I never thought I was the kind of person who could embrace meditation. Most of my life, I’ve been EXTREMELY type A; uptight, impatient, ambitious and goal-driven but very self-critical, easily irritated, control freak… the works. I truly didn’t think I had the patience to practice daily mindfulness because slowing down and relaxing have really never been my strong suit.
I began meditating regularly a few years ago when my personal life hit peak crisis mode. In the span of about six months in 2015, my grandma passed away, a person I’m close to was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a few other things that put me into a downward spiral of anxiety and depression. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed and I had constant anxiety chest pains. I was just going through the motions of life to survive, but I felt constantly sick with that weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t sleeping well, some nights suffering from terrible insomnia due to an overactive mind, and I was barely hungry. I could hardly focus on completing daily tasks.
A friend who also deals with anxiety issues recommended I try the Calm app about a month before I went home to take care of my mom during and post-surgery. I downloaded the app on my phone and decided to give it a try because at that point, I thought, what the hell; there was no way to go but up.
The Calm app saved me. And I don’t say that lightly; something in me clicked for the first time ever. At 32, I learned how to quiet my overactive mind, and both physically and mentally relax.
I was taking medication for anxiety at the time and I didn’t want to rely only on a pharmaceutical to avoid constant panic attacks. With that said, I feel it’s important to put it out there that there’s nothing wrong with taking medication supervised by a doctor. I have been on an antidepressant since my mom’s diagnosis and have found it to be a critical part of my process to feel mentally well. I am not ashamed; I have a chemical imbalance that made it difficult for me to recover from experiencing so much emotional trauma in a short period of time. Taking medication to help solve that issue is what was right for me. Every person is different, so you have to do what’s right for you. And if you decide to take medication, you don’t have to take it forever.
There are a few keys I’ve found to getting the most out of meditating with the Calm app:
- Making it a regular, daily habit. Even if it’s only two minutes per day. Consistency is important.
- Don’t think about it as meditation if that word freaks you out or has some kind of stigma attached in your own mind. Think of it as your daily quiet time that you dedicate to self-care.
How to use the Calm app
Where to start
The phone app is available for both iPhone (iOS) and Android. You can also go to calm.com on your browser. The apps are free and some of the content is free. The annual subscription unlocks a lot of additional content. When I first started using the app, I used the free version for a few weeks before I decided to pay for the annual subscription. I love it and have no regrets, but I suggest you try it out to decide if it’s right for you before you pay for it.
The annual subscription is the best value if you’re going to subscribe
You can find the full list of meditations available in the free version versus the subscription at calm.com/subscribe. I get NOTHING out of sharing this with you. I have found it to be an incredible tool for my health, and I want others to be able to benefit from it as well. No kickbacks here. But I’ve recommended the Calm app to so many people, some of my friends jokingly call me the Calm app ambassador.
The yearly subscription rate of $59.99 (as of March 2017), billed once per year, makes it the best choice when you break down the cost per month.
I have tried a bunch of other popular meditation apps and in my opinion, Calm has the best content and value for the price. The yearly subscription fee is cheaper than Headspace by about $36 the last time I checked within the last month. I would only recommend the month-to-month price for Calm if you want to try out the full offering for one month before deciding to pay for an entire year. It’s not cheap if you do the month-to-month for multiple months (about 4.5 months of the month-to-month option is the same price as the yearly option, so if you like it after one month, you should upgrade to the yearly right away).
Not considering the cost as a deciding factor, the other reason I prefer the Calm app over all the others I’ve tried is that it doesn’t encourage you to “level up,” so to speak. Meditation should be a daily practice but not a competition—with yourself or anyone else. I don’t feel that the apps that make you buy different packages or track your use of the app like a rat race are conducive to actually being calm at all.
The Calm app has a very large variety of guided, semi-guided and unguided options at varying time lengths so there’s something for every person to find useful. If you have a short attention span, you can choose to do 2 and 3 or 5-minute sessions. If you have a longer attention span, there are sessions that last 25 minutes or more.
Choose a background sound
What you choose really depends on the sounds that are pleasing to your ear but not distracting to your mind. On the main screen in the app, the top righthand corner has a little speaker or volume icon. Click that to access the menu of sounds. Once you find one you like, hit the arrow button on the right side to download that sound.
You don’t have to stick with one single background sound. In fact, I use different sounds for different kinds of meditation.
Some of my favorites include:
- the crackling fireplace for bedtime meditation
- “wind in the pines” (which sounds like wind blowing through pine trees while it’s snowing) or “rain on leaves” during my commute
- “thunderstorm” for my morning quiet time
- “into the horizon” on my commute home or when I do open-ended, unguided sessions to help me concentrate at work
- There are also several options of ocean noises that are very relaxing for falling asleep or relaxing in a bubble bath
Once you adjust to using certain sounds for particular kinds of meditations or times of the day, your body and mind will recognize it immediately. For example, when I hear the fireplace sound, I automatically relax and start to get sleepy since it’s the one I use most often at bedtime.
My favorite meditations
Without fail, every single morning I listen to a Loving Kindness meditation for 15 or 20 minutes. At bedtime, I often use the 10 minute Sleep meditation, which is a guided visualization that I like to fall asleep to. Deep Sleep is one I use often in the evening, and is a body scan meditation. Deep Sleep Release is great for passive muscle relaxation at bedtime too. All these meditations are narrated by Tamara Levitt.
I also really enjoy most of the daily calm meditations, which are different each day of the week.
Tips for using the Calm app for sleep
In addition to the guided visualization Sleep meditation and body scans for sleep mentioned above, the Sleep Stories are longer and like listening to a bedtime story. My two favorites are nature essays (Rocky Mountain National Park and Snow Storm on Mount Shasta) written by John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist, and narrated by Vegas Jenkins.
Tips for practicing daily mindfulness
When you start off, you might be distracted easily and that’s OK. If you’ve never done any meditation at all before, there’s an icon in the lower left corner of your home screen within the app that says “breathe.” If you tap it, a guide will appear on the screen along with sounds that signal to breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold—on repeat until you want to stop. This is an exercise to help you focus on your breath, and something you will do with all the guided meditations.
Then, move on to short meditations. Try doing at least 2-3 minutes every day for a week and increase your time from there if you can go longer.
The Daily Calm
If you’re a subscriber, once you are able to meditate easily for about 10 minutes, you’ll really enjoy the Daily Calm sessions. One of my personal favorites has been about perfectionism (and how to let go of it).
After each session, you get a mindfulness quote for the day like this:
And you can keep track of your progress (in a non-threatening, non-judgmental, non-level-up kind of way) with the calendar on your profile screen. It feels pretty rewarding when you reach a milestone like 100 days! I’m quickly approaching my 1,000 session mark. You can choose to set a reminder that pops up on your screen daily if you want to. I set mine for 10:15 p.m. because if I’m not already in bed when it comes on my screen, I know it’s time to stop whatever I’m doing and get into my routine.
Do you have more questions?
Let me know what else you want to know about using the Calm app in the comments. These are just the basics so I’m happy to delve into more specifics any time. Tweet me @maurahernandez for the quickest response to your questions if it’s urgent.