- Meditation apps are a great way to get started with meditation, because they make it feel less daunting and much more accessible
- Calm offers hundreds of meditations that you can sort by category, as well as sleep stories, soundscapes, guided movement practices, and wisdom from experts
- Headspace offers meditations grouped by time, circumstances such as feeling stressed or processing tragedy, and skills such as breathwork or being mindful in nature
Six years ago, during a particularly bad bout of anxiety, I made it my New Year’s resolution to start meditating every day. To this day, it’s the only resolution I’ve managed to stick with for an entire year (and beyond), because the benefits were so clear. I felt calmer and less irritable on a daily basis, and overall more present in the small moments of life that I had previously been too stuck in my head to notice.
But over the past two years, my meditation practice has become almost nonexistent. I got tired of listening to the same guided meditations on YouTube every day and slowly fell out of the habit. I’ve recently wanted to get back into the habit to reclaim some of the benefits I mentioned earlier. So I decided to see whether two popular meditation apps, Calm or Headspace, could help me learn to enjoy meditation again.
The Benefits of Guided Meditation
Whether you’re a complete meditation newbie or a seasoned pro who’s looking to change up your practice, guided meditations are a great tool. The audio recordings give you something to focus on and help bring your mind back to the present moment when it wanders (which it inevitably will). Plus, they make the idea of meditating feel way less daunting. Instead of having to sit in silence, alone with your thoughts for 10 or 20 minutes, you can simply focus on what the meditation instructor is saying. It also helps the time pass a lot quicker, in my opinion.
There are a whole host of health benefits that can come from listening to guided meditations, too. Having regular meditation or mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce stress and improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain (1). It can also improve your attention span (2), and help you sleep better (3) and studies suggest it may even have the potential to help fight addiction (4).
Calm vs. Headspace: Which Is Better?
Despite both being meditation apps, Calm and Headspace are very different.
With a relaxing, blue-toned nature theme, Calm offers hundreds of meditations that you can sort by category, as well as sleep stories, soundscapes, guided movement practices, and wisdom from experts. If you’re someone who gets easily bored, Calm’s seemingly endless list of features is sure to keep you coming back to the app.
Headspace, on the other hand, features a minimal, bright design and offers meditations grouped by time, circumstances such as feeling stressed or processing tragedy, and skills such as breathwork or being mindful in nature. Its content seems best for beginners and those who want to really hone in on mindfulness skills without distracting extras.
Calm App Review
- Asks questions about your needs and preferences for a tailored experience
- Huge library of meditations to choose from
- Many different guides, including experts like Tara Brach
- Tons of extra content like sleep stories, movement classes, and music playlists
- Slightly difficult to navigate
- No option to sort guided meditations by length
- Free trial automatically opts you into an annual membership after 7 days
The biggest advantage of using Calm is its many features. When you first sign up, it asks you what your main goal in using the app is, as well as how much you’ve meditated before and what types of content you’re looking for. From there, it curates your homepage with a “recommended for you” section. I chose a focus on stress and anxiety, so a lot of the content it suggested for me was centered around those.
Head to Calm’s “Discover” page, and you’ll find a full library of its offerings grouped into categories like meditations, sleep stories, wisdom from experts, guided movement classes, and breathwork (among others). For me, all the options felt a bit overwhelming, but if you’re someone who’s still exploring what helps you relax or you prefer to mix up your routine regularly, you’ll appreciate the variety that Calm has to offer. Other helpful features of the app include its optional mindfulness and bedtime reminder notifications, and its various check-ins for mood, gratitude, and sleep make it easy to track your mental wellness over time.
Calm costs $14.99 per month or $69.99 per year. It’s more expensive than Headspace at the monthly rate but costs the same if you opt for the annual plan. The major downside to Calm’s cost is that when you sign up for the seven-day free trial, you’re forced to agree to be automatically billed for the annual plan unless you cancel. Once you get into the app, you can change that to monthly billing, but it could be easy to forget and wind up with a $69.99 charge before you’re even sure if you truly like the app.
Headspace App Review
- Easy to navigate
- Ability to adjust meditation lengths based on your preferences
- Teaches you specific meditation techniques like body scanning, visualization, and loving-kindness
- Meditations can get redundant
- Most content is geared toward beginners
- Not very personalized
Despite its clean, minimalist design, Headspace actually has a fair amount of features. The app is designed to help with four things: reducing stress, improving relaxation, increasing focus, and promoting better sleep. Its content is broken into four categories—Meditate, Sleep, Move, and Focus—to help you achieve each of those goals. When you join, it asks which of those areas you’d like to focus on, then makes some recommendations on how you can get started. In this aspect, Calm is superior because it also asks about your meditation experience and what kind of content you’d like to see. Headspace didn’t do that, so I was recommended a basics course despite the fact that I’m very familiar with the fundamentals of meditation.
What I liked most about Headspace is that it’s very easy to find the content you’re looking for. For example, if I only have time for five-minute meditation, I can scroll to the “Quick Meditations” section and pick from a variety of options that are between three and 10 minutes long. The app also tracks how many minutes you’ve meditated so far and how many sessions you’ve completed, which motivated me to keep it up.
Headspace costs $12.99 per month or $69.99 per year, so it’s a slightly more affordable option than Calm if you’re signing up for the monthly plan. When you start the seven-day free trial, you’re required to sign up for the monthly plan—so just remember to cancel if you decide not to keep using it and don’t want to be charged.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, both apps are worthy options if you’re looking to get into meditation (or just deepen your existing practice). Personally, I preferred Headspace due to its simplicity and ease of use, but Calm is also a great option if you’re someone who wants a wider variety of mindfulness content at your fingertips.
Norris, Catherine J et al. (2018). “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism.”
Garland, Eric L, et al. (2018). “Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research.”