Apps for Meditation

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tl;dr

Try the free lessons in all the apps and find the one that suits you. Don't rush. Feel free to repeat the free lessons.

In the end there's no best app, there's just the best one for you.

Headspace

Headspace

I started meditating with Headspace in February 2016. I know this because it has a "My Journey" page that tells you what courses you've taken and roughly when. I had tried meditation a few times in the past and always failed with "I can't stop thinking so I can't do this". What hooked me this time was him saying in one of the free lessons that you will think, and that's okay, just acknowledge it, let it go, and return to watching your breath. There was also a very non-judgmental attitude, he was very clear that everyone gets lost in thought while meditating, it's okay, just begin again.


This bit is waiting to be cleaned up:

Headspace is what finally got me into a regular practice. In one of sessions in the first 10 (free) he says something to the effect of "when you find yourself thinking, and you will, over and over again, just return to the breath". Since then I've heard that repeatedly from every source of info on mindfulness meditation. You will find yourself thinking, and that's fine and perfectly normal, just go back to watching your breath. That is a key lesson of any of these apps.

Headspace has a very no-nonsense approach. There's no woo here, no magic or chi or "energy", it's just you training your brain. They have lessons, typically 10 or 30 day, on many topics, including three 10-day Foundation packs and six 10-day Pro packs. I've been through the Basic/Foundation set two or three times and Pro twice. Despite all that I still think I suck at meditation but I don't think that's his fault, I think I need to do longer sessions (actually did my first 1 hour today). I also very much like Everyday Headspace, where he'll talk for two or three minutes on a topic and then do a meditation that you can set from 3 to 20 minutes. The talk/lesson will be related to meditation in some way, although sometimes it's more about how we relate to the world. Lessons similar to the Buddhist idea that we suffer largely because we think we're supposed to. I'm sure Buddhism influences the lessons but he's never said "Buddha taught ... " or anything vaguely like that. Again, there's no woo here. AFAICT the Everyday Headspace meditations are pretty much the same, not varying much by topic. The other meditations are generally a few deep breaths, body scan, basic mindfulness but there is variation in the topic packs. For instance in the Focus pack he has you move your attention between various points on your body. In other packs he'll include visualizations, a beam of "liquid sunlight" being the most common one I've encountered.

So that's my braindump on Headspace. I would very much recommend it if you're not interested in magic woo energy and you like the guide to just talk normally. His tone is conversational during the intro/lesson and then a bit softer during the meditation, kind of like you'd talk in a library. I also like that he sometimes gives homework, generally something like "everytime you stand up or sit down today, notice that change in posture". I am horrible at these but if I think they're brilliant.

Calm

10% Happier

Waking Up

Insight Timer

Oak

Others

Random Notes...

TODO: make the random notes into something useful

Assuming you have a mobile phone there are a number of apps that offer free trials.

https://www.google.com/search?q=meditation+app

Headspace, 10% Happier, Calm and Insight Timer are the ones I see most often. First two are $80/year if you subscribe, don't know about Calm and Insight Timer is $60/year (I think).

I started meditating with Headspace in February 2016 (which I only know because I looked at "My Journey" yesterday). I had tried meditation a few times in the past and always failed with "I can't stop thinking so I can't do this". What hooked me was him saying in the free pack, you will think, and that's okay, just acknowledge it, let it go, and return to watching your breath. There was also a very non-judgemental attitude there. You'll think, everyone gets lost in thought while meditating, it's okay, begin again.

I've tried the trials (or at least part of them) in the various apps and they're all pretty similar. The major difference is that Headspace has a single teacher so everything feels a bit more cohesive. The others are platforms for teachers to use so you get a lot of different voices, techniques, etc. I could see this as good or bad.

Here's an overly long comment talking mostly about Headspace (because it's the one I've used most).

Key things:

You'll think, it's okay, begin again.

There's no right way to do it. There are things that will work better for you. As long as it helps you then it's right.

That said, people have been doing this for a long time and there are some things that work better for more/most people and some things that can lead you astray. Find a teacher or at least check out books, podcasts, etc for additional info.

Note that all of the above applies to mindfulness meditation, there are other types but mindfulness is very popular in the US at the moment.

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The overly long comment mentioned above.
https://www.reddit.com/r/Meditation/comments/95o0vs/headspace_or_calm/e3uhks5/
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10% Happier has a lot of different guides. The one in the free Basics course is Joseph Goldstein. I'm on session 6 of 8 there and those have been okay but I don't know if it's enough to get a real feel for the app. I've read the 10% Happier book and it's interesting seeing so many names from the book listed as meditation teachers here. There's no woo in the Basics course but they have lots of teachers so can't say anything about the overall woo level other than author/founder Dan Harris seems very anti-woo so they probably avoid that. Tone wise I can only speak to the into and Goldstein is very similar in tone to Headspace, conversational at first then a bit softer in the meditation but without that breathy thing that the woo folks do.

Insight Timer also has a lot different teachers. I've done four days of the Learn How to Meditate in Seven Days course and don't care for the teacher. Very soft spoken, with a lot of breathy pauses, and uses the same voice in the lesson and in the meditation. This is a big annoyance for me. There's no woo (so far) in the course but based on the titles of other courses there's definitely a plenty of woo and chakra alignment to be had.

Insight Timer also has a timer that is free and fantastic, although the interface is confusing at first. The fantastic part is the ability to play a lovely bell tone at intervals of your choice. It's very configurable once you figure out the interface. Even if you don't use the guided meditations keep the timer handy. One off-label use I've found for it is naps. I'll set it for 10 minutes with a bell every one minute. The bells keep you from getting too deep in sleep but also aren't jarring so you end up with something close to those perfect naps where you feel like you're drifting right on the edge of waking up and you wake up really refreshed. It's not quite the same but it's the closest I've gotten intentionally.

Calm I've checked out but looking at it again I don't really remember anything about it.

As I wrote the above I figured out for the first time that the big advantage of Headspace may be that it's got a single voice, literally and figuratively. It's always Andy's voice and the lessons feel cohesive as he takes you day to day. Even when you move between courses the voice is the same and the techniques are similar so there's a comfort level for the student.

It was not my intention to write a Headspace ad, it's just the one I know best. You definitely want Insight Timer, even if you just use the timer.