Over the past few decades, the meditation and mindfulness movement has come a long way from being associated solely with the hippiest and the dippiest fringes of society. Extensive research has found that making conscious and consistent effort to induce a state of mental and physical relaxation leads to benefits including improved brain function and better immunity.
It’s no wonder the pursuit of mindfulness is now increasingly embraced by CEOs, professional athletes, soldiers, mental health professionals, doctors and basically anyone who wants to get the most out of life.
There WILL definitely be times when your boss chews you out, your other half is a being a d*ck, your BFF can’t take your calls, your cat doesn’t want to cuddle and nothing feels right in the world.
Frequent psychotherapy and meditation classes are expensive, and maybe you’re just too self-conscious to attend such things, or just too busy to make time for them.
This is where self-care apps can come in handy: Whether you have one, five or 30 minutes to spare, or need to address issues such as anxiety, insomnia, lack of focus, anger, grief, relationship problems or even mindless overeating. They cater to pretty much anyone who owns a smartphone — from noobs (you can start off with free basic content) to advanced meditators (a paid subscription gives you access to all content). More importantly, they are available for use 24/7.
Here are the top three to try, as ranked by research firms Apptopia and Sensor Tower.
Apple’s choice for iPhone app of the year 2017, which is saying a lot. Open the app and you’re immediately greeted by a beautiful visual of a calmly rippling lake and majestic mountains in the background, accompanied by the sounds of rain and birdsong.
The free intro, “Seven Days of Calm”, consists of seven voice-led guided meditation sessions, with the first explaining the benefits of meditation, before you practise breathing meditation designed to calm the mind. All that within 10 minutes! What’s also good is that you can choose between a male and female narrator — I personally prefer the male voice as I find a deeper timbre more soothing.
There’s also content tailored for children (get them to pipe down without blowing your top, or to fall asleep without having to reread that bedtime story over and over again!), and even a selection of bedtime stories for adults, narrated in somnolent tones.
The paid subscription unlocks more than a hundred guided meditations, music tracks to aid focus, relaxation and sleep, and even masterclasses in which experts weigh in on topics such as relationships or anxiety. The experts are recognisable names as well, such as Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic.
Cost: From US$4.99/month for a yearly subscription to US$299.99 for lifetime subscription.
This was UK paper The Independent’s top choice out of their review of 10 mindfulness apps. You customise it to your needs by selecting the top reason you want to meditate (for better sleep or to reduce anxiety?), the length of time you can spare (1, 10 or 30 minutes?), when you’d like to meditate (immediately upon waking up? When you get home from work? Before bedtime?).
Cute cartoons and graphics (somewhere along the lines of the Qoo soft-drink mascot or Peppa The Pig) guide you along the process and provide brief explanations. The calm, male-voiced narration, by former monk Andy Puddicombe, provides clear, simple and direct instructions.
I like that Headspace acknowledges that even though most individuals seek inner peace and wish ultimately to reduce stress, we are all dealing with different sorts of sh*t. As such, the extensive range of topics covered in-depth (about 10 to 30 modules per topic) include grief, regret, anger, pain management, mindful eating, self-love, relationships and more.
It’s also generous in the sense that it allows you free access to the first session of each topic available. However, you will need a paid subscription to explore the topics further.
Cost: From US$7.99/month for an annual subscription to US$399.99 for lifetime subscription.
3. 10% Happier
This top app in New York Times’ How To Meditate guide bills itself as having been created for skeptics, by skeptics. And admit it: There are many of us who associate meditation with loin-cloth-wearing bearded gurus or airy-fairy yoginis who spout mantras in foreign languages, inhale slow-pressed kale juice and fart unicorn glitter.
Its American frontman Dan Harris, who used to be a TV news anchor (these hard-news types are famous for being cynical and fact-driven), had suffered an on-air panic attack that led him to seek out remedies for stress. This led him to document what practising mindfulness did for him in the book 10% Happier, and culminated in this app, which offers an extensive library of more than 350 video and audio meditation sessions.
Free content includes seven introductory sessions, each with a short video and a guided meditation, while paid content offers in-depth courses (some up to 15 sessions long) by a panel of 15 renowned meditation teachers (their impressive CVs are included too). What’s also useful are the quick meditations you can fit in during your commute or your lunch break, or activity-specific ones such as when you’re walking, or ready for bed.
There’s also a personal coach section where you can text-message a panel of meditation pros with any questions you may have, and they will reply by the next day.
Cost: From US$9.99/month.