Free Mindfulness Apps Worthy of Your Attention

Mindfulness apps are trending in a big way. Here are five we're happy we downloaded.

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There’s no shortage of mindfulness and meditation apps these days, promising to help you combat anxiety, sleep better, hone your focus, and more. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reports that more than 2,000 new meditation apps launched between 2015 and 2018, and offerings have only increased as a result of higher demand during the pandemic—according to the New York Times, mindfulness apps surged in 2020. We took the overwhelm out of finding the most valuable and easy-to-use mindfulness apps that are available free and narrowed it down to these five apps.

1) Insight Timer

Available for iOS, Android, and web

Entry price: Free

Insight Timer has a huge library of content: over 80,000 free guided meditations from over 10,000 teachers on topics like stress, relationships, healing, sleep, creativity, and more.

Right from the beginning, the app feels like a global community—the world map on the home screen shows a collective of 18 million meditators, and announces, “741k today, 7k now.” After you finish a meditation, you’ll learn exactly how many people were meditating “with you” during that time—and by setting your location, you can even see meditators nearby and what tracks they’re listening to.

Once you find a teacher you enjoy—like Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, or Rhonda Magee—you can follow them to make sure you don’t miss any new content. You can also tune in to free talks for life advice and inspiration. For those craving real-time interactions, Insight Timer offers live events every hour of the day to join on a whim or plan into your schedule. 

You can even sign up to Circle for Teams, one of their newer offerings, which allows you to create circles (read: groups) to meditate in real-time with friends or colleagues.

If you prefer a quieter meditation, however, you can simply set a timer and meditate to intermittent bells, calming ambient noise, or soothing music.

Depending on your preferences, Insight Timer’s extensive collection can be either a blessing or a curse—an endless list of choices that leave you overwhelmed or a buffet of tempting options to sink your teeth into.

Paid option: For $60 per year (with a 30-day free trial), you get access to courses with well-known teachers, the ability to download meditations and listen offline, and advanced player functions like repeat mode and fast forward and rewind.

2) Smiling Mind

Smiling Mind app screenshot

Available for iOS, Android, and web

Entry price: Free

Smiling Mind hits the sweet spot for a free mindfulness app in so many ways. 

The not-for-profit app features hundreds of meditations, enough to keep you engaged without overwhelming you with choice. They are organized into structured programs like Mindful Foundations (35 sessions), Sleep (6 sessions), Digital Detox (8 sessions), and Stress Management (10 sessions), but you have the flexibility to choose where to start and to easily jump between programs. Most meditations are in the five- to fifteen-minute range, with a few practices up to 45 minutes for advanced meditators. Smiling Mind also offers bite-sized meditations between 2 to 5 minutes for moments when you’re in need of a quick, mindful pause in the day.

Downloaded by over 5.5 million people, the app also has a variety of specialized programs for families, children and teens of various ages, healthcare workers, and educators (including curricula they can use in the classroom); all developed with the help of psychologists and health professionals.

While you could use a meditation app as a temporary break from your hectic life, Smiling Mind wants you to take your mindfulness practice off the cushion and into the rest of your day. Interspersed with some of the meditation programs are instructions for “activities” like Journaling Exercise, Go Offline, Where Did My Food Come From, and Count Your Senses. In the Count Your Senses activity, for example, the audio prompts you to bring your attention to your senses by counting things that can be seen, felt, heard, smelled and tasted. 

Smiling Mind was originally created for kids, so they offer a robust selection of kid- and youth-appropriate mindfulness sessions. 

Created by a nonprofit by the same name, Smiling Mind is entirely free—so you don’t have the distraction of paid content that’s inaccessible to you as a free user. The app wants to put a “smile on your mind”—and it might just succeed. 

Paid option: None

3) MyLife Meditation

MyLife Meditation app screenshot

Available for iOS and Android

Entry price: Free. If you explore “All Activities” you can access the free meditations all in one place and also take a peek at what the premium plan offers.

If other apps expect you to dive right in, MyLife (formerly titled Stop, Think, & Breathe) wants to create a more deliberate, intentional experience. A section called Learn to Meditate explains what mindfulness is and why it’s beneficial, including some of the neuroscience and physiology behind it. Each day when you open the app, you’re asked to “Take a Breath” and invited to check in with yourself—to rate your mind and body on a scale of “rough” to “great,” and note up to five emotions you’re feeling from their lists of words. Then, MyLife recommends guided sessions like Basic Breath, Mindful Walk, and Love Your Body tailored to how you feel. 

Meditations based on your mood

The app features around 45 free sessions. For many of them, you can choose between different lengths and either a friendly male voice (Grecco) or a calming female voice (Jamie) as your meditation guide. Most of the meditations are short, up to 11 minutes, and feature simple introductory practices like Great Compassion, Mindful Walk, Cause and Effect, and I Belong. You can also simply set a timer and sit in silence, or learn different breathing techniques.

A progress page keeps track of how your mind and body have been feeling over time, and your most common emotions (before and after meditating, when the app invites you to check in again). MyLife is helpful if you want to be more aware of your day-to-day well-being and see how meditation is benefitting you.

Paid option: For $74.99 per year (other options include $12.99 per month, or $334.99 for lifetime access), you get longer versions of the existing meditations (up to 32 minutes), over 100 premium meditations, new voices, video sessions like yoga and acupressure, and customizable meditation and breathing timers. Upgrades to the premium subscription include a 7-day free trial.

4) UCLA Mindful

UCLA Mindful app screenshot

Available for iOS and Android

Entry price: Free

If all the research on mindfulness has persuaded you that you need to meditate, the UCLA Mindful app could be a good place to start. 

Developed by the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the app features about a dozen meditations of different types in English and Spanish. You can learn to focus on your breath, your body, or sounds; work with difficult emotions; and cultivate loving-kindness in sessions ranging from 3 to 19 minutes long.

If you’re new to mindfulness, you might choose to take advantage of their Getting Started section, which offers information on what mindfulness is, how to choose a meditation, which posture is best for your practice, and what research-backed benefits you might expect from it.

As a bonus, the app also offers longer meditations that it calls “podcasts.” These are half-hour audio recordings of meditations that include talks, typically by UCLA Director of Mindfulness Education Diana Winston, before and after the meditation, as well as plenty of silent practice time. 

If you’re looking for an app that is heavily grounded in the science of mindfulness, you can put your trust in UCLA Mindful.

Paid option: None

5) Healthy Minds Program

Available for iOS and Android

Entry price: Free

The Healthy Minds Program app wants to help you develop the skills for a healthy mind—by strengthening mental focus, decreasing stress, and growing resilience, compassion, and better immune health.

Founded by neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson (who also founded the research institute Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), the app integrates neuroscience and research-based techniques with meditation training to increase overall well-being.

The framework of the app’s mindfulness and well-being training is organized into four pillars: Awareness, Connection, Insight, and Purpose. Each pillar consists of three to five parts, and each part contains three series and multiple sessions within. For the Connection pillar, for example, the Innate Self-Worth series includes five sessions packaged to foster self-worth (think sessions like Practice Seeing the Good In Ourselves, and Learn Negativity Bias). You have a choice of either a Sitting or Active type of practice—“active” practices include guidance for being mindful while you exercise, or during your commute—and you can customize the length of time (five minutes to 30 minutes).

The app offers a collection of 27 meditations outside their four-pillar wellness framework, including one-minute Micro Practices for when you’re in need of a brief respite. 

At times the podcast-style app may encourage more thinking compared to typical guided meditations, but for the listener who is seeking guided meditations with the greater goal to increase awareness, cognition, and well-being, Healthy Minds Program app may be just the ticket.

Paid option: None 

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