Appy days: Zen inducing apps for calm commutes

Emma Leaning
A challenge of big-city living is getting from A to B. Whether you ride or walk, apps can be a useful way to get between places in good spirits.
Emma Leaning
Appy days: Zen inducing apps for calm commutes

In a recent report by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Shanghai was crowned China’s ultimate super-city. With an estimated population of 24.28 million people living within 6340 square kilometers, there’s no denying our sovereign status.

A challenge of big-city living is getting from A to B. Everyone knows the hell of being smashed more forcefully than our avocado’s on toast against other people on the metro. And don’t get me started on footpath neanderthals. Whether you ride or walk, apps can be a useful way to get between places in good spirits.

I asked seven busy Shanghai commuters to use one Zen inducing app for a week. Here’s how they got "Om." 

Color Zen (Android, iOS)

Color Zen is a slick puzzle app that begs for headphones and blissful immersion in a world of abstract shapes and colors. There are no levels, points or penalties — so no stress motivators — meaning you can work at your own pace to keep pressure at bay. This meditative color-matching game is paired with mellow beats from composer Steve Woodzell to keep you blissfully in the chill-zone.

“I’ve enjoyed using this simple but addictive app while stuck in the back of a Didi during rush hour. The colors and music are soothing while the score-free challenges let me relax rather than stressing about puzzles I can’t complete. It’s a great way to focus while gently stretching my mind muscles. Traveling feels faster and I unwind en route!" (Sam, UK)

Blinkist (Android, iOS)

Blinkist provides the key insights of popular nonfiction books and podcasts in 15-minute summaries (blinks). There are over 4,500 titles on the database ranging from history to parenting, and the works of bestselling authors such as Barack Obama. Plus, oodles of philosophy and well-being titles mean you can kill two birds with one stone.

“If you like to read, listen or learn this app is a no-brainer. Slightly longer blinks would be nice, but the 15-minute shorts give great insight into a range of topics and are a welcome distraction between places. Switching from text to narration is great when you’re on the move and browsing topics is a sinch. The free version allows one blink a day, but I’ve subscribed to access the full library.” (Bram, USA)

Prune (Android, iOS)

Prune takes a basic idea — cultivating trees — and shapes it into a creative, deeply playable game. With the swipe of a finger, grow and shape your tree while guiding it around nature’s obstacles. The visuals echo Japanese paintings while the soothing music instills a meditative tone. This is simplicity at its most satisfying.

“Prune is very relaxing. The focus involved to train branches toward the light while minimizing mistakes plucks you straight off transport and into another world. The soft music provides a perfect backdrop to the pretty visuals and the minimalism of the app means you can focus on what matters. Green fingered or not, Prune is mesmerizing and well worth paying for." (John, UK)

Appy days: Zen inducing apps for calm commutes

Prune: Simplicity at its most satisfying

Day One (Android, iOS)

The mental health benefits of diary keeping are well documented, but not everyone has the time or inclination to create Pinterestworthy pages. Turn your daily commute into a daily reflection with this elegant app that makes journaling a simple pleasure. Add notes, photos, doodles and audio recordings, and let smart prompts take the stress out of inspiration.

“I’ve never maintained a diary, but Day One is good for commuting and takes the chore out of journaling. The app is easy on the eye and simple to use, meaning I can quickly add or browse entries on the go. It’s become a relaxing alternative to social media." (Michael, Switzerland)

Buddhify (Android, iOS)

A sleek app aimed at urbanites. Say farewell to formal practice with meditations that slot seamlessly into daily life. Buddhify offers over 200 tracks written and voiced by hand-picked teachers. No-nonsense exercises are artfully arranged around a meditation wheel into categories like, Traveling, At Work and Going to Sleep. Sessions last from 3-40 minutes and are fit for beginners or levitating Jedi types.

“I’ve wanted to get into mediation for years but could never find the time. Buddify lets me practice wherever I am or whatever I’m doing, so there’s never a reason not to. The meditations are modern and accessible, and the wheel makes picking a track easy. I’ve particularly enjoyed the walking meditations and sending people loving kindness on the metro. It’s peacefulness in my pocket when I need it most.” (Claire, France)

Appy days: Zen inducing apps for calm commutes

Buddhify: Meditations that slot seamlessly into daily life

Portal (iOS)

Why be in the present moment when you can be in the Amazon Rainforest or Scottish Highlands? Portal blends immersive sounds with beautiful aesthetics to transport you to real destinations around the world. Wave “zàijiàn” to travel restrictions and “nǐhǎo” to digital escapism.

“Portal has transformed my commute. I was skeptical at first, but the quality of the sound and images creates a hypnotic experience, and the handy timer means you can relax. Scenic strolls would be a welcome addition to the app’s fixed view. But even so, Portal provides a rejuvenating escape whether you’re at home, work or between the two.” (David, UK)

Colorfy (Android, iOS)

The adult coloring book trend isn’t going anywhere. Colorfy puts a digital twist on this calming pass-time. Choose from a selection of pages ranging from classical works to muscular mermen or upload your own images for a personalized approach. Let self-critique drift away as the simple click-to-fill function means you’ll never color outside the lines.

“The app is easy to use and provides a non-pressured creative escape from daily commuting. The range of colors is decent although you have to pay for most tools. The subscription is pricey, but there are free daily pages. I got my kids to draw a picture for me to upload, coloring it on my way to work gave the experience a family feel.” (Chloe, Australia)

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