Lifestyle

Practicing Mindfulness? Try These 5 Apps

According to these developers, finding zen might be as easy as reaching for your phone. Photograph by Chad Moore.
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“There’s an app for that.” The saying’s become ubiquitous in the 2010s because, well, it’s true. Need to create a fake girlfriend to send you multiple video messages a day? No problem. Lost your keys and want to transform your phone into a metal detector? Sure. Thinking about using your phone as a hand-warmer? Why not. Looking for a way to find mindfulness in the midst of your chaotic, anxiety-laden life? There’s an app for that. Actually, there are several.

Mindfulness apps have been on the rise as of late. The promise is compelling in itself—those devices that you use to text friends and order food could potentially make you a happier, more “zen” person with the click of a button (and perhaps a few bucks each month). But the science behind meditation and other mindful practices, in general, seems to support that these apps actually are effective in improving overall mental capacity and health. One even won Apple’s App of the Year Award last year. So we’ve ranked some of our favorites for you to check out, below.

Headspace

Headspace has over 30 million users. That’s more than Australia’s entire population, to put things into perspective. The app’s aim is to make secular mindfulness meditation more accessible to everyone, including those who still doubt the practice’s effectiveness.

This type of meditation differs from Hinduism or Buddhism, where the practice has more to do with spirituality and enlightenment, in that it’s more “medicinal." Plus, they recently launched a new division called Headspace Health with the goal of creating the first FDA-approved prescription meditation app.

Calm

Calm is Headspace’s biggest rival and won Apple’s choice for iPhone App of the Year in 2017. What began as a series of guided meditations has since expanded to focus on music and sleep. It includes bedtime stories which are updated every week and told by notable raconteurs like Tamara Levitt and Stephen Fry. The music section is filled with new-age electronica and paired with calming nature visuals. In fact, these moving visuals are a large part of the app, which is something Headspace lacks.

Calm is more about developing a serene lifestyle than just learning how to meditate. There are new masterclasses added each month with mindfulness experts, giving people a reason to keep coming back.

Moodnotes

Moodnotes differs from Headspace and Calm in that it has very little to do with meditation or relaxation—at least not directly. Rather, it helps users identify negative thought patterns and teaches them how to improve on things using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is the same type of treatment employed by many licensed therapists.

Like the heaps of apps that focus on tracking and analyzing users’ eating habits, workout routines, and distances walked, Moodnotes asks people to give daily input on their moods and the reasons behind them in order to come up with a personalized list of “thinking traps” that reveal patterns behind our cognitive processes. But while it is a journal, aimed at helping us understand ourselves better, there is a focus on changing these negative thought patterns after identifying them, making Moodnotes one of the most promising self-help apps on the market. While this app is by no means a complete replacement for human therapists who use CBT as a treatment method, it’s can be a great start for those who don’t have access to professional care.

DayOneApp

Studies connect the practice of journaling to increased emotional intelligence, more comprehensive memory, better self-discipline, and increased confidence.

At a time when sitting down with pen and paper isn’t as frequent as it once was, DayOneApp aims to make regular journaling more realistic by giving it a digital touch. You can journal from your smartphone, tablet, or computer at any time, and all of the stored entries will be synced across devices. While the thought of handwriting entries feels daunting, chances are you're already typing out messages on your phone all day. Plus, the app allows you to add images, tags, and even automated notes on weather.

Insight Timer

The health benefits of meditation are vast, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a lonely practice. Insight Timer aims to change that. The best part? It’s free.

While the app does provide guided meditations like Headspace and Calm do, the focus is mores on creating community and inner-connectivity around the practice. It is, essentially, the social media network for serious meditators. You can see who else is using the app and meditating at any moment around the world as well as invite friends to meditate with you. There are also “Insight groups” that essentially serve as forums for anyone with questions or comments.

Using Insight Timer feels a bit like doing a group workout class rather than having a personal trainer. And not just because it’s cheaper. It’s natural to push yourself harder or feel more interested in something when in a communal setting, and this app aims to play off of that feeling to help the social butterflies among us reach mindfulness.

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