Even though it’s been around for thousands of years, meditation seems to be especially trendy these days. It’s part of the mindfulness movement that’s been gaining traction in the health and wellness world. And it makes sense that more and more people are actively seeking ways to manage their stress: A 2015 survey from the American Psychological Association found that overall stress levels have increased in Americans in recent years. These higher stress levels can affect mental and physical health in numerous ways: 39 percent of those surveyed reporting overeating or eating unhealthy foods in the last month due to stress, and 46 percent reported losing sleep over it.
Given what a profound affect stress can have on wellbeing, it’s no wonder that people are looking for innovative ways to get that moment of zen. Meditation studios have recently popped up in some of the country’s big cities (there’s Unplug Meditation in Los Angeles, MNDFL in New York City). But there’s also a variety of helpful meditation smartphone apps on the market. You may already know about Headspace, which is one of the most-downloaded mindfulness apps. But here are five new or under-the-radar meditation apps worth a try. Because, in addition to relieving stress, meditating can also improve concentration and benefits digestion as well as cardiovascular and immune health.
While most apps in this space feature guided meditations, this brand new option—it launched in late March—focuses on your movement as way to help you achieve mindfulness. The app uses your phone’s gyroscope and accelerometer to measure your moves. In order for the app to work, you need to be moving in a slow, consistent motion (think swaying back and forth or walking slowly). Once you at you’re at the proper pace, the app will soundtrack your moves with soothing music. If you get distracted or your movements are interrupted, the app interprets that as a lack of mindfulness and reminds you to refocus. According to the makers of this app, this interactive meditation is one of the newest ways to approach the practice.
Another app that offers interactive feedback is Muse. And while the app is free, it does require you to use Muse: The Brain Sensing Headband ($249) in conjunction with the program. The sensor-equipped headband monitors your brain activity while you mediate with a soothing soundscape (such as a rainforest or beach sounds) playing in the app. If you’re zoning out to beach sounds, for instance, the ocean waves get louder when you get distracted, and lower when you’re back in a calm zone. The app tracks your sessions so you can see your improvements and set weekly goals in your practice.
Cost: Free (with in-app purchases)
This app has been around for a couple of years, but its recent updates have given Sattva an improved experience. For Apple iPhone users, the app now works seamlessly with the Health app, using info on your heart rate and blood pressure (tracking these stats before and after each session). If you’re obsessed with numbers and data, this is the mediation app for you. It features a timer to help you time and track your sessions, and stats like your longest session and longest streak are also stored in the program. And if you’re the competitive type, you can compare your stats to your friends who also use Sattva.
Inspired by the principles of Tai Chi, the makers of this app help you achieve calmness by incorporating touch as well as sound. You move your fingertip along a small, colorful blob around the screen while soothing sounds flood your headphones. The act triggers the body’s rest and digest response, which helps you regain focus and release stress in a calm manner. If you’re not a fan of guided meditations, this is a way to relax without the pressure of a voice leading (and possibly disrupting) you every step of the way.
If you’re an experienced meditator, you might not need any gimmicks to help you stay mindful through your practice. Enter this Android app, which strictly provides music as the soundtrack to your session. The app features a variety of ambient sounds (from a soft piano playing to mystic temple music) that promise to help you relax. Simply choose your preferred music, set the in-app timer and just say “ohm.” A gong sound will gently ring to let you know your session is about to end. And if you consider cooking a meditative process, use this app as your kitchen timer and the background music as you make dinner.
Kevin Aeh is a New York City-based writer and editor. He has written for Time Out New York, Refinery29, New York Magazine’s Vulture blog, Furthermore from Equinox and more.