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!

“Get Some Headspace” – a nice accompaniment or first book for meditation

img_e8d12fce92ab-1

I’ve written about meditation apps before and why meditation is a good idea from the scientific standpoint. I had been using the Meditation Studio app, but after receiving a coupon that discounted Headspace (not in conjunction with this blog- I received it as part of their regular New Year’s Promotion via email) for three months, I decided to take the jump and bought a year’s worth of the service. I’ll probably write more about the app itself in a few weeks. I’m in the third series of classes, and would like to try more of the single classes and other series before I comment. If anyone else is using Headspace, I’d love to be Headspace friends- leave me a comment below!

I have enjoyed the experience of meditation a lot more this time than I did 20 years ago, when I could not settle down. Still, I wanted to read more about the Headspace method of guided meditation, so I picked up Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, by Andy Puddicombe. He is also the person who narrates the guided meditations.

The book has several parts: an introduction and discussion of mindfulness, how to practice (the Take Ten method, which is the basis the parts of the app I have used so far), a section on integration, and the nuts and bolts of a day to day meditation practice. The end of the book is concerned with having a more mindful mindset (gratitude, etc), and a few case studies, as well as a journal, which is less useful on the Kindle version.

I think this book works well as either an accompaniment to practice on Headspace, or as a first time book on meditation and mindfulness. Since I am more than halfway through the introductory classes on meditation, it has given me some background on what I am doing in the classes. I have more insight for why I am doing a body scan in the beginning of the guided meditation, or why I am counting breaths at the end. In the meditations, he suggests that the mind is like a clear blue sky, and our thoughts are the clouds obscuring it- every once in awhile, we get a view of the sky, our mind, as it really is. In the book, he describes our mind as a pool of water, and we can see the bottom only when we remain still enough to stop the turbulence at the surface of water. I find both metaphors to be useful at different times in meditation.

He also gives enough practical advice to be useful day to day. What kind of chair (or not) should you sit in? What behaviors support meditation?  How long should you meditate for? What time of day should you meditate for?

I also liked the chapter of integration of mindfulness into every day life- this is something that Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese Zen monk, stresses. What good is meditation if you do not bring it into the world and positively affect others? To this end, Mr. Puddicombe talks about walking, and running meditations- teaching one to be mindful during those activities. If this is your focus, mindfulness at every moment, I actually suggest a supplemental book: Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living, by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book is filled with useful gathas (short mindfulness verses) that remind us to live and experience every moment, good or bad (using washing the dishes, or the phone ringing, as a mindfulness experience).

A last thought- in the reviews on Amazon, I saw a lot of good reviews, but also some complaining that the book was too simplistic. I did not find this to be true. I know that in my own case, sometimes I will read more and more books about a topic, in increasing levels of complication, rather than actually put down the book and try something. I suggest that this is often the case in meditation. The concept is quite simple, the practice is not. I have come back to reading some books which are quite simple on the surface, over and over, and gain something new every time. I would challenge someone who complains that the language or message of a book on meditation is too simple- sit down and meditate. Then go back, and see what you learn from the books again.

I’m really interested to hear what you think about this, or any related topic! Please don’t hesitate to comment below. Also, I still need some Headspace friends!

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)