Review: 'Calm' Meditation App | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: ‘Calm’ Meditation App

Life&Style's Charlotte Gill reviews 'Calm', Apple's 2017 App of the Year

Meditation perfectly fits with the zeitgeist of the moment, which is made up of buzz words like ‘self-care’, ‘digital detox’, ‘mindfulness’ and ‘balance’. However you feel about them - whether they seem over the top and eye-roll-worthy or right up your zen street, I think we have to agree that it is no bad trend. We could all do with being a little bit kinder to ourselves and taking time out to recharge! It is unsurprising then that Apple voted Calm, the meditation app, as its 2017 app of the year.

As a complete newbie to meditation, I gave Calm a whirl to see whether it could be worth the subscription and whether it was actually effective, tasking it with taming my incredibly busy brain which buzzes with activity. I followed ‘7 days of calm’, though there seem to be other free trials such as ‘7 days of managing stress’. After this trial period, or to access other programmes such as ‘Body Scan’ and ‘Relationship with Self’ to name just two, you would have to pay the equivalent of 12 dollars per month (around £9). When you think that this could get you a Netflix and Spotify monthly subscription, apps like this have to be convincing! Calm seemed professional, serious and easy to navigate. You also have to choose your reason for trying the app (e.g. to improve focus, to build self-esteem, to have better sleep) which shows they try to tailor the experience for each user’s needs. I found the background noises (either a lake setting or a crackling fire) and the woman’s voice relaxing and there was not too much talking from her, so it gave me chance to try and put what she had said into practice.

Overall I liked the app. I tried Headspace for a comparison, as this is possibly the most well-known meditation app. It is similarly £9.99 to subscribe once you have used up the trials but it has far more, wide-reaching free content to begin with and a 10 day beginner trial compared to Calm’s 7 days. I found Headspace less formal but that is not a bad thing as it seemed very welcoming and reassuring. It even has meditation sessions for children, so you can see the sort of vibe it is aiming for. It often provides short videos before a session to explain a concept (for example, allowing thoughts to pass rather than acting on them or labelling them as good or bad) which remained engaging so I was not tempted to quit before I had even begun the session.

Ultimately, I think it is down to personal preference as to which app you use. Calm may have been Apple’s app of the year but it does not necessarily mean it is the best one for everyone. I liked the woman’s voice more than the man’s on Headspace, whose would-be casualness I found rather grating. He also talks more and sometimes ironically interrupted my attempts at mindfulness. However, I like that on Headspace you can often choose the length of the session (3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes or more). Calm sets the length already which some people may find helpful and structured, while others may like Headspace more because a shorter clip feels manageable and it is more likely they will commit each day. It is hard to say whether it is worth taking the plunge and subscribing to access the full content as I only used free trials, but I would say a subscription is not necessary, at least not at first. The free content on both apps was accessible and informative and fairly effective, it seems, as I felt calmer and more focused afterwards. Additionally, meditation can take years to ‘master’; paying for an app does not immediately equip you with the skills. Also, in the same vain as the app being a personal choice, I think mindfulness itself can be open. While perhaps nothing compares to purely sitting and breathing, I do not think you should feel the pressure to invest in a meditation app. Mindfulness just means being present in the moment - not focusing on the past or the future and feeling the stress and anxiety which can go with this - so other activities can help you achieve this. I find running, walking and yoga 'very’ mindful activities as I am only thinking of the movement and my surroundings.

So, my verdict: I feel like I could continue practicing now I have had an introduction and I would recommend giving a trial a go. Then, if you want to take it further and subscribe, you can, and if not, you can go and find your ‘zen’ somewhere else!

Third year Modern Languages student currently living in Paris. Interested in fashion, fitness, languages and travel. I love reading and listening to podcasts and would count 'trying out cool cafés' as a hobby.


28th March 2018 at 9:00 am

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