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

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.

Calm

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?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (5)
  • bettyboulder
    8 months ago

    I have been using Insight Timer for about three years and love it. I mostly just use the timer to track my mediations. I love earning stars as an incentive to keep up with meditating. I have also listened to some of the guided meditations and found them very useful. Many from well known guides such as Tara Brach and any topic you can think of such as calming anxiety, help with sleeping, etc. I can’t say enough good about it. I highly recommend it.

  • BirdMom
    8 months ago

    Insight Timer is another free app that I like. It allows you to select the amount of time you have to meditate, even search for the type of issue you have such as headache or gut or the type of meditation you want. Or if you meditate on your own as I often do, you can just set the timer and choose how you want to bring yourself out of the meditation.

  • BirdMom
    8 months ago

    Tried Curable & found it worthless for me. Not worth the subscription. Might work for some, but for me was not a good fit.

  • BirdMom
    8 months ago

    I will say that they do have a 30 day money back guarantee. They did refund my money when I asked.

  • RRMother
    8 months ago

    I LOVE the Calm Sleep Stories. Corny? Absolutely. Do they work? Yes! I also find that the Sleep Music works great too.

  • Poll