Despite their specific target audiences (children, dieters, insomniacs), many meditation apps contain common features useful to meditators of all ilks: progress tracking, options for silent or guided practice and for more or fewer graphics, social media sharing, reminders and notifications, and a selection of meditation bells. The three apps reviewed here offer variations on these options and illustrate what a diverse user base the app world is trying to reach: Enso, for the no-frills meditator; Calm, for those who like to interact with their devices during meditation practice; and Smiling Mind, aimed at children.
ENSO (FREE; $2.99 FOR ENSO PRO)
This timer app offers enough features to lend ceremony to daily practice without tethering you to your phone—including bells, a progress and statistics screen, and social sharing. You set a preparation time, a meditation time, and an “interval” time (a periodic refocusing during each session). As its name implies, and like many comparable timers, Enso uses a Zen circle motif: a red ring erases itself onscreen as your set time elapses. You can choose to display a countdown clock and/or inner circles tracking the preparation and interval time. The app has one satisfactory default bell; additional bells are $.99 each or $2.99 for all 11. An upgrade to Enso Pro allows you to set reminders featuring exclusively designed alert tones, access to an in-app audio player for music and guided meditations (both pulled from your phone’s existing audio library), and the ability to save your settings as presets (such as “morning” and “evening”) that can be configured to turn on automatically using Enso’s Intelligent Presets. However, Enso may be best suited for those who like an app as uncluttered as their mind.
Available for iPhone www.ensomeditationtimer.com
CALM (FREE; $12.99/MONTH; $59.99/YEAR; $299.99 FOR LIFETIME UNLIMITED ACCESS)
Just opening this app produces an instant dose of relaxation. Ideal for open-eyed practice, Calm offers a selection of soothing photographic video scenes to watch as you meditate. Options featuring real-life soundtracks range from “Woodland Lake” (silhouettes of pine trees, lapping waves) to “Fireplace” (a hearth, crackling logs); other, more abstract videos, such as “Radiating Energy” and “Falling Sundrops,” feature New Age music. (The soundtracks can play as background music even when your screen is off.) You can meditate for a preset or an open-ended time—the latter a rare option in the app world. Alternatively, a monthly or annual subscription fee buys you access to an extensive list of guided meditations and courses, which are offered in a gentle, supportive voice and address topics such as stress, sleep, gratitude, concentration, and selfesteem (unfortunately, there are only three free meditations: calm, lovingkindness, and a body scan). Calm could be more user-friendly: the settings are accessed through a minuscule gear icon, and the option for unguided meditation is buried in the app’s shopping list of guided meditations. Also, even if you select the unguided option, the only way to enjoy a silent practice is to find one of the audio-free scenes (such as “Silent Clouds”). But downsides aside, the app’s relaxation factor—even in its free version—will make it appealing to meditators of all ages.
Available for iPhone and Web www.calm.com
SMILING MIND (FREE)
Aimed at young people ages 7 to 18 (with a program for adults as well), Smiling Mind offers guided meditations, lessons, and activities in a friendly interface. Within each age bracket (7–9, 10–12, 13–15, 16–18, and adult), the meditations are arranged in courses that progress from Mindfulness 101 to 108 and then from 201 to 208. Each course is designed for its targeted age group. “Mindfulness 105” for the youngest set includes “Mirror Movement,” for instance, which instructs kids to stand up and mirror a partner’s movements to develop bodily awareness; “Mindfulness 209” for older teens offers “Relationships,” designed to facilitate mindful interaction with others. In addition, many courses include a “Bitesize” (short) meditation, a Daily Mindfulness Guide, or a take-home activity. Before and after each meditation, you toggle a list of adjectives (Happy, Content, Alert) to describe your mood, so you can see how it changes. My kids, ages 6 and 8, enjoyed progressing through the levels and loved categorizing their feelings; kids do need to be able to read to use the app, however. Despite some technical glitches, the meditations themselves, delivered in a friendly Australian male voice, engaged them, and they looked forward to each session. Developed by a nonprofit organization dedicated to mindfulness education, Smiling Mind has no hidden fees—a major plus. Adults, too, may find themselves coming back to its simple, elegant design and enjoyable, approachable teachings. Available for iPhone and Web smilingmind.com.au
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