App review: Calm leads to relaxation

06/16/2014 12:00 AM

06/14/2014 10:11 AM

Have you ever fallen into bed exhausted after a long day, only to lie awake with your mind racing? After one such night, I went searching for an app that could help quiet my mind and found Calm.

At first, despite my agitation, I was a bit resistant. I’ve always found “meditation” to be sort of a scary word. I picture a yogi contorted into lotus position, sitting perfectly still for hours on end, thinking … what? What are you supposed to think about when you meditate?

Calm seeks to assuage the fears of folks who are new to meditation. Through seven introductory lessons and seven timed, guided meditation programs, you learn to focus your mind on your breath and your body, and let all those distracting outside thoughts float away.

Here’s how it works: From the main screen, you can choose a nature scene and accompanying background sound (I chose an alpine lake with the sounds of birds chirping and water gurgling). Then listen to “The Seven Steps of Calm,” the app’s introductory program, which addresses such issues as posture, attitude and breathing. A soothing female voice acknowledges the things people worry about when meditating: that they’re not doing it right, that they’re wasting time, that they can’t keep their mind from wandering (“It’s totally normal to be thinking. It’s what the mind does, after all.”). The program likens the mind to a muscle; the more you practice meditating, the better you'll get.

Once you’ve graduated from the introductory program, you can choose a timed, guided meditation program, ranging from two minutes to 30 minutes. You can also meditate without guidance from the main window of the app, with just the background noises. (To get an idea of what to expect, you can try out some of these features at Calm.com before downloading the app.)

The words you hear during the guided sessions are by Maggie Richards, a London-based meditation teacher and spiritual counselor. In addition to her general “Calm” sessions, the app also offers “premium” subscription-based lessons on subjects including anxiety, confidence, creativity, focus, motivation and – perfect for anyone who has ever lain awake in bed thinking about work or kids or taxes or whatever – sleep.

Though, judging from my tests of the basic version, a premium sleep meditation lesson might be unnecessary. On the third or fourth lesson, I was out before the session even ended.

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