Are Meditation Apps Worth It?

do meditation apps work? Are meditation apps worth it?

As meditation keeps growing in popularity, there has been a flood of meditation apps in the app market. With new scientific evidence backing the short-term and long-term benefits of meditation, these apps are becoming increasingly relevant. But are they really helpful? In this article, we’ll discuss all you need to know about meditation apps and if they are worth installing.

You can use meditation apps to learn the basics using guided audio recordings. Research has shown that they reduce stress and increase positive emotions. But once you learn how to meditate correctly, practicing by yourself without any guided voice brings the best results.

There are a few things we need to consider before drawing conclusions about these apps. Read on to discover how meditation apps work, the scientific evidence behind them, and whether you need them at all.

Table of Contents

How can meditation apps help you?

If you’ve never meditated before, meditation apps can familiarize you with the basics of mindfulness and different techniques used to practice it. It is easy to get started with meditation by listening to audio recordings of teachers guiding you through each step.

Secondly, all popular meditation apps have separate sections for sleep stories, music tracks, nature sounds, and binaural beats. This can be beneficial if you struggle with sleep or want to relax listening to soundscapes.

Some apps, like Aura, are designed for busy people who want to take a quick break and relax with a short breathing exercise. The quick 3-minute meditations can help you de-stress at work or handle a panic attack.

So meditation apps have their uses. Rather than investing time and money in meditation classes or mindfulness-based therapy, you can learn to meditate from the comfort of your home. They’re especially useful if you don’t want to learn the nuances of meditation techniques and posture to do it yourself. Guided sessions allow you to relax quickly within a few minutes.

Scientific research on meditation apps

There has been some research suggesting that using mindfulness apps could cause psychological and emotional benefits. Although the findings aren’t as conclusive as we would like them to be, they do suggest we should consider trying them.

A 2018 study revealed that practicing meditation using the Headspace app results in reduced stress and more positive emotions. The effects were noticeable after just 100 minutes of meditation practice. (1)

Mindfulness training through apps can also change the body’s response to stress. The participants in the meditation group practiced 20 minutes a day for two weeks. Researchers found that they had lower blood pressure and cortisol levels during and after stressful tasks.(2)

Another popular mindfulness app, Calm, was able to reduce stress and increase self-compassion and mindfulness in stressed college students just by meditating 10 minutes a day.(3)

Related article: Why Should You Practice Mindfulness Meditation?

Can they help you on your spiritual path?

This is a question of a totally different dimension. One can practice meditation as a self-development technique or as a tool to progress on the spiritual path. In the former, you’re only concerned with practicing meditation for a few minutes a day to reap its benefits. Whereas in the latter, you gradually align your entire life toward your spiritual goal and try to make meditation a part of you.

I like to distinguish them as “feel-good meditation” and “the path of meditation.” Are mindfulness apps good for feel-good meditation? Of course, that’s what they’re made for. Can they help you on the path of meditation? Not really.

These apps are designed to help you benefit psychologically and emotionally. The techniques taught in them are good for relaxation and stress-relief, but you probably won’t find lectures about Buddhist or Hindu scriptures. In fact, core concepts like mindfulness are also misinterpreted and taken out of context if you compare them to Buddhist texts.

That’s not to say mindfulness apps are bad. They’re excellent tools that contribute to your overall well-being. Just don’t expect to make any spiritual progress by relying on an app like Calm or Headspace.

However, you can still use an app to help you keep track of your practice. Keep reading.

Related: The difference between meditation and relaxation

A note about meditation apps

The crux of mindfulness is to notice and accept what’s happening in the inner and outer world with no judgment or indulgence. Once you know how to meditate, you don’t really need an app. If you still want to use one, it should just allow you to set reminders and timers, start and conclude sessions with the sound of a chime, and perhaps provide a journal to assess your sessions.

Once you set a timer for 20 minutes, the mind won’t rush to get up because you’ve decided to sit until you hear the bells. At the end of your practice, you will assess yourself on mindfulness, mood, posture, or any other markers, and end the session. In between, the app should just let you do the most important thing: meditate.

But we see that most mindfulness apps emphasize having an instructor guide you through the session, telling you to focus on your breath or other physical sensations. Being talked through breathing exercises is not mindfulness meditation; it’s a form of relaxation training.

Don’t get me wrong—releasing tension from the body has its benefits, but it’s different from practicing mindfulness.

You can use these apps as a starting point to learn different techniques of meditation.Once you’re familiar with the basics, it’s better to switch to an app that just tracks your meditation time and allows you to journal your sessions. Silent meditation sessions are more effective than externally guided practices.

For these reasons, I use Black Lotus (Android | iPhone). It’s a free meditation app similar to other ones. There are lots of tabs like quotes, articles, etc. but I mostly only use Timed Meditation or Free Timer. The great thing about this app is that it allows me to journal my mood, posture, and mindfulness during the sessions.

Black Lotus meditation app
Black Lotus meditation app

There are probably better apps in the market with the same functionality, but I’ve been using this one for a long time now, and I haven’t felt the need to switch.

Update (10 December, 2020): I don’t use Black Lotus anymore. There’s been a huge update to the app, and it’s focus has shifted from being a meditation timer to providing courses and communicating with other meditators. I’m not saying that’s bad; it’s just not what I want from an app. I now use the simple Meditation Timer & Log (Android | iPhone) to time my sessions.

Which meditation app should you use?

There’s no single best app for all of us. To begin with, you can try a guided meditation app and then perhaps switch to a self-guided silent meditation app once you get the hang of it.

A 2015 study tested 560 unique apps that come up for the search term “mindfulness” in iTunes and Google App Market. They found that all apps, except 23, simply reminded the user to meditate, timed their mindfulness session, or provided guided meditation tracks. Of those 23, Headspace was the top-scoring app, followed by Smiling Mind, iMindfulness, and Mindfulness Daily.

So if you’re new to meditation and want to try apps, you could start with Headspace or Smiling Mind. If you’re looking to get lots of free guided meditations, Insight Timer has a huge library of soundscapes and audio recordings. Calm is another popular app similar to Headspace.

Make sure you read the article on 12 best free meditation apps where I’ve discussed features of the most popular and useful apps in the market.

Takeaway

Mindfulness apps are a good way to familiarize yourself with the basics of meditation and other practices using guided audio recordings. Research has shown that using apps to meditate can improve your mood, increase positive emotions, and reduce stress and anxiety.

Headspace and Calm are two of the most popular meditation apps as of now. They’re easy to navigate, and you’ll be introduced to different concepts and techniques of meditation. If you only want to use apps for things like anxiety or productivity, I’ll recommend Insight Timer and Smiling Mind for their immense library of free guided meditations.

I also believe that once you learn the fundamentals of meditation, it’s better to meditate by yourself and stop using audio instructions. The guided voice, however soothing it may be, is usually a hindrance if you’re trying to focus your mind on something.

I hope you found this article useful. Good luck and happy meditating! 😊

References [+]
1. Economides, M., Martman, J., Bell, M. J., & Sanderson, B. (2018). Improvements in Stress, Affect, and Irritability Following Brief Use of a Mindfulness-based Smartphone App: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Mindfulness, 9(5), 1584–1593.
2. Lindsay, E. K., Young, S., Smyth, J. M., Brown, K. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Acceptance lowers stress reactivity: Dismantling mindfulness training in a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 87, 63–73.
3. Huberty, J., Green, J., Glissmann, C., Larkey, L., Puzia, M., & Lee, C. (2019). Efficacy of the Mindfulness Meditation Mobile App “Calm” to Reduce Stress Among College Students: Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 7(6), e14273.
About the author

I was introduced to spiritual practice at the age of 12. I didn't find it intriguing back then, but my curiosity about life has brought me to spirituality again, and I've been reading others' insights and learning from life for over three years. You can read more about me here.

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