Picture this. It’s 2006, and 23-year-old me is a brand new graduate student. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I was ready to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a psychologist. Even though I knew very little at this point, I had strong opinions about the type of psychologist I would and wouldn’t be. And one thing I was pretty certain I wouldn’t be? Someone who talked about mindfulness. The whole concept seemed new age and fluffy, and I was convinced not to be one of those soft speaking, artsy-fartsy psychologists. Thankfully, my naïve and judgmental self opened my mind and stopped thinking I knew everything. (Sidenote: nothing makes you realize you know next to nothing like a PhD program, ha!) Several years later, after finishing graduate school, I started to wade through the research about mindfulness. And I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Mindfulness was legit.
Looking back, I can’t help but laugh. Because now, mindfulness is such a huge part of my personal and professional life, that I can’t imagine my life or my practice without it. And I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you’re somewhat curious about mindfulness or meditation. It’s likely that in your quest to learn more about mindfulness, the Calm app has popped onto your radar. But now you’re wondering, “Is the app worth it? What does it do? And how can I make the most out of the app?” Or maybe, this is your first time hearing about Calm, and you’re intrigued to learn more. This post is designed to answer all those questions, giving you an updated Calm app review, fresh for 2020!
Developed in 2012, Calm is described as the #1 app for meditation and sleep. It has over 50 million downloads, thousands of five-star reviews, and it’s won countless awards in the tech space. It’s also a fan favorite among beginner and experienced meditators alike. Calm has a lot to offer, so before you decide whether or not the app is right for you, it’s helpful to do a quick overview of the app and its main features.
1. Meditations: Calm is best known for their meditations, and this is without a doubt, the most popular feature of the app. The meditations are organized into categories, including anxiety, stress, emotions, focus, relationships, and more. Typically 10-15 minutes in length, Calm’s meditations start by helping you settle and quiet your mind, eventually guiding you to focus on something specific. The narrator typically leaves some time and space for you to notice what’s happening internally, eventually shifting out of the meditation, reorienting to the present moment.
While dozens of sites offer online meditations, Calm’s meditations outshine many for one primary reason. Their ability to blend education with practice is like no one else. Calm helps you understand what you’re doing and why, giving you the instruction to practice, both in and out of the app. I think this infusion of education is particularly important if you’re new to meditation, as it can often feel overwhelming to receive the instruction, “Focus your mind,” with little else to go on.
If you’re a more experienced meditator, I highly recommend the less guidance category. One of the frequent criticisms of meditation apps is that their meditations encourage focus on an external source (the narrator), rather than your internal experience. The meditations in the less guidance category provide less instruction, prompting you to sit in silence more intentionally. One of my personal favorites from this category is the open-ended meditation with bells. Even if you’re newer to meditation, consider weaving open-ended meditations into your routine. They can be challenging, but they get easier with practice!
Many of my clients in private practice have described misunderstanding mindfulness when they first heard about it. Thankfully, through our work in therapy, we were able to clarify many of these misconceptions. However, if you don’t have a therapist or a more formal teacher like me, then Calm is a perfect way to increase both your understanding and your practice of mindfulness. I truly believe that Calm does this better than any other app out there.
2. Sleep Stories: Ever wish you could have someone tuck you in and read you a bedtime story? Then you’re in luck, because the Sleep Stories feature of Calm will do just that. In each sleep story, a narrator shares a bedtime story, helping you drift off to sleep with ease. Stories range from fiction and fairytales to nonfiction and classics. And you’ll be tickled to notice some familiar voices, including Matthew McConaughey, Lucy Liu, Lavar Burton, and Nick Offerman.
I’ll be honest, as a new mom, I have no problem falling asleep these days. But I know so many people who absolutely swear by Sleep Stories. My little brother was someone who once tossed and turned at night, and now thanks to Calm’s Sleep Stories, he’s usually asleep in 15 minutes or less. Not every sleep story is created equal, so I think it’s important to experiment and try several different stories before you decide whether or not the feature is for you. Because I’m a lifelong learner, I actually struggle to fall asleep to Calm’s non-fiction stories. I found myself so eager to know more about the topic at hand, that I actually perked up instead of winding down. However, the children’s stories put me at ease, making it easier to drift off.
If you have a hard time turning your brain off at night or if you find your brain thinking of the 10,000 things you need to do, then Sleep Stories is a feature of the Calm app you’ll love. The team at Calm is constantly adding new stories and content, so you’ll never get sick of the same tales. (PS: If you’re wondering why you can’t clear your mind in the first place, here’s why.)
3. Masterclass. I’m convinced that the Masterclass section of Calm is the most underrated and underutilized feature of the app. Most people don’t even know about it! If you’re looking to deepen your understanding of mindfulness, happiness, gratitude, or habit formation, then this section is for you. The Masterclass feature is made up of a series of classes, grouped by theme. Taught by experts in the field, these classes are all about education, increasing your knowledge about a variety of psychological topics. Classes focus on better sleep, happiness, breaking bad habits, conscious parenting, and mindful eating, and they’re taught my legendary experts including Shawn Achor, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Pico Iyer.
Calm’s Masterclasses feel like a combination of a podcast and a YouTube video, broken down into manageable 15-30 minute classes. They’re also available offline, so you can download them for a road trip or long flight. If you like learning the science behind why humans do what we do and how we can make meaningful change in our lives, then the Masterclass section is for you. So many people skip right past this feature, but there’s so much goodness tucked away here. It’s definitely worth checking out!
4. Calm Body: This is another lesser known section of the Calm app, but it’s one worth looking into. So often, when we think about mindfulness, we only think about our mind, forgetting about our body. But mindfulness isn’t just something to practice while sitting. Mindfulness is something to incorporate all throughout your day, bringing your attention and awareness to whatever you’re doing. Your body provides an incredible thing to pay attention to, noticing sensations, movement, and strength. But sometimes it’s hard to know exactly how to do this, and this is where Calm Body comes in.
In this feature, instructors guide you through mindful stretching, afternoon resets, and an evening wind down. They help you understand the mechanics of moving your body mindfully, making it easier to translate this concept to other forms of movement throughout your day. So don’t skip past Calm Body; there’s more there than you think!
5. Calm Kids: If you’re a parent or teacher, you will love Calm just for this feature. For years, the research has been clear about the benefits of mindfulness for adults. Excitedly, new research is starting to emerge about the benefits of mindfulness for kids. Across the world, schools are beginning to implement mindfulness and meditation programs, reporting incredible results. But sometimes with kids, it can be hard to know where to start. How do you teach a four-year-old about mindfulness? How do you show an eight-year-old how to meditate?
The Calm Kids section has you covered. With meditations, sleep stories, lullabies, and soundscapes, the app helps you understand how to translate mindfulness for your little one. The meditations are broken down by age group, starting as early as three years old, going up to age 17. Remember, your child’s mindfulness practice won’t look like yours, and we shouldn’t expect it to. Calm Kids makes mindfulness approachable, using images and examples familiar to your little one. It will also give you good ideas about how you can continue to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life at home, even without the app. Infusing mindful moments into your family’s daily routine is easier than you think.
However, remember that kids tend to copy what they see us doing, rather than what we say. If you want your child to practice mindfulness, they’ve got to see you doing it. So don’t hit “play” on Calm Kids and walk away. Do it with your child. And if they’re slow to catch on, that’s ok. Just keep offering it as an option, reminding them, as well as yourself, that mindfulness is something we can come back to at any time.
While these main features are among my favorites from Calm, there are plenty more to explore. Calm offers a daily mood check in, a breathing bubble, and a daily quote. They offer push notifications, reminding you to practice mindfulness on a daily basis. (Though you know how I feel about push notifications!) Much of their content is also available offline, allowing you to download and access it nearly anywhere. The app offers a free trial, with both an annual and a lifetime subscription available after the trial ends.
So now the big question, is the Calm app worth it? Is it really worth the investment? My honest answer? It depends. If you’re planning to use Calm for occasional meditation, then I don’t think the app is worth the money. There are countless places to gain access to free meditations, including my website, as well as a quick search on YouTube. But if you’re going to use Calm for daily meditation, then the app becomes a little more worth it. With daily meditation, you’re more likely to experience and benefit from their wide range of offerings.
However, if you’re planning to utilize more than just Calm’s meditations, then my answer about whether or not the app is worth it is simple. Yes. Calm offers so much more than meditation. So if you’re planning to utilize Calm’s Masterclasses, Sleep Stories, Calm Body, or Calm Kids, you’re definitely going to get your money’s worth!
If the annual subscription fee is a little steep for you, then keep an eye out for discounts and promotions. They don’t run them often, but when they do, they’re pretty good. The holiday season seems to bring about some of their best deals, and they’ve also offered discounts for educators, students, and health care professionals. But if you’re not convinced that you even need a mindfulness app, make sure to check out my video on this issue. I don’t think these apps for everyone, and I break down exactly what I mean in this video.
If you’ve been contemplating a mindfulness app, Calm has my vote! (There’s a reason it’s the app I pay for and use, even after two years.) Calm offers so much more than meets the eye. So check it out and experiment with all the app has to offer. It’s too good to miss!
PS: Curious if meditation can cure your anxiety? Find out here.