No time in your schedule for a weeklong retreat or a one-day meditation course? These three apps provide mindfulness-training programs that fit right into your pocket, ready whenever you are. Zenify and Mindfulness Daily send brief meditative assignments and reminders to your phone, pulling you out of autopilot and connecting you with the present moment. Both apps rely on notifications, however, so they’re not the best bet if you don’t like to be interrupted by your device throughout the day. In that case, Mindworks offers what has become a fairly standard lineup of meditation app features (here set in an elegant interface)—guided meditations and lectures, progress tracking, and a silent-practice timer—and includes a course progression from basic “how to meditate” instructions to deeper practices.
(free for first level; $1.99 for levels 2–10)
Zenify aims to train your mind to be more present, wherever you happen to be, by using brief exercises and awareness reminders that pop up on your phone at random times. The ten levels of Zenify’s training course comprise a total of 70 enjoyable, simple multisensory assignments designed to engage you in the present moment: rub your earlobes, contemplate an image, listen to a snippet of music, and even imagine what it would be like to be an object, like a pencil. The instructions urge you to spend one to three minutes on each exercise, but this can seem too long (one minute was definitely enough earlobe rubbing for me).
The app is set in an attractive if cutesy interface chaperoned by a manga-inspired girl sitting zazen. Although some users might be annoyed by the app’s interruptions, there’s a lot about Zenify you can control: the number of notifications you receive each day (from 1 to 33), the days of the week when you want to participate, and a daily start and stop time for the notifications, not to mention the alert sound and your choice of one of ten languages. If the reminders catch you at an inconvenient time, you can always hit the “Not now” button to postpone the lesson, but you can’t revisit previous tasks or preview what’s ahead. Part of what makes this app effective—and also frustrating—is its surprise factor, reminding you to be present when you are often anything but.
Available for iPhone and Android
(free; $7.99 per month or $68.99 per year for more content)
Mindworks offers many standard meditation app features set in a user-friendly interface. It includes the Daily Cup, an inspirational daily quote and brief recorded contemplation; the requisite progress tracker and silent-meditation timer; and, most appealing, a cache of guided meditations—essentially lectures without videos. There are also video lectures, known as Mind Talks, as well as live onscreen webinars designed to reinvigorate your practice. Among the guided meditations is a free seven-step meditation course with accompanying video instructions, which will be helpful for beginners.
Although the free version of the app offers a taste of these offerings, a monthly or yearly subscription unlocks even more of the Mindworks library. Unlike the sometimes vague topics presented by comparable apps, the Mindworks offerings are specific as well as diverse: they include “Genuine Confidence,” “Overcoming Fear of Now,” “Depression: Darth Vader vs. Jedi,” “The Trick of Social Media,” and “Parenting as a Meditator.” All the lectures are just long enough to feel substantial (averaging about five minutes) and are led by teachers who avoid jargon in favor of down-to-earth observations, insights, and advice.
Available for iPhone and Android
($1.99; $4.99 for an audio pack of additional meditations)
Mindfulness Daily is a guided meditation course delivered in three brief, manageable sessions a day: a morning lesson, a midday pause, and a nighttime reflection. Whereas Zenify doesn’t allow you to control when you receive notifications, Mindfulness Daily lets you set specific times when you’d like to be reminded about each session, so at least you will be expecting the interruptions. If notifications are just not your style, you can opt out of pop-up reminders and instead access the app on your own three times a day, though you can also receive one daily “performance nudge” to remind you to check in.
The meditations are engaging, though closing your eyes might be advised, as the onscreen photo of a girl meditating beneath a tree gets tiresome as a focal point. (If you need a break from the app’s female narrator, you can also view video lectures by other teachers, including several inspiring TED talks.) I actually found the app’s 15-second “pauses” to be more useful than the meditations: each time they popped up on my device, they centered me, but they didn’t go on so long that I got frustrated by the intrusion. Unlike Zenify, Mindfulness Daily allows you to access all the guided meditations—as well as the “pause” feature—anytime, including a body scan, object meditation, and kindness meditation. You can also select non-guided meditations with silence, music, or “brown noise” (like rain) if you’re not in the mood for a lesson.
Available for iPhone