The growth of apps, websites and tech claiming to boost our wellbeing and introduce mindfulness to the masses has grown tremendously over the last few years. A global report by Polaris research values the global Mindfulness Meditation Apps Market at $270.39 million (USD) in 2019 and is expected to reach $4,206.12 million by 2027. In November 2020, meditation app Calm was valued at over $1 billion. And, there’s a plethora or research articles into the clinical applications of mindful tech, I even received NHS treatment for my anxiety in 2019 via Ieso – an online platform connecting users with therapists, mood tracking and more (see NHS-backed apps here).
In my own life – out of a curiosity for new tech and a need to help better my mental health – I have tried several so-called “wellbeing” apps. For meditation, yoga, self-esteem, mood tracking, journaling. If it was a bit of tech marketed as improving wellbeing: I was the target audience.
As a result, I often get asked my opinion on the various apps out there. How I use them, what they cost, and whether you should download them too. I am by no means an expert, a clinician or guru. But I am a user who has found a lot of positivity from technology, and have a lot of opinions on wellness tech. I also meditate everyday. Meditation has been a lifeline, a spiritual foundation and a learning process for me over the last few years and – despite attending in person training and classes run by those I’d call “gurus” – it all started on my phone.
Below, I’ve reviewed three of the world’s leading meditation and mindfulness apps – answering the main questions I get asked around “mindful tech” to help you make an informed choice should you wish to try them for yourselves and, crucially, before spending any money! I’ve used all of these apps 100s of times over the last few years, but I spent the last month using them all to try and be as fair as possible in my judgements. Here’s what I thought:
I’ve been a Headspace subscriber for a few years, but in January 2020 in the middle of burnout, I opened my Headspace app for the first time in weeks and started the first session on ‘Managing Anxiety’. I sat, fidgety and irritable, and tried to focus on my breath. Annoyed at my thoughts for intruding. But somehow, after 10 mins, I felt better. Not “cured” but better. So the next day, I continued.
In March 2020 amid the national lockdown, I started running virtual meditation classes for my colleagues via Headspace. We started with Finding Focus and then Navigating Change, in my new workplace I also introduced these drop-ins in November and we’ve focussed on Productivity and are moving onto Balance. Each session whether one person joins me or 50, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.
This month, I’ve used Sleepcasts (which I never get to the end of and my sleeping has improved…), Singles for walking, mindful eating and exercise, as well as dipping into some sessions on Appreciation and Happiness. I find Headspace’s variety, themes and structure incredibly easy to follow. The choice of times (3, 5, 10, 20 minutes) on most sessions are very useful for those who might find the idea of sitting for 20 minutes daunting at first. And it’s helped implement a meditation routine in my life. I struggle to meditate without guidance and I find Headspace strikes the right balance of guidance and silence.
That being said, the website is sometimes a bit laggy and I’m not a massive fan of the ‘Discover’ page UI – the app is much more user friendly and interactive. Many courses have been made free over 2020 but to unlock its full potential you do have to front a £49.99 annual subscription. But, I would definitely recommend a complete novice to mindfulness and meditation to give the free courses a go and many workplace benefits packages offer Headspace for free (mine had an offer for 6 months).
The world’s largest free meditation app. Over 80,000 free guided meditations from real-world experts on everything from sleep, confidence, loving-kindness, recovery and healing, happiness, stress and anxiety and more! It also explores the religious and spiritual foundations of meditation for those interested, and has several talks, music tracks, and – its namesake – a meditation timer for you to use should you want to practice unguided.
I was surprised to see the amount of content available for free and, as a result, haven’t unlocked a Member Plus account. Classes from people like author and Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg (whose books I recommended here) feature on the site among many others. I also appreciate the apps scientific section – explaining the neuroscience behind mindfulness practices and sessions focussed on relieving pain and anxiety. I’ve most enjoyed the morning wake-up sessions – listening as I drink my coffee or a gentle morning practice from whoever features on the homepage.
That being said, I find the app’s infinite options a little overwhelming. The search function is good and often returns something I can gel with, but there’s simply too much choice and it can be hard to know what will work for you (and your spiritual inclinations) and what won’t. However, I think it’s worth a try. It’s free and I’ll definitely continue to dip into the talks and classes even if not everyday. A great find.
Boasting itself as the #1 app for meditation, Calm certainly has the Hollywood factor. I’ve had Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba read me a Sleep story this month (with Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles lined up for the future…) and I don’t think that needs any further comment. The focussed sessions – such as Train Your Mind with LeBron James – have been really enjoyable, and I often find myself logging in just to hear the serenity of birdsong or rainfall.
But what I’ve really got into with Calm is the mindfulness music playlists. Again, hosting the big hitters – deadmau5 & friends and Toro y Moi – their themed playlists have become a real go-to for me in moments of anxiety while working or as a reset at the weekend. And they seem to be more effective for me than other playlists I’ve found on Spotify or YouTube boasting the same credentials. There’s such great power in music to keep us focussed, calm and rested, and I believe Calm have tapped into this incredibly well.
Again, I’ve signed up to the annual subscription at a discounted £29.99. Without Calm Premium I found the content was quite limited, but you do have 7 days to trial it before making the commitment – and there’s always an offer. Calm will definitely be a staple in my routine going forward. A great app for those wanting to get into meditation or – as it advertises – take a deep breath and find a moment of calm.