As a business owner, I call upon some of what I have learned as a yogi to get through the day, especially the stressful ones. I often rely on what I know to  calm my mind and refocus when I need it most. I have found that just a minute or two of mindful breathing or a quick meditation is all I need to lower my stress levels, recharge my brain, and be more mindful about the task at hand.

But you don't need to have a devoted yoga practice to utilize meditation and mindfulness when you need it. Nowadays, there are literally hundreds of phone apps such as Calm and Headspace that can teach you how to do guided meditations and mindfulness exercises, and initial research has found that they can help reduce and manage stress.

A recent study in the October issue of the journal Mindfulness found that 35 people who followed 10 introductory sessions on a mindfulness app--about 100 total minutes--reported having more positive emotions and less stress and irritability afterwards.  

With so many apps available, where should you begin? Here are five that offer various types of meditations and mindfulness exercises. Most offer free services, but also have a more detailed subscription option. Sessions last anywhere from a minute to 30 minutes, so there is a good chance you can find one that fits your needs, lifestyle, and schedule.  

1. Calm

This app has 16 meditation and mindful breathing exercises for free, including a seven-day beginner's program. (It includes soothing nature sounds like rain and a mountain lake that help you relax in noisy places like on a plane.) There are also free 21-day programs that focus on managing stress and calming anxiety. They come in a variety of lengths too, from 3 to 30 minutes.

Some of the more in-depth programs are only available by subscription ($60 for a year, which may be pricey for some), but cover helpful topics like adopting healthy sleep, stopping stress eating, and having a better relationship with yourself, among others.

2. Headspace

Headspace has become one of the most popular apps since its launch in 2012. The guided meditations are led by the founder Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk. Besides offering simple how-to instructions, the meditations teach you simple breathing and body awareness exercises.

The app offers minute-long meditations for when you need to re-energize fast, and meditations focused around specific issues like anxiety, stress, and greater focus.  I also use their guided sleep meditations at night to help me get to sleep so I have a full night's rest.

Headspace is ideal for beginners and those who need help establishing a routine. More seasoned meditations may outgrow it after a while.

3. Buddhify

The approach here is to match meditations based on your need at the moment. Buddhify has guided meditations designed for 14 different activities, from walking to taking a work break to dealing with a difficult situation. So no matter your current emotional state, there is probably a meditation exercise to help you get through it. Buddhify is best suited for those who already are somewhat acquainted with mindfulness and don't need help with motivation.

4. Stop, Breathe, and Think 

This is more of a thinking person's app for those that need more structure and motivation to meditate. It also explains how mindfulness works from a science perspective and encourages you to think how to apply what you learn from meditation in other aspects of your life.

A progress page tracks how many days you've meditated and records your emotional state before and after each session. (This also helps match specific meditations with your current feelings.) Bonus: you earn stickers as you progress, which is a fun way to stay motivated. It is probably not ideal for those who like apps that are simple and straightforward.

5. Aura

Aura focuses on short bursts of meditation (programs last three, seven, or ten minutes) that are ideal for people on the go. The subscription section has more than 1,000 guided meditation and mindfulness exercises. Aura is also great for people who enjoy analytics. After each session, the app asks short questions about your current mood in order to build a graph that tracks your mood from day to day. Aura also sends meditation reminders during the day. 

Aura's free meditations are a bit limited (and short at only three-minutes in length), so you may have to invest in the subscription to truly utilize what it can offer. One year is $30, but a lifetime subscription is $60.

Your mind needs regular daily breaks to stay sharp and energized. It's often tough to unplug during non-stop days, but, setting time on your calendar to take small breaks and utilizing meditation apps can be an easy way to devote some time every day to your emotional health. When you are able to reset your central nervous system during the day, you can be more present for the people around you, as well as more calm, focused, and productive.

Published on: Dec 13, 2018
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