Meditation seems daunting to many people. They may wonder if they’d be able to just sit there without getting incredibly antsy, or whether their minds would wander and they’d spend those moments making a mental shopping list for dinner rather than finding some inner peace. Even if they’re open to the idea, they may get stuck on “Who has the time?” But what with our packed work-plus-home schedules or kids’ school stresses, we all could use some element of relaxation in our lives, and meditation could be just the help we need.
Meditation practices help us organize our thoughts and calm our busy brains, even if we just do short guided sessions. And — great news — there isn’t a right or wrong way to meditate; doing it could revolve around a chanted mantra, or simply repeating a chosen routine daily, explains Yogmata Keiko Aikawa, a Siddha Master known for her work with the United Nations’ Culture of Peace Program.
Establishing these daily habits can be so much easier if you get started with mobile apps and guided meditation services that aim to educate new users and inspire experienced enthusiasts. Rachel Rothman, chief technologist and engineering director in the Good Housekeeping Institute, says the best meditation apps blend both auditory and visual cues (like videos!) to help people practice meditation daily. Experts in GH Labs have tested dozens of wellness apps and services that tout meditation offerings; most of the best options require users to pay a monthly or semi-annual membership fee, unlocking thousands of hours of content. Rothman adds that there are free options to choose from — including a best-tested option on this list — but those who regularly meditate often find a wider, more comprehensive selection via paid apps
Below, we’re sharing the 11 best meditation apps based on our expert reviews, editor’s picks and current user ratings. The following is a selection of the best meditation apps and services to download now.
Best meditation apps:
- Best Overall: Calm
- Best Budget Service: Ten Percent Happier
- Best Guided Meditation: Core Meditation
- Best Audio Selection: Headspace
- Best for Beginners: Waking Up
- Best for Sleep: Aura
- Best for Short Sessions: The Mindfulness App
- Best Free Service: Insight Timer
- BIWOC-Focused: Exhale
- LGBTQ+-Focused: Sowl Mate
- Best for Consistency: Unplug
- Best for Mindfulness: Simple Habit
- Best for Mantras: Sattva
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One of the most popular apps on the market, with 1.5 million ratings, Calm has skyrocketed to trending top 10 charts in the health space. Calm is celebrated for the relaxed approach it takes to empowering users and how it eases the user into meditative practices. Daily guided meditations are easy to complete in schedule-friendly sessions, ranging from 3 to 25 minutes — and targeted programs help address anxiety, stress, or a lack of sleep. Plus, with auditory bedtime stories as well as a suite of relaxing music, this app can help you establish mental guided imagery, letting you use more than one of your senses to mentally remove yourself from your current surroundings.
Cost: $70 annually after a seven-day free trial.
User Review: “I got it solely for the sleep stories, and I’m absolutely obsessed. It’s like being a kid again and getting a beautiful story read to you by a soothing voice. While I use the app mainly for sleep stories I’ve used the meditation, background music, and breathing exercise options on the app as well.”
Best Budget Service: Ten Percent Happier
Spun off from the New York Times best-selling book by the same name, 10% Happier skyrocketed to popularity during the pandemic. While its basic version is free, the premium version of the app can actually connect you to a library of more than 500 guided meditation videos that are designed for particular scenarios or moments in your day. Premium users also have access to teachings by experts on the benefits of mindfulness and how to put it in practice in your life. But what sets this app apart from others, say many reviewers, is its video offerings: New series about mindfulness are regularly made available to subscribers.
Cost: Free to start, $100 for an annual subscription with a seven-day free trial.
User Review: “The hardest part for me was getting in the habit of using this daily. Luckily they have so many ways to integrate meditation and mindfulness into your daily life and tips to help you do it.”
Best Guided Meditation: Core Meditation by Hyperice
Many meditation apps are interactive for users via the phone’s display, but Core Meditation takes it a step further by incorporating a 3D handheld device that’s linked to the app. Developed by fitness manufacturer Hyperice, Core Meditation uses its separate linked device to help center your attention and educate you on better breathing techniques. The device contains ECG biosensors to monitor your progress during daily sessions at home. Dan DiClerico, the Good Housekeeping Institute‘s home improvement and outdoor director, named Core Meditation one of 2022’s best wellness services for its wide selection of curated guided meditations — modes are available for better sleep or reducing stress-related anxiety on the spot.
Cost: Free two-week trial; $10 monthly or $70 annually thereafter.
User Review: “Perfect for someone like me who has tried other meditation apps but has never been able to focus or keep at it consistently. With the trainer in my hand and the soft vibrations that sync to the app, I’m instantly more centered and focused.”
Best Audio Selection: Headspace
Headspace is one of the most popular options for people trying to improve their focus, but some users say it can also provide temporary relief from daily stressors as they arise. You’ll find plenty of quirky illustrations to help guide you along, whether you’re doing a guided meditation or a mini session; there are also some designed for kids. Subscribers are also able to partake in audio sessions to help them sleep soundly through the night. While there’s a small free trial, Headspace does eventually require you to fork over a membership fee, so it may be best for a family or someone really invested in daily practice.
Cost: $13 monthly with a seven-day free trial, or $70 annually with a two-week free trial.
User Review: “Amidst my sometimes wild schedule I always try to meditate once a day, and the daily meditation, 3-minute version is great.”
Best for Short Sessions: The Mindfulness App
Are you well into your meditation journey? This service, which skips handheld guided sessions, might be for you. Rothman says tests revealed that users can create a custom session with flexible time periods, from 3 to 30 minutes in length, and select sounds like bells to best fit your needs. A premium subscription unlocks full courses on developing focus, if that interests you, but the free version still lets you integrate your phone’s health app to keep an eye on how long you’ve meditating throughout the week.
Cost: Free, with optional in-app subscriptions of $60 for one year.
User Review: “I appreciate that my meditations are available at any time… It’s simple, easy to follow and the people who provide the sessions are some of the most respected in the whole mindfulness movement.”
Best for Beginners: Waking Up
Waking Up was developed by neuroscientist-turned-philosopher and bestselling author Sam Harris. It doesn’t encourage passive meditation, but provides more structure and intent as you go. For example, the app’s 28-day Introductory program packs in lessons on all the ways you can be more intentional (which is good if you have a hard time meditating without a specific focus). With 50,000+ positive reviews, many users have already shared that Waking Up feels more like “meditation university” than anything else.
Cost: Free 7-day trial, $99 yearly for Premium access or $139 for a Family plan for multiple users.
User Review: “It can change the way you think and process the world. The guided meditation courses will teach you all you need to know to meditate on your own but the conversation topics are what really blew me away and challenged my thinking the most.”
With guided stories and music options, this meditation app has many avenues for helping you self reflect— and it generates them for you based on the mood you’re in! It tracks how much meditating you’re doing, plus there’s an option to track your moods over time, as well as set reminders to practice mindfulness throughout the day in order to boost those moods.
Cost: Premium membership costs $12 monthly, $60 annually, or $400 for lifetime use.
User Review: “I love the three-minute meditations for days when I’m really rushed, and I listen to the life coaching or stories back-and-forth on my way to work and throughout the day as a pick me up.”
EXHALE was founded and designed in 2020 to service BIWOC (Black, Indigenous, Womxn of Color) users and provide targeted services that weren’t available on other leading platforms. Founder Katara McCarty created EXHALE in the hopes that users will have better trust in services upon downloading the app, which includes offerings directly targeted for issues like microaggressions, grief and childhood trauma, among 15+ other crucial topics.
Users can sign up for free to begin meditations and guided “imagining” sessions, as well as to access daily affirmation services that feel more intentional for the app’s core issue-directed offerings, as opposed to general wellness.
User Review: “This is the app that recognizes the challenges of being a woman of color and fills in that space, where many mainstream strategies that promote wellbeing fail to address the nuances of women of color. This is that app! Love it!”
This app is loaded with guided meditations, and users who identify as LGBTQ+ can opt to take part in courses that are specifically tailored to shared experiences. Topics in these special meditations include breakups, gaslighting or rejection, and the coming out process. There’s also an AI-powered mood tracker and journal you can use in the app.
Cost: $15 monthly or $40 annually.
User Review: “This app allows me to vent and meditate, and the coming out stories are amazing. Now I feel confident enough to come out to more of my family, which is really affecting my mental health in a good way.”
Best for Mindfulness: Simple Habit
Simple Habit’s developers created their service with certain people in mind: those who feel like they don’t have any time to actually practice meditation. The app is focused on daily stress relief, with five-minute sessions at the top of the list as well as sessions that are developed for traveling, like a morning commute program. You’ll find motivational guides and bedtime stories as well.
Cost: $11.99 a month or $96 a year.
User Review: “It’s made meditation simpler for me. The instructors’ voices are soothing, and visually I like the organization and simplicity of the app.”
If you’re someone who enjoys auditory or vocal meditation, the Vedic-style meditation featured in these guided sessions — with plenty of mantras and chants — will appeal to you. Sessions range between 6 minutes up to 1 hour and beyond, and there are sessions developed to be straightforward while you work on extending your sessions in length. Additionally, there are in-app playlists and audio collections that can help make your sessions that much better.
Cost: $12 monthly or $49 annually; $199 for lifetime usage.
User Review: “For me, the mantra techniques help strengthen my breath and get me to a meditative state rather than waiting for vague directions as my mind drifts. “
Humans have been practicing various forms of meditation for thousands of years. According to Cleveland Clinic, it’s simply a practice that uses a combo of physical and mental techniques to clear your mind and bring focus to it. The National Institutes of Health points to various types of meditation, including keeping one’s mind centered on a sensation such as breathing, or on a sound, mantra or image.
What are the benefits of meditation?
“Meditation is like exercise for your attention,” says Sam Chase, lead faculty for Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, MA. “For most of us, much of our moments are spent planning, remembering, juggling a ton of to-do’s and demands or just plain daydreaming. Those things are all necessary, but we do so much of it that the mind can end up a bit overtrained — always on the lookout for what’s next, still chewing on what’s long gone and often struggling to stay focused on the present moment. Meditation strengthens our ability to be present, purposeful and open to what’s happening right now.”
Research has turned up a slew of mind and body benefits from practicing different types of meditation. For instance, mindfulness meditation showed moderate evidence of improving stress, depression and pain, according to a 2014 review of 47 clinical trials that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Another study, in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found that those with generalized anxiety disorder received some relief from a mindfulness meditation stress reduction program. And there is some evidence that the same type of mindfulness-based stress-reduction program could help older adults with cognitive issues.
There’s also research indicating that meditation may help with certain types of pain. For example, a 2017 review published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine showed that meditation, combined with traditional therapy, helped reduce the pain from IBS. Another study from 2018 showed that mindfulness meditation may help reduce pain from fibromyalgia.
What are the benefits of meditation apps?
“The best thing about the array of meditation apps out there is that they make it easy to get started and help you keep going,” says Chase. “Change is hard, and asking the mind to sit and stay when it’s used to running all over the place can feel like an uphill climb at first. But like any exercise, it helps to start small, build gradually, and turn it into a daily habit. This is where the apps really excel—they can customize routines based on what you need, send you daily reminders, track your streak, even turn it into a bit of a game. Having a voice that guides you and keeps track of the time can also be a huge help. I recommend different apps to all the folks I teach meditation to. And I’ve been doing it for 20 years and I use meditation apps myself almost every day.”
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