5 Best apps for meditation

After writing extensively on the benefits of meditation, I’ve been eager to take a meditation class to learn the practice. I signed up for a few in my local area but have never made it to one due to my work or family conflicts. Meditating on my own schedule appears to work better for me. Thus, I decided to test some of the latest meditation apps that were recommended to me by meditation researchers during previous interviews; all can be downloaded for free.

Here are five I liked the best.

1. Take a Break. You know that point in your workday when you’re so frazzled, you become unproductive? Instead of slogging through, take a 7 minute “work break” to distract yourself from that deadline. “Use your imagination to put it away,” says a soothing voice. “You’ll be able to accomplish a lot more later on.” During the exercise, I found myself writing the lead for this post in my head but then allowed the thought to drift away as the voice in the app commanded me to do.

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2. Headspace. It teaches mindfulness meditation in 10 minutes a day for 10 days and is great for anyone who has never practiced meditation before. (If you want additional days, you’ll have to pay to subscribe.) It “will help you gain a greater sense of focus and clarity” to calm the agitation of the mind, promises founder Andy Puddicombe.

3. GPS4theSoul. The HuffingtonPost.com’s “soul-guiding roadmap” allows you to test your stress by placing your finger on your phone camera lens to measure your pulse and heart rate variability—the beat to beat alterations in heart rate. (The faster your pulse and smaller your variability, the higher your stress level.) You can then choose a two to three minute relaxation guide to help you lower your heart rate and increase its variability. Many include soothing classical music and a slide show of beautiful landscapes super-imposed with breathing exercise instructions or self affirmations like “celebrate your accomplishments” or “acceptance is love”. Yes, it’s a bit hokey, but it may work to reduce stress in those who don’t enjoy more formal forms of meditation that teach breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.

4. Yoga Nidra. A gong sets off this form of meditation—usually performed at the end of a yoga class. It takes you through a 10-minute body scan—a form of mindfulness-based stress reduction—helping you relax every part of your body from your forehead down to your toes. You should be in a comfortable position, lying down or reclining in a chair.

5. Breathe2Relax. This teaches you the proper way to engage in breathing for relaxation. It’s based on the principle of personalized meditation. You select the scenery, background music, and length of the inhale and exhale of your breath in seconds. (I followed instructions to determine what worked best for me--a 5.3 second inhale and 7.3 second exhale-- that I was able to alter during the exercise.)