Whether you’re new to it or a seasoned pro, here are the tools to help you relax.

At the moment, we’re welcoming anything that will help us feel calm and alleviate stress. And as today, 21 May, marks World Meditation Day there’s no better time to start this ancient Indian practice.

As previously reported by The Independent, the benefits of meditation have been explored in various scientific studies over the years, with recent research revealing that mindfulness can be effective for easing chronic pain.
There’s plenty of tools at your disposal too, some are free too, and can be as simple as a mindfulness app that will help you get into a comfortable meditation routine or a relaxing scented candle.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious or just need some peace and quiet, here’s how to get started.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Download a meditation app

A mindfulness app to help you switch off and unwind, particularly if you’re feeling anxious and many don’t require you to be looking at a screen while you do it.

If you want motivational messages sent through when you know you’re going to be stressed, there’s an app that will do that.

In our IndyBest round-up of the best mindfullness apps, we tested a mix of free and paying apps, all promising to soothe stressed minds. Coming out on top was the Calm app (Free one week trial, then £28.99 a year), which you can download for iOS here, download for Android here.

As soon as you open it up, you’re greeted with the soothing sounds of the outdoors. As well as guided Daily Calm sessions, which help you unwind and refocus your attention, there are also programmes for intermediate and advanced users.

If you fancy something a little different, you can pick from exclusive music tracks engineered to help you focus, relax or sleep, such as Calm Body – a series of 10-minute guided videos on mindful movement – and Sleep Stories, which are calming tales narrated by celebrities including Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey.

With plenty of content and at just £28.99 for a subscription that lasts the whole year (there’s no monthly offer but that equates to just under £2.50 a month), we also think this app is great value.

Just Breathe is a free alternative that offers guided meditation with a teacher, music or timer in two, eight or 20-minute sessions. It’s simple to use, easy to follow and won’t take long before it becomes routine. Download it here for iOS and here for Android.

The best soothing candles

Lighting a candle with a relaxing scent can help you calm down before drifting off to sleep or simply make your environment calm and serene, ready to meditate.

Seeing as we’re in lockdown, it’s also the perfect opportunity to light that luxury candle you may have been saving.

Our favourites scented candle to help you relax is the Pure Thoughts meditation candle collection set of four (Pure Thoughts, £62).

Designed to fill your chosen chill out space with a different calming fragrance each day, you can choose from the energising lemongrass scent of “gratitude”, the soothing lavender of “peace”, the sweet geranium of “love” and the earthy patchouli of “trust”.

All its candles are handmade in Derbyshire in small batches using vegan-friendly soy wax, cotton wicks and pure essential oils and our reviewer found each one burns cleanly for 18 hours and throws its scent well for its size.

The Jo Loves pomelo candle (Jo Loves, £55) is an indulgent treat too, that when lit will transport you to sunny beaches and tranquil blue skies with its blend of grapefruit, vetiver and pink pomelo.

Better yet, if you have a friend who is struggling to switch off, why not give them a candle to help them introduce a bit of calm to their days, especially if they’re a parent juggling homeschooling and working from home or are looking after a vulnerable family member.

The best yoga mat

Yoga and meditation are entwined together, so if you already practice yoga, you’ll most likely be half way there when it comes to meditating.

One of the hardest parts of meditating is keeping still and sitting, or lying, in one place and being comfortable – so a mat will help with encouraging you to do that.

Topping our IndyBest guide was the Liforme yoga mat (Liforme, £100) which had a grippy surface to stop you sliding around your floors and its right at the sweet spot for thickness (4.2mm).

What makes it so unique, though, is the grid system laid over the top to help you align yourself in poses without the help of a teacher guiding you in person. The lines are very slightly textured and they do take a bit of getting used to – particularly if you have a set shape for downward dog, for example – but it’s worth playing with.

And if you don’t already do yoga, it can certainly help with feeling more calm. Regular exercise can be a great stress reliever, mood booster and aid in helping you sleep better, which is exactly what we all need in these uncertain times.

With just a mat, you can turn a room or corridor into your workout space.

If you’re new to yoga, try following a session with Yoga With Adriene, one of the biggest yoga YouTube channels, fronted by instructor Adriene Mishler. She leads free, very straightforward sessions on her channel to her six million subscribers, creating challenges such as 30 Days Of Yoga or poses for specific needs like chronic pain or for cramps. You’ll also find simple poses to imitate posted on her Instagram too.

The best sleep apps

Feeling well-rested and refreshed in the morning may feel like a distant memory during the pandemic, but getting enough rest is important to your physical and mental wellbeing.

Falling, and staying, asleep can be tricky and switching off at the end of the day isn’t as easy as it sounds, no matter how tired you may be. Which is where a sleep app comes in to help you drift off and better understand your sleeping patterns. Many are free to download and use, so budget won’t be an issue.

The best one we found in our round-up of sleep apps was Portal – focus, sleep, escape. It’s free to download or an optional £3.99 to unlock its premium content. From spring barley fields in Devon to Monteverde’s cloud forest in Costa Rica, it transports users around the world, helping them drift off to sleep with the assistance of some of nature’s most relaxing sounds.

Whether we fancied a quick nap or just wanted to switch off after a long day, this was our go-to sleep aid and our reviewer found it helped them sleep no matter their mood.

Similar to a sleep tracking app, this Dreem headband (Dreem, £359) was a popular choice in our IndyBest guide to the best sleep aids.

It’s soft, flexible and comfortable that contains nine sensors to measure movement, brain activity and heart rate, with breathing detection coming soon.

You can look back over your night’s sleep on the corresponding app on your phone, including stats such as how many times you changed position and how efficient your time in bed was.

But it’s not just about telling you what’s wrong. Through the app our reviewer found, you have access to advice and consultations with sleep experts, and a whole library of meditation and relaxation techniques played to you through your headband.

It is pricey, but if you’re serious about improving your sleep, it’s a worthy investment. Plus, there is the option to pay in instalments.

By Louise Whitbread, as published in The Independent on 21st May 2020

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