The Best Guided Meditations to Soothe Your Brain, Help You Focus, and More

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When you need a little serenity now, nothing beats the convenience and accessibility of guided meditations. Whether you’re new to the practice or just looking for an easy way to continue finding some inner peace at home, meditation can help you ease anxiety, improve your focus, reduce stress, and even help you sleep better.

With specialized programs, lifetime memberships, and an array of customized menus to choose from, these apps make getting centered as easy as turning on your phone and tuning out the hustle and bustle of your daily life. In fact, the hardest thing about them is deciding which app to download.

With so many to choose from, it might feel overwhelming to know where to start, so we've rounded up the best guided meditations that will have you transforming your living room (or pretty much anywhere else) into a virtual wellness retreat.

Best Guided Meditations of 2021

Best Overall: Headspace

Headspace

Headspace

Why We Chose It: Headspace checks all of the boxes and also gives you the benefit of being able to customize your experience in a myriad of ways. The interface is beyond easy to use, and the content overall is engaging, diverse, and so vast that you won’t find yourself bored after a month’s use. You can always find your favorites, but there always seems to be something new to explore. 

What We Like

  • Good for novices and pros
  • Structured courses
  • Custom timing

What We Don’t Like

  • Trial period only gives a small sampling of courses
  • Illustrations can be a bit annoying 

There’s a reason Headspace is one of the most positively reviewed and most downloaded meditation apps out there—it’s just that good. The app has something for everyone and manages to make meditation feel both enjoyable and attainable, less like a chore and more like something you look forward to.

Headspace offers a truly massive variety of meditation options, from work stress and sleep problems to how to cope with emotions like loneliness and anger. Even better? It allows you an assortment of ways to customize them. For instance, in the Sleep area, there are multiple choices to get your mind ready for bed, plus, there's SOS content made for when you awaken suddenly and need to get your brain back to sleep. Many of the meditations also give you the option to adjust the time of your session to make it longer or shorter, depending on what you need.

If you don’t have time for a full 20-minute meditation session, you can select a 10-minute version instead. You have the options to choose between two voices, male and female, and you are coached from the very start on how to make the most of your meditation experience (without lecturing you or making you feel guilty if your mind wanders).

There are also less structured options for those who are more familiar with meditation and don’t need the additional help to stay focused. You can sign up for a free two-week trial, which gives you limited access to some Headspace content, and then have the option to pay about $13 a month (or roughly $70 annually) to unlock all of Headspace’s vast content library.

Best Budget: Insight Timer

Three screenshots of the Insight Timer app.

Why We Chose It: While finding free meditation content isn’t difficult, Insight Timer stands out because the vast majority of its content is free. We also love that the app lets you filter by your emotional needs (stressed, insecure, anxious), as well as for specific types of interest (spiritual, sleep, relationships, kids). 

What We Like

  • The majority of content is free
  • Celebrity guest teachers
  • Expansive content library

What We Don’t Like

  • Can be confusing for beginners
  • Premium paid features aren’t really worth the extra money

With free guided meditation sessions, relaxing music playlists, and self-affirmation talks from hundreds of teachers and speakers, Insight Timer is a mindfulness and mental health app wrapped into one.

It features more than 45,000 different sessions with a host of teachers, ranging from celebrated yogis to psychotherapists. You might even recognize a few of those voices—celebs like Gisele Bündchen, Goldie Hawn, and Russell Brand are just a few celebrity guest teachers. The content can be a little tricky for beginners, as the meditation sessions aren’t as structured as some of the others on this list, but it does let you kick off your practice with a seven-day course targeted towards those that are new to meditation.

For those who want to upgrade their experience, Insight Timer offers a Member’s Plus paid subscription for about $60 per year that lets you download courses to your device to listen to while you are offline, more than 300 premium courses, and advanced player options that let you do a number of functions not available in the standard version (e.g., fast forward, rewind, repeat, and pick up where you left off last).

Best for Novices: Ten Percent Happier

10% Happier

10% Happier

Why We Chose It: If you’re new to meditation, a lot of these guided apps can feel overwhelming due to the sheer amount of content offered; when you don’t know where to start, having thousands of meditations at your fingertips can send you in a tailspin and turn an already fidgety brain into an even more overloaded one. Because Ten Percent Happier was made with newbies in mind, it makes every step of their mindfulness journey easy to accomplish and understand with a manageable catalog of meditations.

What We Like

  • Streamlined and consistent content
  • Intro videos that prepare you for your meditations

What We Don’t Like

  • Expensive investment for those who aren’t even sure they like meditation
  • Difficult to search for specific content
  • Limited options once you’ve progressed past the newbie status

Inspired by the bestselling book of the same name, Ten Percent Happier is the meditation app for people who don’t meditate. If you’ve always wanted to try meditation or are just curious about its benefits, Ten Percent Happier makes this somewhat mystifying practice easy to understand and even easier to do at home, thanks to a simple navigation and expert coaching that takes you through the basics.

You can try it out for yourself with a two-week free trial, then pay about $99 annually for full access to the service. After downloading the app, you’ll answer a few basic questions about yourself that will better help the algorithm tailor the app experience to your individual needs in terms of your goals, moods, and personal habits. You’re then guided through an intro video session called The Basics that teaches you the fundamentals of meditation.

After that, the app is fully unlocked and you can explore all of its offerings, which include more than 350 guided meditations. It also offers personal coaching with meditation experts that allows users to send messages and get specific questions answered in a timely fashion (usually with a day). It’s meditation with training wheels and a great entry point for anyone looking to dip their toe into the mindfulness pool.

Best for Experts: Sattva

Sattva

 Sattva

Why We Chose It: Sattva gives experienced mediators the same convenience as those new users without making them feel like they are taking a step backward or paying for beginner content they aren’t going to use. And, it pushes you to improve by offering in-app tracking of your personal stats, as well as awarding trophies as you accomplish self-set challenges on your spiritual journey. 

What We Like

  • Lifetime membership
  • Progress tracking with Apple Health app
  • Interactive meditation community  

What We Don’t Like

  • User interface can be a bit clunky
  • Subscription is hard to cancel

Most guided meditation apps are aimed towards newbies and helping people become familiar with meditation; there aren’t as many options out there tailored towards those people who are already well-versed in the practice and looking to enhance their experience. For those who are already pros at all things meditation, Sattva is the perfect app to push your practice to the next level.

Drawing from the ancient Vedic principles and delivered by Sanskrit scholars, it features meditations, mantras, chants, and music designed to enhance your daily meditations. It also lets you interact with the Sattva community to motivate and meditate together. And it links with your Apple Health app to track your heart rate and mood to see how your meditation is affecting your health in real-time.

A subscription costs about $13 a month or roughly $50 annually, or you have the option of a one-time payment of about $400 for lifetime access to all of Sattva’s content. The app also offers occasional deals, so if you're patient, you might be able to snag yourself a discount.

Best for Those in a Hurry: Simple Habit

Simple Habit

Simple Habit

Why We Chose It: Busy people often use the excuse that they don’t meditate because they don’t have time, but Simple Habit removes that barrier by giving you a path to a daily dose of inner peace on your schedule. And, because busy people don’t have time to be endlessly scrolling through content to find what they are looking for, the app has cataloged and made it easy to search for exactly what kind of meditation you need in mere seconds.

What We Like

  • Quick sessions
  • Easy to navigate
  • Situation specific meditations
  • Lifetime membership

What We Don’t Like

  • Expensive for what you get
  • Can sometimes feel too fast

Meditation has been shown to be beneficial for our mental well-being, however, finding the time to squeeze in 20 minutes of it into your busy day can be unrealistic for many people. Between work, kids, and life in general, some of us barely have a minute to breathe, let alone set aside adequate time for mindfulness. Enter: Simple Habit.

Made with those perpetually overloaded individuals in mind, this app is all about finding a few minutes of mindfulness wherever and whenever you can: during naptime, waiting in line at the grocery store, commuting...whenever you have a precious few minutes to spare. We’re talking five-minute meditation sessions to center and calm your mind when you need it most. And, for those rare moments where you find yourself with extra time on your hands, you can extend the length of your session.

The classes offer situation-specific meditations that range from first-date jitters to SOS panic attacks, which makes it easy to find the exact course you need at the moment you need it. The app has a free version, but to unlock all of the content, you’ll need to spend about $12 per month, around $90 yearly, or roughly $300 for a lifetime membership.

Bottom Line

Many studies have been done on both the physical and mental health benefits of daily meditation, demonstrating the power that this simple practice can have on our overall well-being. Unfortunately, it’s not a common practice for the majority of Americans, due to a lack of general knowledge and access to trained teachers to guide them. Apps bring this centuries-old practice to our pockets with expert-created and curated content that both teaches and enhances your meditation practice, simplifying the process and relating it to real-world situations to help you understand its functionality. Once you find the app that best fits your lifestyle and incorporate it into your daily routine, you’ll understand why this practice has endured for hundreds of years as a form of coping and managing your well-being—and will discover just how easy it is to incorporate it into your daily life.

What Are Guided Meditations?

Guided meditations are downloadable content that can be streamed on your phone with the goal of helping to teach you and/or aid you in furthering an at-home meditation practice to boost your mental health and wellness. Many of these apps offer an array of options for real-life situations or issues like anxiety, depression, or panic attacks. The majority of its content is focused on giving you the tools you need to meditate whenever and wherever you choose.

How Much Do Guided Meditations Cost?

Many of the available apps offer some type of free content, be it a trial period or a limited selection of classes and features. In the case of Insight Timer, everything is completely free. To gain access to premium content, you’ll need to subscribe to the service, either through a monthly, yearly, or, in some cases, lifetime access pass. These can range anywhere from about $12 to $400.

How We Chose the Best Guided Meditations

Our top picks are a combination of apps for those familiar with meditation and those just getting started on their mental wellness journey. We looked at ones that offer a variety of features, appeal to all levels of experience, and combine spirituality with real-world practicality. 

Next, we looked at pricing and subscription models to ensure a variety of budgets were represented including some sort of free content, either in the form of trial periods or with some selection of classes for those looking to avoid subscription costs. 

Finally, we reviewed the functionality of the apps themselves, determining if they were easy to navigate, simple in design, and intuitive for finding the classes and content that most appeals to your needs.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Mayo Clinic. "Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress."

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