6 Free Mindfulness Apps

Mindfulness has become very trendy recently, and has been used in all sorts of arenas, from the psychiatrist’s office to the HR department of major companies. However it’s roots are in early Buddhism, and its use in treatment of mental health conditions started in the 1970s so it is very well rooted. This article will tell you all about 6 free mindfulness apps you can download today!

In essence, mindfulness is a fairly simple concept to describe, but a harder one to put into practice. The idea is to become fully aware of the moment you are in, and let go of all anticipations of the future, and all memories of the past, and to do this with openness, curiosity and without judgement. This concentration allows you to let go of all the chitter-chatter that surrounds you, stand back from your thoughts and worries and achieve calm.

6 free mindfulness apps
Image courtesy ZME Science

This is of course difficult to do, so a number of meditational techniques have been developed that enable the thoughts to be concentrated on the process and achieve this perception of objectiveness. One of these is watching the breath – you sit up straight against a chair back, closing your eyes and bringing your attention to your breath, either as it enters your nostrils cold and leaves warm, or by putting your hands across your abdomen and becoming aware of its rise and fall. Then letting your thoughts concentrate on this process, but not changing the rhythm of your breathing, simply watching. If your thoughts start wandering, simply guiding them back to the breathing process without judging or condemning.

The second major mindfulness technique is the body scan. In this approach, attention is directed to each area of the body in turn, and the mind notes any sensations that are felt there, such as heat, cold, itchiness etc. Again no attempt is made to alter these sensations, or to judge them as good or bad. And as the thoughts wander onto other things, they are gently brought back, without classifying this wandering as a weakness and the scan is continued.

drops of water on a leaf

None of these practices actually needs intervention from anything else to achieve, but it is greatly helped by external help, either from a human therapist, or by guidance practises on DVD. Now of course our smartphones offer us a way to take our therapist with us wherever we go, and there is a wealth of meditation and mindfulness apps available, so we can choose an approach or a voice that suits us. 

The number of meditation apps is skyrocketing:  the Wall Street Journal reports that over 2,000 new meditation apps were launched between 2015 and 2018, and  this trend was maintained in 2020. So to cut through the bombardment, here is a selection of six free mindfulness apps that seem to be useful in guiding your mindfulness practice. See if they work for you in helping you find calm and objectiveness.

Image courtesy H. Stedman

 Insight Timer

Available for iOS, Android, and web

Entry price: Free

This app has a huge resource of content for you to trawl through, and it welcomes you into an international community of meditators. It shows you just how many meditations have been accessed – 675,201 meditations today from 20 million members. It tailors a choice of meditations to your current mood and what influences it.

The app has a selection of teachers that offer meditations, and you can follow your favourite and get their content as soon as it is released. Insight timer also offers real-time events for you to link into at will or to put into your schedule.

There is also a premium version for $60 per year. For this 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.

  1. UCLA Mindful

Available for iOS and Android

Entry price: Free

The app was developed by the Mindful Awareness Research Centre at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). It 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. Being the product of a scientific body devoted to mindfulness does give it extra credibility. All the meditations are based on the science of mindfulness.

There is a good section explaining what mindfulness is all about, how to go about practising it, and what sort of benefits you might gain from it.

There are also longer sessions available – half hour recordings called podcasts. These include talks about mindfulness by Diana Winston, UCLA Director of Mindfulness Education.

There is no premium option – all the content is free.

  1. Calm

Download for iOS

Download for Android

Starting Calm opens up on a picture of natural beauty, and you are advised to “take a deep breath”. The app then asks a series of questions to tailor the offering to your needs. You are also shown a series of commendations from others that benefit from meditation. 

Their Daily Calm sessions help you focus and relax, and there is now a new daily meditation series called the Daily Trip.

There is also a gratitude check-in feature, which encourages you to look at the positive side of your life, and list the things that you are grateful for each day.There is also a series of music tracks available, designed for a range of different purposes, including sleep, relaxation, calmness or focus.

There are also several new celebrity-narrated “sleep stories”, with calming tales from the likes of former One Direction star Harry Styles, and actors Idris Elba, Cillian Murphy and Chiké Okonkwo.

  1. Smiling Mind

Available for iOS, Android, and web

Entry price: Free

There are hundreds of guided meditations available on this app, divided up into categories. These include An Intro to Mindfulness, with short introductory meditations, and Mindfulness Foundations, the main adult program, including most of the essentials of meditation.

There are a lot of five to fifteen minute meditations that make up the bulk of the practice, but there are also a range of quick, two minute meditations to give you a boost during the day.

There is also a series of programs aimed at specific groups of people, such as families and the classroom. You can also set reminders to help your daily practice, and do the wellbeing checkin, which is a series of questions designed to show how mindfulness is impacting areas of your life.

There is no premium option – the app was built by an Australian non-profit organisation, and all the content is free.  

  1. Simple Habit

Download for iOS

Download for Android

This app offers a series of guided meditations structured around a set of scenarios, and you can set the amount of time you have available and tune in to a meditation that fits these parameters.

Users are asked to choose topics that interest them when they open it for the first time and there really is something for everyone – from meditations that will help you find your feet after a breakup, to post-argument relaxation, stress-free commutes and pre-date mindfulness to help you get into the zone. 

On entry to the app you are offered a starter meditation. It is offered by a psychologist with a soft male Canadian voice asking you to give yourself permission to stop doing and allow yourself to be. 

There is a lot of free content, but if this is not enough there is a premium version available for £52.99/year.

  1. Healthy Minds Program

Available for iOS and Android

Entry price: Free

The app is solidly based on the results of neuroscience research and integrates neuroscience and research-based techniques with meditation training to increase overall well-being. The app aims to train your mind to be healthier  by strengthening mental focus, decreasing stress, and growing resilience, compassion, and better immune health.

The content is organised into four pillars: Awareness, Connection, Insight and Purpose. Within this there are further subdivisions,and within these are a series of sessions.

At the start of using the app you are encouraged to find your baseline – answer a series of questions assessing your current mental state, categorised by the four pillars above. You are then presented with a pathway of lessons and meditations to guide you to a healthier mind.

There is no premium option for this app – all the content is free.

Another great way to support your mental health and overall wellbeing is through regular exercise. Read our article about the 9 Free Activities you can do for exercise in Oxford!

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