Calm app review: worth the money?

Calm app review: worth the money?

I have been a dedicated Headspace user, and in an effort to let some of the many subscriptions I have run out, I started using the Insight Timer app, which I still highly recommend [here]. However, Groupon had a discount on the Calm app, and I took the opportunity to try it out for a year at a much reduced cost. I was particularly interested in Calm since it was named App of the year by the App Store in 2017, and has such good reviews.

The good….

Like Headspace, Calm has many different series of meditation classes, each building on the last. There is a good selection, from beginning meditation with several levels of guidance, to anxiety, sleep, relationships, self-care, etc. There’s a body scan version of meditation, for fans of Andy on Headspace. There’s an “insight of the day” which I particularly like.

Like the Insight Timer app, there is relaxing music, with the purpose of helping you sleep, focus, or simply unwind with nature sounds. The music is a little repetitive, and many consist of short loops of music played over and over for 30 minutes or so. Still, some of it is nice to focus on other tasks with, since the music is so simple- it isn’t distracting.

The masterclasses are new for the app, which mostly seem like well-researched options. In particular, the “Rethinking Depression” masterclass has classes on exercise in depression, sunlight, nutrition, social connection, sleep, and negative thoughts, all of which have basis in the scientific literature. I haven’t listened to the entire group of sessions, so I can’t speak about every claim that the instructor makes, however. There’s also Masterclasses on rest, breaking bad habits, and social media/screen addiction. My only quibble is that there is officially no official “screen addiction” diagnosis, but I understand what the instructor is getting at.

The interface is easy to use, engaging, and as advertised, calming. I have had no crashes or bugs. It keeps track of how long you’ve been meditating daily, and can write to Apple Health. It also keeps track of streaks, to help motivate you into meditating more often!

The not-as-good…

Calm works best on a subscription and it’s not cheap. In fact, $59.99 per year seems like a lot to me, though you can get it for $12.99 per month and $299.99 lifetime. Groupon had a sale, and I think it was $39 for a year, which was worth trying for me. Another negative: I haven’t seen a ton of updates and new features since I bought the premium app, other than a few Masterclasses, which I discussed above.

Each meditation ends with some nice quote, which I love, and supposedly you can share it on Facebook or Twitter, but that has never actually shown up as a quote on my Facebook feed, which is a bummer.

Features that the Jury is still out on…

Calm is one of the only apps (maybe the only app) that has a bedtime story function. There are a variety of stories, mostly excerpts of classics. The narrators are of varying qualities and I found some quite monotone. There’s a kids’ bedtime story function, and some of those stories can be found in the regular adult bedtime stories. I tried a variety of the stories with my children who fight sleep as if it is the enemy, and though they LOVE to be read to, they were thoroughly unimpressed by the stories.

I discussed the music above- it can occasionally be repetitive but is overall nice. I particularly liked the nature sounds. However, the music on Insight Timer, which is free with some non-essential paid functions, is more interesting, and mostly not loop generated.

Will I renew next year?

I’m uncertain. I will probably wait to see if there are any great features I can’t live with out, and then consider either Stop, Breath and Think plus the Insight Timer for music, or just stick with the Insight Timer altogether.

There are a TON of new meditation apps since I last reviewed them- which ones do you like? Let me know in the comments below!

Insight Timer: a meditation app worth a second look

A long time ago, I downloaded Insight Timer, an app that to the best of my recollection, did the one thing it was for in an attractive way. In other words, it timed my meditation and had a nice mindfulness bell at the beginning and end. At the time, that is all it did. You could change the timer, the way that it counted down meditation, and the sound it made to signal completion, but that was basically it. At the time, that didn’t seem like enough to earn it’s keep on my iPhone and I deleted it.

However, I recently joined an online group where the moderator had started an Insight Timer group to meditate together. An Insight Timer group? I decided to review the app again. To my surprise, the app has become so much more than I recalled- in fact, it has become my primary meditation app. I even cancelled my headspace subscription!

The original Insight Timer app is still there, under the Timer tab at the bottom of the app. You can still choose what starting and ending bell you prefer (there are more choices for a small fee of $2.99). You can choose a background noise, like a sound bath, which may amplify the effects of meditation ( see this article). Again, there are different options for a small fee- this time, $1.99.

The part of the app which has really stood out for me, and is free, are the new guided meditations and music. The guided meditations are from different teachers of different spiritualities and points of view- some are specifically aimed at a type of spirituality or religion, and some are more aimed at general mindfulness and health. I was impressed to see Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, all for free! I’ve been using the guided meditation, “Morning Meditation with Music” by Jonathan Lehmann most mornings, and really like it. There is also a music section that has binaural beats, which in studies, have been shown to help with anxiety (you need headphones for these). I’ve been listening to “Whispering Notes” by Pablo Arellano at night. I can’t tell you specifically what it sounds like past the first fifteen minutes because I  have been completely asleep by then…every. Single. Night.

There are also groups of different meditators, who opt to meditate at the same time, or just offer support on a basic wall dedicated to that group. I haven’t explored these much yet. You can add friends as well and communicate via the app. I haven’t decided exactly what I think of that-you can opt to turn off this feature, and had I started off again today, I might have chosen to turn this feature off. I have had a few people sending me odd, intrusive questions that I chose to ignore in general.

Overall, if you’re planning to start a meditation practice, I can’t recommend this app enough. Recent updates show that the company is working towards organizing the guided meditation and music in a way that enhances the experience for the user.

What meditation app are you using? I would love to hear via your comments below!0E70ADC7-E63F-4BBF-A47E-3399C6C85484

Take a deep breath: 5 meditation apps reviewed

img_8482f9dd06ad-1

 

Meditation and mindfulness seems like the new buzzword: mindfulness for toddlers, mindfulness in 8 weeks, 3 days to mindful, etc! But mindfulness is actually a really old practice, and I first encountered it more than twenty years ago in the books of Thich Nhat Hanh. Also called Thay by his students, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr in the 1960’s. He teaches that mindfulness is a practice that you bring everywhere- while you’re walking, doing the dishes, etc, and not only sitting cross-legged on a mat. Relatively new, however, is learning and practicing meditation from an app.

Why learn meditation? I recommend a meditation practice to many of my patients, along with talk therapy and sometimes medication if needed. A nice run-down of the research can be found on the American Psychological Association’s website (below), but studies have found that patients have less anxiety, improved stress, get upset less often, and feel more compassionate and empathetic towards others (which, not surprisingly, translates to better relationships). There are also benefits to memory and focus, whch may be why meditation has also been found in studies recently to be helpful for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Another interesting fact: I’m reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris right now, where he boils down the wisdom of billionaires, Olympians, etc, and 80% of the people he interviewed have some kind of mindfulness practice!

Let me make it clear that NEARLY every app I looked at says it is the “Number one meditation app!” and “found in the pages of…” Using the app store, I looked for the top grossing and downloaded apps. I reviewed five based on this, downloading them onto my iPhone, and practicing with them. Of the apps below, Headspace, Calm, and Omvana have apple Watch support.

  1. Headspace (www.headspace.com): app is free, subscription costs about $12.99 per month, but less if you sign up for a year or more. You get 10 free initial sessions with the app. This app had my favorite narrator, Andy Puddicombe, who had a relaxing, approachable voice. Appears to be the app most often used in research studies on using an app for meditation. Has a foundation course with three levels, then series for health,, performance, relationships etc. Cute interface, with mini-monsters.
  2. Calm: meditation to relax and focus (www.calm.com): free app, subscription based at $12.99 per month, $59.99 per year. Programs and individual sessions for all skill levels.  Lovely, simple interface with nature photos; a daily meditation that changes each day (on Christmas Eve, this was “festivity”), has guided and unguided meditation with nature sounds. You choose your nature sound behind the meditation, and then the meditation occurs over the top of the sound. Could be annoying for some. Friendly sounding narrator- is she smiling while she talks? Unique to this app were sleep stories- basically low key bedtime stories read to you. There are also meditations for kids. Just eight meditations are available with free app without subscription.
  3. Meditation studio (www.meditationstudioapp.com): $3.99, 5 star rating on iTunes, ability to schedule your sessions, clean attractive interface. 200 different meditations. No subscription required. Examples: meditation for beginners, happiness, helping your change habits. Multiple different teachers, from different walks of life- meditation teachers, monks, yoga teachers,  (Rodney and Colleen Yee, Beryl Bender Birch). Nice: meditations for mom, kids, veterans, first responders. Can superimpose meditation over nature sounds.
  4. Stop, Breathe and Think (www.stopbreaththink.org): Free app, but subscription based. $4.99 per month, 10% of revenue goes to a non profit, Tools for Peace to help at risk youth learn mindfulness and meditation. Basic meditations are free. I’ve used this one for a long time, and really like it- it has K.D. Lang music on some of the apps! However, it used to be a free app that you purchased a limited number of meditations available, but has recently switched to the subscription model. Even with the meditations I purchased in the past, there are less than in the Meditation Studio app.
  5. Omvana: (www.omvana.com): app free, meditations are charged per series or class. Store is iTunes like, with a wide variety of options for different classes available for purchase, around $3.99 to $5.99 or so, or a $7.99 per month subscription. If you sign up, you get 25 free meditations. I wasn’t impressed with the store on my Macbook air, which had several broken links and loaded samples indefinitely- the iphone version worked better. This seems to be a common theme as the iTunes reviews are either ecstatic or angry because the app and store were buggy. It crashed on my iPhone after limited use (twice). Some of the courses are kind of cheesy: “The Art of Sexual Invitation”, etc. 4.5 star rating. Integrates with the health kit.

My choice: I kept the Meditation Studio app on my phone. If I subscribed to a service, I would probably choose Calm, unless the Omvana store and app become less buggy in the future. Tell me what you think in the comments below! Have you tried any of these apps? Or do you use a different app?

(http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx)