Calm App Review – Thoughts After 1 Year

Several years ago didn’t start the way I wanted. It had more stress than usual and I found myself fighting to stay focused. And this was before the election, holidays, and college football playoffs. Sound familiar? And let’s not forget unplanned interruptions from email, SMS, co-workers, family, and friends. While I can control some items, what I really needed was a way to calm my “monkey mind”. A friend suggested meditation.

It’s funny how the word meditation can evoke different emotions in people. For me, the term “mindfulness” was easier, and if I coupled that with an app, I was willing to give it a try. In fact, I decided not to worry about the terminology and focused more on the outcome and benefits. If you’re of that mindset, you might do what I did and search PubMed to see what the research said about the practice.

Thankfully, there are a number of meditation apps that people can try for free or at a nominal fee. I think it’s best to try several services as I don’t think one size fits all. The app that got me started was Headspace, but after a couple of months of paid service, I migrated to another called Calm. This is not a knock on Headspace as they do a great job. It was a more personal appeal. Overall, I found the Calm app to be a bit more relaxed for my taste. Please remember how I earlier winced at the word “meditation”.

Calm – The Free Version

One nice aspect of this app is you can try it for free without the need to create an account. This is great if you just want to set aside 15 minutes or so for a timed meditation or body scan. I prefer to start out with these models to see if I actually like the service. When I first started with Headscape, I wasn’t sure I had the discipline to maintain a practice or that I would see any benefit. This is also one reason I don’t jump to annual subscription plans despite the savings. Some things you just need to try for a period of time.

When you first go to the Calm website, you’re greeted with beautiful imagery and sound. In some ways, it reminds me of Momentum. The background also has motion. The example below would have the waves slowly roll in with the sound. The web app is simple and has few controls. You can either login [1], change the background image [2], or screen width and volume. [3]. After that, it’s as simple as clicking the Begin button. welcome screen
Calm web app

Once you click Begin, you’re greeted with a wide variety of programs and guides. I’ve not included them all here as the list is long and changes. The graphic below is a sampling. The meditations are broken down into various categories [1]. Within a category, you’ll see specific meditations and a short description [2]. In some cases, the meditation is part of a program such as 7 Days of Calm. To the right of each meditation or series is an icon indicating if it’s free or paid [3].

Sample of Calm programs
Example of Calm Guides & Programs

Calm App – The Paid Version

After trying the free web app for a bit, I decided to purchase a subscription that allows access to all the programs. One I particularly like is the “Daily Calm”. It’s a short meditation that ends with a nice quote.

Apart from the obvious benefit of getting access to all the programs and guides, you also get a stats panel. At first, I thought this was over the top and some sort of gamification play. However, on about day 54, I missed a day and became annoyed. It reminded me of an article I read about Jerry Seinfeld having a goal to write a joke every day except I wasn’t laughing. All the same, I was grateful I had done a habit for 53 days straight.

I realized that to gain the most benefit, I had to be disciplined enough to stick with it every day. I mistakenly let some urgent tasks become priorities and chip away at a new habit. Missing that 1 day reminded me I was not setting boundaries on my time. Since then, I’ve made this practice part of my morning routine. I also switched to using the app on my smartphone. The smartphone version has something called “mindfulness reminders”. app stats
Calm stats: streak of 243 days

Sleep Stories & Music

Sleep Stories are an interesting twist. They are short stories narrated by famous people. I didn’t try these at first as I thought they would have the opposite effect. I would concentrate too much on the storyline and not fall asleep. To test my theory, I tried listening to Wonder narrated by Matthew McConaughey. Have you ever watched him on the sidelines of a Texas Longhorns football game? He’s not calm, but animated. How could he get me to sleep?

Apart from the fact that he’s a talented narrator with a soothing voice, the storyline and length are important. Don’t ask me for details about this story as I remember a few details. I fell asleep. I didn’t find all the sleep stories effective, but there are hundreds to choose from. And if those stories don’t work, there is plenty of supplemental information and questionnaires to guide you along the way.

Calm’s music library has also grown a lot. While I don’t fall asleep to music, I do on occasion use it during the workday when I wear headphones. However, I tend to prefer simple repeating nature sounds, certain types of classical music, or something like Brain.FM that I use with a timer. So, I didn’t delve into this area much.

Am I More Mindful?

I would have to say “yes”. I am more appreciative of what’s happening right now and not fretting so much about the future or past. I think it has helped me to focus more, which helps my productivity. It’s hard to quantify as I use other tools as I’ve made other changes.

And, in case you’re wondering, I no longer wince when my friend says the word “meditation”.

Product Summary

Calm is an app that over time teaches you to be more mindful and appreciate the present. The plans range from Free to Lifetime. You can access the program either from the website using your browser or a dedicated app for Android or iOS. The program doesn’t teach as much about meditation as other programs but gives you a good foundation.

Ease of Use5
Documentation / Support4
Overall Score4.3