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Like many of you, I create my annual resolutions in January hoping to form good habits and change my life for the better over the year. This year, I committed to making meditation a part of my health routine.

I was suffering from bad sleep over the last couple of months in 2018 and wanted to try out meditation to reduce anxiety and useless brain activity.

My biggest constraint was that I have an unpredictable schedule to the nature of my job. Hence I tend to rely on independent learning where possible. This was the case for yoga where I mostly self-taught myself through a home yoga practice, and now for meditation. I am always looking for tools that are readily accessible and allow me to achieve my goals regardless of my location or schedule.

yoga practice, and now for meditation. I am always looking for tools that are readily accessible and allow me to achieve my goals regardless of my location or schedule.

After trying out many (i think almost all?) the available meditation apps in the market, I have found the top seven free options which have helped me to start a daily meditation habit without needing to go for a full studio class. That said, the most effective meditation sessions generally require the premium versions of these apps.

Do note that these apps were selected based on overall user reviews from Apple and/or Android, features and quality of the app, personal user experience. If you wish to nominate an app for this list, kindly email me at candy.chan@theyogamad.com. While this does not guarantee the app makes the list, but that I will do an unbiased review of it.

Insight Timer: Best for community, variety and music

Insight Timer

Yes, believe it or not, the best meditation app IMHO is neither Headspace or Calm. I have tried almost all mindfulness and meditation apps out in the market and Insight Timer is by far the most comprehensive free meditation app in the market.

Insight Timer calls itself the “top free meditation app on the Android and iOS stores.” It has a nearly five-star rating on both platforms, so it’s an accurate claim.

Why I love it

  • One of the most appealing things about insight timer is that there are meditations for just about every need. As at the time of writing, Insight Timer has a library of 15k free meditations and also free meditation music.
  • The app is less of a standalone app and more of a community builder. Even if I do not actively befriend others, I can see what people meditated to and get inspiration for myself.
  • Best update of all is the ‘Sleep’ section, which did not exist in old versions. This is such a precious addition, I literally sleep to Insight Timer’s meditations.
  • My personal recommendations: Yoga Nidra meditations by Jennifer Piercy and sound healing singing bowl meditations by 33bowls.
  • In case you prefer offline listening or structured courses, there is a paid option available at US $5 per month paid annually.

What can be better

  • I must say the app architecture is not as intuitive as others in the market. I mostly navigated the main tabs but realised there are pretty useful features such as journals and goals tracking HIDDEN right in the Settings page, which most of us do not go to regularly.

Download Insight Timer on iOS or Android

Meditation Studio App: Best for short meditations and structure

Meditation Studio

As someone who likes structure and well-planned ‘learning journeys’, Meditation Studio is by far the most effective in helping me to develop a daily meditation habit.

Also, in the free version, you can already access the basic meditation collections and courses – great to help build a strong learning foundation for future courses/sessions

Why I love it

  • I personally pay for Meditation Studio’s premium subscription – this tells you how much I like it. The main reason for investing in this app is because I use it heavily to help me deepen my knowledge on the different types of meditation (predominantly Mindfulness meditation) in a planned and structured manner so that I do not need to waste time creating my own learning path
  • If you have a particular goal, like “be less stressed”, meditation app has clubbed all related meditations to help you achieve the goal. The courses section is where I get the most out of the app. If I want to go deeper into a specific meditation topic, courses offer step by step guide to help me progress further
  • One of the most user-friendly apps with a clean, minimalist interface. Finding meditation for a particular need is much simpler here than in many other apps.
  • Best of all, for those who like to schedule and plan ahead, Meditation Studio automatically integrates your plans in the app to your calendar on your phone. You don’t even need to do anything more than to pre-select the session you want and set a reminder for it in the app.

What can be better

  • Meditation Studio provides me with most of my needs really. If I need to nitpick on something, perhaps it is their lack of meditation music and that their course library can be further expanded.

Download Meditation Studio on iOS or Android

Headspace: Best for habit building


Needless to say, this is one of the most popular apps in the market, perhaps THE app that popularised digital meditation. Headspace is characterized by its cute animations to help people start their meditation routine on a more lighthearted note

Why I love it

  • This app works very well if you are short on time. Some meditations can be as short as 1-3 minutes – while they do not bring you to a real meditative state of mind, I usually feel myself breathing better and feeling calmer.
  • Similar to Meditation studio, if you want to build a habit for meditation, Headspace does it very well as well. I find Headspace’s structure to be less effective than Meditation Studio – nonetheless there are several progressive courses which are rather useful such as the Basics series.

What can be better

  • Most of the meditations require a subscription to Headspace. Free meditations are available, you just need to hunt for them and see one without the padlock icon
  • I’m not one for cute graphics or cartoons, so I do not really take to Headspace’s animations. But of course, you may like the app’s visuals more than me.

Download Headspace on iOS or Android

Calm: best for sleep and relaxation

Calm meditation app

Once you enter Calm’s home screen, you are treated to ambient sounds of water and greeted with a tranquil image of a valley and flowing waters. I’m already more relaxed even before doing any meditation!

Why I love it

  • Calm probably has one of the best visuals and user experience of the list. As a visual person, Calm’s use of a variety of pictures rather than just words helps me to stick to the app longer
  • Besides the app, users can buy the Calm book which acts as a great companion guide to help you master the art of meditation – it really isn’t as difficult as most people think!

What can be better

  • I would have liked to be able to filter the meditation classes in Calm’s app. As of now, I can navigate through various categories, but it will be good to see what can suit my needs through customized filters
  • If you are looking for a learning path, Calm is not your app. There is less structure than I would have liked, which makes habit building more challenging (contrary to what is promised). I mainly use Calm for ad-hoc meditations whenever I need a breather.

Download Calm on iOS or Android or buy the Calm book

Shine: best For daily motivation and self-care

Shine Meditation App

One of the most underrated apps on the list, Shine is less of a pure play meditation app than it is an integrated self-care, motivation, and mindfulness app with a more modernized approach to meditation.

Audios come in the form of Shine Talks, which features short advice on a diverse range of self-care and wellness topics such as daily rituals, 3-7 days challenges,meditations and more.

The standout feature is the Shine articles, which allow those who prefer reading to listening to get their daily dose of life advice. A great complement to the Shine Talks

Why I love it

  • Shine goes beyond meditation and adds on affirmations, which are short motivational talks. Many a time I listen to these pep talks when I am feeling low or frustrated at work just to give myself a boost of energy to get things going for the day
  • With the use of a messaging bot, Shine feels like a friend chatting with you and doling out some life-affirming messages regularly to keep your motivation tank full

What can be better

  • As much as I love the app, Shine needs to improve its confusing navigation. For instance, I was unable to find the Shine Talks page in the main menu, until I found out that it was located elsewhere and I had to toggle between the bot chat and Shine Talks in the home page. Suggestion to Shine: Why not just add another field in the main menu so that users can find all the content in one panel?

Download Shine on iOS or Android

Soultime meditation app: Best for Christian Meditation

Soultime Christian Meditation App

The use of Christian apps has been increasing in popularity in the past decade starting with digital Bibles and devotionals. I personally do use a couple of apps, one of which is Soultime, one of the first Christian Meditation apps released.

Just like Calm, Soultime plays ambient sounds the moment you start the app. Users are free to change these sounds as you change the background scenes.

Soultime feels a lot like Calm, the key difference being that all content is Christian-based. To be honest, I believe this app can benefit even non-spiritual or non-religious people, simply because the melodies and meditation sessions are so soothing.

Why I love it

  • Soultime is one of the Christian Meditation apps that provides sufficient free classes without an upfront subscription required.
  • Similar to Insight Timer’s meditation music, Soultime has a section called “Dwell”, where you can play free Christian meditation music, psalms or ambient sounds. By far my favourite section – I’ve been relying on the Psalms heavily these days.
  • If you are happy to pay for the app, Soultime’s killer feature is the “mood” section, where you select what you feel about yourself, about others and about God. From here, you can either Journal about what you feel, or proceed to the app’s suggestions for the day – which are actually algorithms giving you the best fit meditation course based on your mood.

What can be better

  • User experience can be improved. For instance, when you play music from the “Dwell section”, Psalms automatically displays on the screen and users do not have any exit button to navigate from the Psalms display back to the music buttons.
  • I’m not complaining of course, since this is by far one of the larger free libraries of Christian music and readings available.

Download Soultime on iOS or Android

Aware: For those who like a strong foundational course in mindfulness

Aware Mindfulness App

Aware has some great content. Just browsing through the library and you will realize that it doesn’t seem to provide less of a value than the most popular apps in the market.

Its foundation course is completely free and runs for 21 days. Most of these meditation sessions are between 10-20 minutes, which in my opinion is the perfect duration

Why I love it

Aware provides a lot of value for no cost, including the 21 days foundation course, unguided meditation and limited single session

What can be improved

Each time I try to start a new course, it navigates me right back to the 21-day Foundation course. I am left wondering if this is a glitch or if all the courses are really based out of the foundation course (which I believe isn’t the case)

Download on iOS or Android

Have you tried meditating with an app? Do try these out otherwise, see if they work for you.

Remember to drop me a note on what you think!

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