Mindfulness Meditation Apps Review: Headspace & Calm

In a related article, I discussed a few misconceptions about mindfulness mediation and the ways in which it has impacted my personal life, my relationships, and my life with migraine. (Hint: it has helped in all three arenas.)

Mindfulness apps

Because I don’t yet have the discipline to do mindfulness meditation sessions on my own without guidance, and because I don’t have the dispensable income at the moment to sign up for a local class, I decided to use a tool that is, for better or for worse, always near me: my smartphone.

There are myriad apps out there for those who are both new and experienced in mindfulness, some better than others. My two favorites are Headspace and Calm.


Headspace first caught my attention a while back when I saw a friend mention it on Facebook. I downloaded the free version of it last year and listened to all the complimentary sessions I could find on it. The sessions are all led by the same very calm, seemingly kind British fellow, a disembodied voice that sounds confident and comforting all at once. Once I realized how much the free sessions were helping me, I bit the bullet and paid for the full app (a one-year membership), knowing that the expense was relatively modest if I thought of it as what it is: a healthcare tool. (Heck, I’ve frequently paid much more on a small pack of triptans!)

The Headspace app has daily meditations of varying length. You pick the duration when you are in the app, so if you only have ten minutes to meditate, you pick the 10-minute session instead of the 15-minute one. It also has “packs,” specialized sessions that take you through meditations designed to help you cope with varying elements like relationships, change, anxiety, and more. They also have a few “S.O.S.” sessions, very short meditations that help you calm the heck down when you feel your anxiety or stress going into overdrive.


I tell people that Calm is like Headspace’s slightly more hippie sister. This is another one that has several free sessions to give you a taste of the app. I admit that I fell for the “special” coupon they sent me: 25% off the full app if I bought within x number of days.

The main guidance is delivered by a woman with a clear American accent and great enunciation. By default, all the sessions have background noises (which you can customize), and I really like hearing running water and birds chirping as I listen to the guidance. Like the Headspace narrator, the Calm narrator is encouraging and positive, reminding us that wandering thoughts are normal and that we should gently and compassionately guide ourselves back to an anchor that will allow us to refocus. This is why so many mindfulness guides urge you to focus on the breath when your attention starts to wander.

Calm app for sleep

Calm has lots of bonus features that are a little different from Headspace’s offerings. There are mini-courses with different missions, and there are also “Sleep Stories” to help you fall asleep. I admit I was skeptical about those. They’re not bad, but they’re not high literature, either, so if you are a highbrow reader you might get a little distracted by them. But I have found them to be very calming. Have you ever been put under anesthesia? You know how the anesthesiologist says, “Count backward from 10,” and you feel totally normal and silly but you start counting anyway, and the next thing you know hours have passed and you’re awake post-surgery? Well, that’s sort of what happened for me each of the four times I’ve listened to a sleep story. Each time, I felt too wired to sleep and put on a Calm Sleep Story as a last-ditch effort, and, the next thing I knew, it was morning.

Connecting with oneself

Thanks to technology, I am able to really connect with myself meaningfully every single day. The irony, eh? I have only skipped a couple of days of mindfulness meditation practice in the last several weeks, and I actually look forward to opening the apps each night (and sometimes first thing in the morning).

Do you use any apps that focus on mindfulness, stress reduction, and bringing calmness to your life? What are your favorites, and why?

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