Fitbit, as well as meditations in Fitness+, Samsung Health or any number of workout video providers. For this guide, I focused on apps that stood out in some way. I liked apps with huge libraries of guided meditations and those that offer additional mindfulness activities, like yoga routines. I also looked for easy-to-use apps with well-designed layouts. You don’t want to start your meditation journey with a clunky app that actually increases anxiety.

The most important thing with meditation is to keep doing it, so I awarded points for clever gamification elements, simple social network integration and anything else that encourages repeat visits. Finally, I considered extra features that set an app apart from the glut of competitors out there. For example, some meditation apps offer novel ways to track your progress, access to yoga routines and a whole lot more.

At the end of the day, each of these apps has its strengths. But if installing an app or using a device is not how you prefer to meditate, you can always turn off your phone and find a quiet room or environment. For those of us who need a little help from a digital guru, though, here are our favorite apps for meditation.

Headspace

Headspace has been one of the most popular meditation apps for nearly 15 years, boasting 70 million regular users. The actual software is a joy to use. Everything’s clearly labeled, the interface is snappy and the design is colorful and pleasant. It offers much more than just meditation, with modules for sleep tools, yoga, music and more.

The main reason Headspace snagged the top spot on this list is its dedication to gradual progression. Most of the courses advance through multiple sessions, each one building off of the last. You can also pick from numerous instructors for each course, which I find really helpful. Sometimes the person leading the guided meditation is just as important as the content itself, and some brains react better to, say, deep, gravelly voices while others prefer softer coos.

Beyond the vast selection of courses, which are aimed at everything from mindful eating to increasing productivity, there are thousands of standalone guided meditations. These are all searchable as well, and you can easily save the videos and courses you like for a revisit down the line.

Headspace costs $13 per month, or $70 for the year if you pay upfront. There’s a free trial, which grants you access to everything, but you have to sign up for a plan before it kicks in. In other words, make sure you cancel if you don’t like it before the trial period runs out so you’re not charged. On the plus side, there are some well-priced group plans for families, coworkers and even friends. You can get six full subscriptions for $100 annually, which brings the price down to $16 per person each year.

Headspace may have the broadest appeal of all the apps I tried, but it’s not without its issues. You can search for meditations by length, but there aren’t that many to choose from beyond the 30-minute mark. This isn’t a huge deal for beginners, but advanced practitioners may want longer sessions. Also, there isn’t much content available for non-paying members beyond a few simple guided meditations. A free trial unlocks the entire library, but also locks you in for a charge if you don’t cancel in time. I also found that many competing apps were better than Headspace at checking in on my mood and overall mental health, but that’s a personal nitpick.

Pros

  • Courses include multiple sessions that build on one another
  • Members get access to music, yoga routines and podcasts
  • A search engine makes it easy to find the perfect routine
  • Various instructors available for each course
  • Aesthetically pleasing design with calming colors
Cons

  • Not much free content after the trial ends
  • Meditations are primarily for new practitioners
  • Rival apps are slightly better at checking in

$70/year at Headspace

Calm

If Headspace is Coca-Cola, then Calm is Pepsi. The two are extremely similar. They both record an array of relevant stats, like how often you meditate, and offer a diverse catalog of guided meditations. There are just a couple of minor nitpicks that put Calm squarely in second place. Calm’s $15 monthly fee is a bit higher, though its annual cost is the same. Also, I found that Calm’s various menus were slightly trickier to navigate than the Headspace app. Finally, Calm doesn’t offer any useful content for free users beyond the trial period.

Still, Calm is a good option for meditation beginners. There’s a lot of flexibility here, so you can try different things to see what works for you. The app offers short daily meditations, guided sessions organized around goals, philosophically minded discussions, sleep-centric content and audio clips that combine meditation with music therapy. There are also plenty of meditations for those who balk at the 20 to 30 minutes typically required for a daily practice. You can find a decent meditation even if you have just 90 seconds to spare.

Calm goes out of its way to emphasize mental health improvement and provides plenty of metrics as to the actual benefits of meditation. The app regularly asks about your mood and many of the guided meditations I tried offered actionable advice for those suffering from anxiety and depression.

A paid Calm membership also gets you plenty of perks beyond meditations. There’s a kids section with guided meditations and narrated children’s stories. There’s also a lot of sleep-focused guided meditations and bedtime stories, as well as a curated selection of music and a decent selection of philosophical discussions. Finally, there’s a section for mindful activities, which provides journaling prompts and other types of check-ins.

Pros

  • Great for beginners, with clearly labeled content for newbies
  • Dedicated kids section
  • Membership gets you perks like access to a music library
  • Many short and focused meditations
Cons

  • Slightly more expensive than the competition
  • No free content available once the trial ends
  • Meditations max out at 30 minutes

$70/year at Calm

Insight Timer

Most of the big meditation apps, including our top picks, are stingy when it comes to free content. That’s not true of Insight Timer. The app offers access to a massive library of around 120,000 guided meditations. That’s enough to watch two unique videos a day for roughly 165 years. These include a bevy of longer-than-average videos for experienced meditators.

As the app’s name suggests, there’s also a useful meditation timer available to free users. Most meditation apps focus exclusively on guided sessions, but a simple timer allows you to skip the “guided” part and go it alone. Sure, you could use your phone’s timer, but Insight’s timers are designed to gently pull you from a meditative state (Nothing ruins a good meditation like the iPhone’s annoying alarm.) To that end, there are all kinds of sounds to choose from, including standard fare like wood blocks, chimes and bells. You can even space out these sounds to occur throughout the session as reminders to stop thinking about nonsense and return your focus to your breath or mantra.

The app offers a premium subscription for $10 a month or $60 per year, but you can use the free stuff for as long as you like. Insight Timer isn’t pushy about leading users into a payment portal. However, a subscription unlocks thousands of multi-session courses similar to those on Calm and Headspace. Many of these courses are taught by real big-wigs in the meditation world, like Tara Brach and Kenneth Soares. You also get access to a library of calming music, podcasts, discussions and an option for offline listening. The journaling system, which is bare-bones for free users, gets a hefty upgrade as well, complete with check-ins. Finally, the eponymous timer itself gets some improvements, with the addition of hundreds of alarm sounds to choose from.

A huge caveat to Insight timer is that, while its massive library of videos is fantastic, it can be utterly baffling to navigate. There’s just so much there and the app doesn’t have a great way to sort and filter it all. It does offer a folder option to organize meditations according to personal preference, but that’s only for paying members. The app also offers some group events, like shared meditations and yoga sessions, but I found them to be fairly buggy. I experienced some stutters and sudden app shutdowns, but not to the point where I threw the phone at the wall or anything.

Pros

  • Plenty of free content
  • Includes over 120,000 guided meditations
  • Half of the proceeds from subscriptions go to teachers
  • Timer tool is great for standard meditations
  • Courses are led by known figures in the wellness community
Cons

  • Difficult to find the right video via the search bar
  • Multi-session courses are only for paying subscribers
  • Live group events can be buggy

$60/year at Insight Timer

Smiling Mind

Looking to dive into the world of meditation without putting your credit card on file somewhere? Smiling Mind has you covered. This not-for-profit app costs nothing — there aren’t any paid memberships, period, so you’ll have access to everything as soon as you sign up. On top of that, it’s good enough that I would have considered giving it a spot on this list even if it had a subscription fee.

It offers hundreds of guided meditations, which is less than a paid membership via other platforms, but still more than enough for those looking to start developing a regular practice. Smiling Mind even offers multi-course programs, just like our top picks. These programs are organized into topics like the foundations of mindfulness, sleep improvement and stress management. I found myself returning to the digital detox program on multiple occasions because, well, who couldn’t use some tech-free time?

The meditations come in a wide variety of lengths, from two minute quick-bites to 45-minute marathon runs. Like many of the apps on this list, there are only a few of those longer meditations, so advanced practitioners may want to look elsewhere. There are several unguided meditations, however, for those who want to practice at their own pace.

Beyond meditating, there isn’t a whole lot else to do on the app. Smiling Minds does offer mental health check-ins and journaling options. One big feature that’s worth mentioning is the massive amount of content for children and teens. The app was originally designed for kids, and it shows in both the interface and the content library. The child-friendly meditations are cleverly designed and separated according to several age groups. Even kids get multi-course programs that cover back to school jitters, sports, sleep improvement and, of course, studying.

Just because Smiling Minds is free doesn’t mean we can overlook its shortcomings. There’s no way to see who is hosting the meditation before you start listening to it. This is annoying for people who gravitate toward specific practitioners, forcing them to start the meditation before deciding to carry on. It also means you can’t look for your favorite teachers. There’s also no search function to speak of; you just have to scroll until you see something you like.

Pros

  • Absolutely free
  • Many useful multi-course programs
  • Large amount of kid-friendly content is great
  • Cute interface that’s easy to understand
  • Hundreds of guided meditations available
Cons

  • No search function to find a specific clip or teacher
  • You have to actually start a meditation to find out who is leading it
  • Not many lengthy session for advanced users

$0 at Smiling Mind

Sattva

Meditation is often considered a lonely pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be. Sattva knows this better than any other app on this list. It’s designed like a social media app, and uses the addictive nature of such platforms to encourage a daily meditation practice.

The app features a standard social media feed that shows you exactly when people are meditating and what type of meditation they’re doing. You can like and comment, and the app even has a global feed to keep track of all users at once. There’s plenty of gamification elements here, too, from badges for keeping streaks going to achievements for trying new meditation types. Mindfulness isn’t a competition, but the app does include a leaderboard that tracks who has meditated the most.

Gamification and competition may seem antithetical to the very concept of meditation, but social media has taught us that these can be powerful motivators. It could take a friend nudging you on the main feed or the prospect of a colorful badge to help build a daily practice. Sattva does the whole “pull your friends from Facebook” thing when you sign up, and I found someone I hadn’t talked to in years using the app. It was a neat way to catch up.

As for the actual meditations, there’s plenty to choose from, including guided audio, simple soundscapes, mantras, timers and a decent amount of content for advanced practitioners. Sattva is big on mental health tracking, so the app has journaling tools, check-ins and a wealth of statistical information. Most of these are only available to paying members, but the free version still offers access to the social feed and a whole bunch of audio clips.

Unlike other apps I tested, Sattva doesn’t have any multi-course programs that build on one another, so users have to design their own practice. There also isn’t a dedicated section for kids or teens, and the search function is bare-bones. It missed a whole lot of meditations when searching by subject and was even less useful when looking for a specific teacher.

Pros

  • Social features are great for those who need a little push
  • Plenty of different meditation styles from around the world
  • Games and challenges help keep things from getting stale
  • Free version is actually useful
  • Clean and easy-to-navigate user interface
Cons

  • Search function is limited
  • No multi-course sessions
  • No content for kids or teens

$50/year at Sattva

Other meditation gear we tested

Brain-tracking wearables have been around for years, but there are some newer devices that have been tailor-made for meditators. These gadgets track the brain during meditations and offer real-time feedback. It’s a real boon for the data-obsessed, but also a real bank account drainer, with some gadgets costing thousands of dollars. I took two of the more-popular options for a spin to see what they’d make of my brain.

Sens.ai Neurofeedback System

Sens.ai is a weird contraption that not only claims to track brainwaves, but gives real-time feedback to “teach” people how to meditate and enter a flow state. The device involves a giant headset that’s stuffed with brainwave sensors that detect beta, alpha, theta and gamma waves, in addition to heart-rate sensors. It also comes with a truly bizarre companion gadget that uses light stimulation (transcranial photobiomodulation) to keep an eye on focus and attention levels. The whole thing is combined with an app that keeps track of dozens of data metrics and allows access to various guided meditations.

I’m as surprised as you to say that this thing appears to work, with some caveats. It’s uncanny how well it monitors the brain during meditations. If I got lost in a thought spiral about lasagna at six minutes in, sure enough, there would be a dip in analytics at the six-minute mark. It’s also fairly easy to use, despite a process that involves wetting a number of electrodes. As magical as the accurate brain-tracking seems to be, however, I wasn’t as keen on the actual training portion, which often involves staring at a screen throughout the entirety of the practice. It’s also not for the financial faint of heart, as the Sens.ai device costs $1,500.

NeoRhythm Omnipemf

NeoRhythm’s Omnipemf is another wearable to help people get into that ever-elusive flow state. It doesn’t track your brain, but rather floods it with electromagnetic fields at specific frequencies to make it more susceptible to meditation and focus. This is supposed to prime your brain for the meditative state and, in theory, make it easier to capture that zen. However, I didn’t get much from it, other than a placebo-esque buzzing in my head.

To use it, you simply pop on the wearable and go about your day. You aren’t tied to an app, so you can meditate in whatever way you like. There are multiple modes that go beyond meditation, as this thing is supposed to help with focus, pain relief and sleep. I’d wait for some peer-reviewed studies, however, before buying this.

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