How to Actually Meditate
Attempting to chill out during the most stressful times.
Meditation, like yoga, is one of those things you'll be tempted to put off until you have more time. “As soon as I have a chance to catch my breath,” you might think, “I'll finally pick it up.” But those moments when you can't catch your breath are the ones that benefit the most from slowing down for a couple of minutes. It feels counter productive. Maybe it feels like you don't have a few minutes to spare. But trust us: You do. You really do.
Luckily, there are dozens of apps to make it easier to get all those health and emotional benefits that meditation has to offer. Over the past few particularly crazy weeks, we—total meditation newbies—tried out three of the top-rated free meditation apps. See how we found our zen (or in some cases, didn’t) below.
LD: Not going to lie, I felt almost as nervous attempting Headspace—which calls itself “your very own personal trainer” for meditation—as I would be going to a real personal trainer. But my first-ever meditation sesh was surprisingly great. The first 10 guided meditations are free (then you’ve got to pay for a subscription), but between the simple directions and the guide’s relaxing British accent, it was the ideal first dip into mindfulness.
CL: Like Liza, I really love Andy’s British accent even though it reminds me a little too much of Ricky Gervais and I found myself waiting for the punchline at first. Eventually I found it so relaxing that I wanted to take a nap, which ended up being a reoccuring theme for me with these apps. I never stop to take a deep breath during the day, and any time I close my eyes for more than .5 seconds, my body thinks it's bedtime.
Zen factor: 3/5
LD: Along with its meditation lessons, this program really relies on the nature noises to assist relaxation. I became distracted during the body scan at the beginning, mostly because it reminded me a little too much of a “relaxation” class that I took in high school (which obviously didn't work out so well). However, I appreciated how this app got into the why of meditation—like, why you need it—as opposed to simply how.
CL: After first, the running mountain lake just made me need to use the bathroom (TMI, maybe, but true). Once I was ready to focus, though, I really liked the simplicity of Calm. The bell was intended to act as a mindfulness reminder, but it sounded more like a gong and was way too jarring. I was still able to zone out—which I think counts as meditation?—but it wasn't as relaxing as I'd hoped. But hey, at least I didn't fall asleep.
Zen factor: 2/5
Stop Breathe & Think:
LD: When you feel like you’re constantly going in a million directions, it’s rare to take a few minutes and really pinpoint how you’re feeling. This app made it easy to do so. It feels more personalized than the others, because you can switch it up according to how your particular day is going. And, although it lacks the same friendly sensibility of Headspace, it’s one of the few meditation apps that always remains free—a bonus.
CL: I liked being forced to choose what emotions I was feeling at any given time. At 10pm, after an alternatively exhausting/exhilarating day, it was nice to realize that I did feel encouraged, hopeful, happy, and a bunch of other emotions associated with smiley faces. It’s hard for me to sit and think about something like compassion for six minutes, which this app asked me to do. (Granted, it’s hard for me to sit and think about anything for six minutes.) I found this more reflective and thoughtful than the others...but when you're meditating, do you really want to be actively thinking? Tbd.
Zen factor: 4/5
Disclaimer: You totally don't need a meditation app in order to meditate, but if you need a little extra guidance (or a regular reminder to do it), they're a great addition to your iPhone.