Breathe. These meditation apps bring calm to stressed, busy lives – USA TODAY

Between calendar notifications, pushed emails, and intrusive messaging platforms, you might believe smartphones contribute to your daily stress levels.  Ironically, that same device could also help nudge you to take much-needed breaks throughout the day – thanks to a handful of meditation and mindfulness apps.

“I often say that mindfulness isn’t hard…what’s hard is remembering to be mindful,” says Sharon Salzberg, renowned meditation expert and bestselling author. “One’s device is the perfect implement to offer those reminders, not only for a time-out of 5 to 10 minutes, but for what we call ‘short moments, many times’ — taking a few breaths to return to ourselves and return to the moment.”

Salzberg, whose new book Real Love (Flatiron Books; $24.99) is available June 6, believes there’s an increased interest in meditation in the West, perhaps because “the incredible busyness and sheer unrelenting pressure of potentially always being on.” Salzberg says several apps could help with reminders and bite-sized lessons at home or the go.

Given the fact May is Mental Health Month, the following is a brief look at five picks available at both the App Store (for iOS) and Google Play (for Android), unless otherwise specified.

Simple Habit

One of the newest players is also one of the most impressive.

Simple Habit is an on-demand meditation platform built for busy people. With simple 5-minute lessons, the app features more than 1,000 meditations guided by mindfulness teachers from around the world – and for a more tailored lesson, you can choose the time, place and cause of your stress. For example, tap Tough Day or Big Event (perhaps before public speaking), or Morning Meditation, or At Work.

You can also pick a lesson by Series (Drift to Sleep, Sharpen Focus, Meditate in Nature), and by Teacher of your choice (check out Australia’s Kate James, with her soothing voice and helpful instruction).

More than 50 sessions are free, with the option to upgrade to a Premium version for $11.99/month or $99.99/year. It’s also available through a desktop website, and Simple Habit will remember where you left off.

Calm: Meditation to Relax, Focus & Sleep Better

One of my favorites, Calm is a meditation and mindfulness app with guided sessions in varying lengths, ranging from 3 to 25 minutes, and with content designed for beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced users.

Similar to some other apps of this kind, you can choose a topic that matters most to you: Calming Anxiety, Deep Sleep, Self-Esteem, Forgiveness, Happiness, Managing Stress, Focus and Concentration, and so on. Track your progress with gamification elements, such as daily streaks, as well assessing a tally of time spent meditating.

While there’s some free content to get you started, subscriptions are $12.99 per month, or the heavily discounted $59.99 per year. Subscribers get full access to all the instructions, along with a new 10-minute program added daily, more than 20 “Sleep Stories,” 7- and 21-day programs, breathing exercises, relaxing nature sounds, and more.

Headspace

Your “gym membership for the mind,” Headspace wants to teach you how to meditate in just a few minutes a day.

Endorsed by Emma Watson, this UK app features a clean and easy-to-use interface, and offers a free beginner series called “Take10” – 10 sessions, each 10 minutes, over 10 days – using proven meditation and mindfulness techniques that could help clear your head, reduce stress, sleep better, and enjoy greater overall happiness.  Available for iOS, Android, Amazon, and the web, the lessons include stat tracking, rewards, and an optional buddy system (for friends to motivate each other).

If you want more than the introductory Take10, Headspace offers a subscription service ($12.99 per month or $94.99 per year) for access to many other meditation lessons, guided and unguided, as short as 2 minutes and as long as 1 hour. Some deal with applying mindfulness to everyday activities, while others cater to managing stress (“S.O.S. sessions”) and life-altering situations.

As part of Headspace’s “Get Some, Give Some” program, for every subscription someone signs up for, the app will donate a subscription to someone in need, says the company.

10% Happier

Designed for “fidgety skeptics,” 10% Happier offers clear and simple meditation lessons.

Led by New York Times bestselling author and ABC news anchor Dan Harris — who suffered an on-air panic attack in 2004, which prompted him to write the book 10% Happier – the app (iOS, web) features quick meditations by many respected teachers, include Salzberg, which you can do whenever you have a spare moment.

10% Happier Free offers free access to a 7-session introductory course, with daily meditation videos (with offline access), guided audio lessons (for when you can’t look at a screen), advice and tips to applying mindfulness to your personal and professional lives, and new content added monthly to keep things fresh.  While the app is free to download and use, members get a lot more content for $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year.  Too bad there’s not an Android version, given it’s the world’s no. 1 operating system.

Breathe

Reminders to take a time-out aren’t just on your smartphone, but are prompted by your smartwatch, too.  Built into the latest Apple Watch operating system is Breathe, Apple’s own app that encourages you to relax, focus, and (you guessed it), breathe.

You’ll feel a slight tap on your wrist every four hours, and when you glance down at the screen the app will ask you to start a session, if you’re able to. The app will guide you through some deep breaths over a one-minute session of seven breaths, but you can tweak these session lengths. Follow the animated circles on the screen to inhale and exhale, plus you can feel a tap on your wrist to inhale, if you want to do this with your eyes closed.

A summary screen, with heart rate info, is shown at the end.

Other recommended meditation apps for both iOS and Android include Buddhify, The Mindfulness App, Take A Break and Omvana.

Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. E-mail him at askmarcsaltzman@gmail.com.

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