In 2015, meditation was a hot topic in the national news and a meditation app is a way to bring this practice into your own life. For years, researchers and doctors have been looking for ways to help pain patients alleviate pain with fewer prescription medications. Almost five years ago, researchers at Harvard and MIT published research that showed how just eight weeks of meditation actually changed the structure of the brain to help relieve stress and pain. Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist and senior author of the paper, says that it is thoughtful control of the alpha waves in the brain that give meditation its power to relieve pain:
“These activity patterns[in meditation] are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention. Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.”
Other research has shown that just three 20-minute sessions of meditation can help control pain. A review of studies on mindfulness meditation by Brown University found that consistent meditation helped patients locate and turn down the “volume knob” on sensations. It can be especially helpful for nerve pain such as that caused by fibromyalgia and diabetic neuropathy.
Add this research to the studies that suggest that using mobile technology like apps can help you change your health behaviors permanently, and what you have is the perfect way to incorporate this practice as a pain-fighting part of your treatment plan. Here are our eleven favorite meditation apps.
This free app teaches you the “7 steps of calm” and offers seven guided meditations ranging in length from two to 30 minutes. The subscription option offers an additional 50 tracks, each with a different focus (sleep, energy, etc.). Available for iOS and Android phones.
2. Simply Being
Two dollars gets you one of the most popular apps in the iTunes app library. Meditations are designed by practitioners with over 30 years of practice and teaching experience. You can choose meditations from five to 20 minutes, listening with or without music or nature sounds. Also available for iOS and Android.
If you are a Type-A meditator, this might be the best meditation app for you. Equanimity helps you keep track of how often you sit in meditation and for how long. It allows you to jot notes regarding each session and can be set to ring interval chimes or a gong to help you stay focused. At $4.99 it is one of the most expensive apps on the list, but for those who just need a reminder and a way to track their progress, it’s a solid investment.
This free app starts you off with “Take 10,” a daily series of ten, ten-minute meditations. You can download this meditation app for use offline, which can be helpful when you find yourself in an internet dead zone. Headspace also offers additional meditations for purchase as well as more specialized free meditations for better sleep and more energy.
Breathe2Relax starts with the most basic of meditation techniques: breathing. The focus of this meditation app is learning how to breathe to manage stress and anger. Because focusing on the breath is a fundamental part of any type of meditation, this free app is a great place to start.
One of the key components of Buddhism is the ability to still the mind and practice equanimity – the quality of mental calmness. This Android-only app helps to train your mind to remain calm with ten different levels of meditations and a daily reminder to take a seat.
This iOS-only app features meditations from some of mindfulness meditation’s heavy hitters, including Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Not only does this app guide you in learning how to practice mindfulness, but it also offers additional talks and conversations about the practice itself. Free.
Omvana is free for both iOS and Android phones and takes a slightly different tack for meditation. This app helps to focus on specific areas of your life rather than simply guiding you to clear your mind. The library of options is extensive and in-app tools offer you the option of recording your mood to select the right meditation for you.
9. Smiling Mind
Smiling Mind’s slogan (“meditation made easy”) is just the first wonderful thing about this meditation app. Developed specifically for adolescents by a group of mental health professionals, Smiling Mind aims to help young people deal with depression, anxiety, and stress through simple mindfulness meditation practices. A free but invaluable tool for a lifetime of calm.
10. MINDBODY Connect
Less a meditation app and more an app for total-body care, MINDBODY Connect uses your location to help connect you with services from spas to yoga studios. You can book fitness classes and spa services like massage and reiki right through the app. The app is free, but the services are not.
Finally, from Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra comes the Meditation Experience, a companion to the pair’s 21-day online meditation course. You needn’t take the course to reap the benefits of this free app that offers guided meditations and a journaling feature to record your thoughts and track your progress.
Meditation is an accessible alternative treatment for pain that is completely free of side effects and requires no special equipment to get started. Download one of our favorite meditation apps to get started today!
Image by Graeme Paterson via Flickr