How does Calm work?
Calm is a top-rated meditation app. Its meditation sessions focus on mindfulness, which involves acknowledging and sitting with the thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing at a given moment.
The app uses Vipassana and Loving Kindness techniques, but all of its sessions are nonreligious and universal. If you’re completely new to meditation, the app recommends starting with the “How to Meditate” course by Jeff Warren.
Meditation aside, Calm also features sleep stories, breathing exercises and ambient music.
Key features of Calm
The app has the following features:
- Free intro course. The “7 Days of Calm” course is part of the free version, and guides users through the basics of mindfulness meditation. You can then progress to “21 Days of Calm” and the full catalog of features with a paid subscription.
- Guided and unguided meditations. The app has a mix of meditations, all of which last three to 30 minutes. Most sessions are guided, and walk users through body scans and breathing exercises.
- Themed meditations. The library includes meditations for specific purposes. For example, “Daily Calm” offers 10-minute meditations to ease into or unwind from the day, while “Emergency Calm” helps users feeling overwhelmed, panicked or stressed. It also has tutorials on teaching your mind to focus, including a series by NBA star LeBron James.
- Sleep stories. Designed to help users fall asleep, these “bedtime stories” are narrated by familiar voices, like actors Matthew McConaughey and Lucy Liu. The library has a range of fiction and non-fiction stories.
- Masterclass section. The app features meditation sessions led by world-renowned mindfulness experts, like Shinzen Young, Elisha Goldstein and Malika Chopra.
- Calm body. This section features moving meditations and stretching videos to help you strengthen the connection between your mind and body.
- Calm kids. Calm has content for kids, teenagers and college students, including a Winnie the Pooh series and study break meditations.
- Nature scenes and sounds. Calm has over 25 nature scenes and sounds to help you focus, relax or sleep. Think pouring rain, rolling waves and crackling firewood.
- Customizable homepage. You can choose background music and your favorite meditations, set mindfulness reminders and view your session history on the homepage.
Is Calm effective?
Calm enlists academic researchers and clinicians to ensure the app is scientifically sound and effective. The group is led by Jennifer Huberty, PhD, an associate professor at Arizona State University in the College of Health Solutions, Exercise and Wellness.
There are a few published studies on the effect of Calm. These are the key findings:
- Cancer patients averaged 71 minutes per week on the app and saw a small improvement in their anxiety, fatigue, sleep and physical health, according to a 2019 study.
- After using Calm for eight weeks, college students experienced less stress and more self-compassion, according to another 2019 study.
How can I use Calm?
You can download Calm on Apple and Android devices — it works best on a smartphone or tablet.
Pros and cons of Calm
- Master class section with guest instructors. Taught by experts in the field, these guided meditations explain the psychology behind mindfulness, happiness, gratitude and habit development.
- Music and sleep library. Meditations aside, Calm is known for its comprehensive selection of ambient music, nature sounds and 30-minute sleep stories.
- Flexible timer. You can increase Calm’s meditation timer in one-minute increments — when most competitors only offer five- or ten-minute timers.
- Family-friendly. The Calm Kids content caters to young children as well as teenagers and college students.
- Motivational features. Daily quotes, mindfulness reminders and session trackers are there to inspire users to meditate more.
- Auto-renews to an annual subscription. Calm will automatically charge you for an annual subscription after your free trial — switching to a monthly plan requires an extra step.
- It’s expensive. At $69.99 a year, Calm is one of the pricier meditation apps on the market. And its free features are limited.
- Lack of courses. Calm has fewer beginner courses and overall programs than its competitors.
- Complaints about the narrator. Many users say the main narrator, Tamara Levitt, talks too much during guided meditations.
Compare mental health apps
How much does Calm cost?
The app is free to download, and its free features include a beginner course and a selection of sleep stories and nature sounds.
To unlock all of Calm’s features, you’ll need to purchase a premium plan — which you can trial for seven days beforehand. After that, you’ll pay $12.99 a month, $59.99 a year or $299.99 for a lifetime subscription.
Some employers offer a Calm subscription as part of their healthcare benefits, and subsidize the cost.
Does Calm offer any discounts?
No. But the app partners with a few US companies to offer complimentary subscriptions to Calm Premium:
- Lincoln. If you own or lease a model-year 2000 or newer Lincoln vehicle, you can access a free, one-year membership via the Lincoln Way app. Commercial vehicles aren’t eligible for this offer.
- American Express. Any cardholders who don’t already have an active, auto-renewing Calm subscription can access a one-year membership. If you’re interested, subscribe by December 31, 2020.
- Kaiser Permanente. Most members can sign up to Calm through their Kaiser Permanente account. This offer isn’t available to Washington residents.
Did Calm make any changes in response to COVID-19?
The company launched a free resource section on its site to support mental and emotional health. Healthcare professionals can also refer to Calm Health, which offers features like a mental fitness training guide and mindful living calendars at no cost.
Available in English, Spanish, German, French, Korean and Portugese, it includes meditations, sleep stories, stretching video and journal printouts. These tailored resources aren’t available on the app.
Mental health resources and hotlines you can call during COVID-19
Calm reviews and complaints
Calm isn’t accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) yet, but it has an A+ rating for its customer engagement. While there are no reviews on the site, the BBB has recorded 13 complaints in the past three years — all of which were promptly addressed by the company.
Most of the complaints had to do with Calm’s billing practices, with customers saying they were automatically charged for an annual subscription after their one-week free trial. They said they didn’t receive a notification when their trial was about to expire, and struggled to get in touch with Calm’s support team. Other users said they had issues canceling their subscriptions on the Apple App store.
The sentiment is similar on TrustPilot, where customers give Calm 1.5 out of 5 stars. Unhappy users commented on the lack of customer service, and said the app frequently crashes. Positive reviews honed in on thoughtful meditations and the large library of sleep stories.
How to sign up for Calm
The most seamless way to sign up is on your phone or tablet.
- Go to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
- Download Calm.
- Create an account to activate your seven-day free trial.
- To customize the content on your homepage, select the goals that matter most to you: developing gratitude, sleeping better, reducing stress or anxiety, or boosting your happiness, focus or self-esteem.
- Explore the app’s features, starting with the meditation section — Calm’s recommendation.
- When the trial is over, you can continue using the app’s free features or upgrade to the paid version. If you don’t want to purchase a subscription, be sure to cancel your trial before the week is up to avoid being charged.
When does my subscription renew?
Your subscription will automatically renew once a month or year.
An annual subscription is the default plan. If you want a monthly subscription, you’ll need to physically change that in the app by going to More > Settings > Manage Subscription.
Frequently asked questions about Calm