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Meditation can be a simple path to feelings of calm, balance, and peace, among other benefits.

While meditation practices vary, there’s really no right or wrong way to meditate. The general idea is to practice mindfulness by finding awareness — something from which we can all benefit.

If you’re ready to get started, a meditation app can be a handy guide. But with so many options, how do you know which app is best for you?

To help you decide, we compared two popular meditation apps, Headspace and Calm, to see how they stack up.

With its fun, cheerful animations, Headspace is visually appealing and easy to navigate.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Optional push reminders can help you stay on track with your daily practice.
  • It includes meditations tailored just for kids ages 5–12.
  • It’s easy to navigate.
  • It offers quick meditations when you’re short on time.
  • The stats feature allows you to create meditation goals and track your progress.
  • You can search for a meditation by theme or length.

Cons

  • Since a lot of the content is geared toward beginners, it may not work as well for experienced users.
  • The free trial requires putting in your credit card information for auto-renewal.
  • The free content (without trial access) is limited.

Features

If you’re new to meditation, the 10-day Basics course is a great starting place. It’s designed to teach the essentials of meditation in just minutes a day.

As you build your practice, you can move to other meditations. When you log in as a Headspace Pro user, you’ll see a few suggested meditations on the home screen, based on the time of day. You can also save meditations to your favorites list.

Here’s what else you’ll find:

  • Themed meditations. Headspace offers hundreds of guided meditations that cover things like cravings, finding focus, dealing with regret and difficult conversations, and even creative writing. You can access these as single meditations or grouped courses.
  • SOS section. This section offers meditations to help you manage intense experiences. Choose a guided or unguided meditation based on how much time you have, or browse tips and techniques to deepen your practice.
  • Timed meditations. Choose a style — guided, semi-guided, or unguided — and a length of 5 to 120 minutes, and press “play.”
  • Group meditations. If you like group activities, you can choose to join a group meditation with other Headspace users at a specific time of day.
  • Techniques and support. These focus on intention, awareness, stress relief, and much more.
  • Sleep section. Browse Sleepcasts (everyday storytelling in a range of soothing voices), meditation and breathing techniques to wind down and prepare for sleep, or guided exercises if you find yourself waking up at night. Sleep music, soundscapes, and sleep radio — nonstop, 8-hour mixes of sleep audio — are also options.
  • Movement. You’ll find yoga classes, dance classes, guided audio for cardio sessions, and more in the “Move” section of the app.
  • Focus activities. Choose from a variety of focus and breathing exercises, as well as soundscapes to help you focus.

Cost

Headspace is free to download, with free trials and limited free features. If you want to upgrade to get full access, you can get Headspace Plus for $12.99 per month with a free 7-day trial, or get 14 days free with a $69.99 annual subscription. There are also student and family plans.

Customer reviews and brand reputation

Headspace has a 4.9-star average on the iOS App Store. Users love the wide variety of tools, saying that the app makes it easy to commit to a steady practice.

One common complaint is that it’s difficult to cancel the premium subscription once you sign up for the free trial. Some users also say the app is expensive, but the pricing is also in line with the other apps in this category.

How to get started

Headspace is free to download. All you have to do is head to the App Store, download the app, sign up with your personal information, and you’re ready to go. You can sign up for a free trial to experience everything the app has to offer, or you can explore the free, but extremely limited, version.

The free version gives you access to view the library across all of the content, but you can’t actually experience any of the meditations.

If you want to unlock the content and experience it yourself, you’ll have to sign up for the free trial, which will automatically convert to the premium subscription after 7 to 14 days, depending on whether you signed up for a monthly or yearly subscription.

The app has a beautiful interface with calming, inspiring landscape imagery, and you can customize your dashboard with a scene that speaks to you.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Optional push reminders help you stay on track with your daily practice.
  • It includes kid-friendly meditations for kids and teens ages 3–17.
  • It has a large collection of music with a sleep timer option.
  • Your profile includes basic stats and makes it easy to share these with friends.
  • The daily check-in feature allows you to track your mood and gratitude.

Cons

  • You can’t search or sort meditations by theme or length.
  • Higher monthly fee than Headspace (annual plan costs the same).
  • Some of the content may be too lengthy for users that want a quick daily practice.

Features

Calm makes it easy to create a daily practice and make it relevant to what you need on a given day. As you launch the app, you can choose from a few different options.

  • Daily Calm. These 10-minute guided meditations are related to different aspects of mindfulness, like anxiety, stress, and sleep, and serve as a great way to develop a regular practice.
  • Quick & Easy. This section offers a handful of short meditations, with options to calm anxiety or anger, heighten awareness, or deepen concentration.
  • Mental Fitness. This section offers different series on mindfulness. One option is led by basketball champion LeBron James. Another, called How to Meditate, is a simple 30-day program for beginning your practice.
  • Sleep Stories. These calming bedtime stories for adults feature some celeb narrators like Matthew McConaughey and Harry Styles. If you’d rather drift off to music, check out the Sleep Music feature.
  • Music. The music section of the app offers a selection of instrumental and lo-fi music. There are also Sleep Remixes, which offer calmer, lower-tempo versions of popular songs by artists like Katy Perry, Post Malone, and more.

Cost

Calm is free to download.

If you choose to sign up for a 7-day trial, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Calm Premium, which costs $69.99 a year or $14.99 a month. You can cancel up to 1 day before your trial ends to avoid being charged.

Calm also offers a lifetime membership for $399.99.

Customer reviews and brand reputation

The reviews for Calm are overwhelmingly positive. The app earned a 4.8-star average in the iOS App Store. Users praise the ease of use and love how often new content is added directly to the app.

One thing users aren’t happy with is the lack of variety in the free version of the app. Users also say that while you can listen to the first meditation in a series for free, the rest of the content requires a premium subscription to unlock, which can be frustrating.

How to get started

Calm is free to download. It’s available in the App Store on iOS and Android devices.

After downloading the app, you’ll be prompted to choose your primary reason for choosing Calm — managing stress or anxiety, improving sleep, learning to meditate, investing in personal growth, or something else.

Depending on which answer you choose, you’ll then be prompted to answer a series of short questions so the app can customize your experience. From there, you’ll be asked to create a free account that will give you access to your customized program.

After you agree, you’ll be taken to a page that prompts you to sign up for a free 7-day trial for the premium subscription, or you can exit and access limited free content that includes some meditations and calming sounds. At any time, you can sign up for the premium subscription by clicking on one of the locked pieces of content and going through the sign-up process.

CalmHeadspaceMeditopia
Services offeredguided meditations, sleep meditations, relaxation music, music to improve focus, video lessons on stretching and mindfulness movement, audio mindfulness classes, nature scenes and soundsguided meditations, sleep music, sleep stories, stress-relieving exercises, focus meditations and music, inspirational storiesguided meditations, sleep stories, personalized meditations, breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises
Pricing$14.99 per month, $69.99 per year, or $399.99 for a lifetime membershiplimited free features; $12.99 per month or $69.99 per yearlimited free features; $9.99 per month or $59.99 per year
Considerationsa good option for experienced meditators and those who need less structurebetter suited for beginners and those who need more structure in their practiceoffers a wide range of free meditation sessions
Free trial7 days7–14 days depending on whether you choose the monthly or yearly subscription7 days

Feeling calmer is a good thing, but the benefits of meditation go beyond state of mind.

In addition to developing greater awareness and focus, a regular meditation practice can improve mood, outlook, self-discipline, and sleep patterns. A 2011 study found that it could even boost pain tolerance.

A 2014 review of clinical trials also linked meditation to a reduction in stress and symptoms relating to stress-triggered medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.

A greater attention span is another benefit of meditation, and it’s one that develops quickly. In one study, participants showed increased attention span after just 4 days of practicing meditation.

Additionally, many people turn to meditation to improve the quality of their sleep. By helping you physically relax, meditation can release tension so it’s easier to both fall asleep and stay asleep longer.

Finally, mindfulness meditation may also help you build resilience. A 2021 study of people during the COVID-19 pandemic concluded that mindfulness and physical activity may help build resilience, allowing people to better cope with adversity.

Both apps have a lot of happy users. The Calm app on iOS has 1 million reviews with an overall rating of 4.8, while Headspace has close to 700,000 reviews and a rating of 4.9 stars.

And beyond this anecdotal evidence is scientific research to support the efficacy of both apps.

Headspace

Several published studies done by Headspace have found that the app is beneficial for mental, emotional, and social health.

A 2018 study found a 14 to 28 percent reduction in stress after 10 days of using Headspace, while an earlier study showed the app improved focus by 27 percent.

Calm

The Calm app has been the focus of a few studies as well. A 2019 study of college students found that regular use of the app reduced stress and boosted mindfulness.

A 2020 study on university students also found that using the Calm app increased well-being, even when used sporadically.

Additionally, a 2021 study of adults with sleep disturbance found that using the app for at least 10 minutes a day for 8 weeks decreased daytime fatigue and sleepiness, compared with a control group.

Calm and Headspace are both designed to help you live better by stressing less, sleeping more, and improving your general outlook on life.

Both apps help you learn the ins and outs of meditation, offer guided practices based on different themes, and feature tools designed to improve your sleep quality.

If you’re having a hard time choosing between the two, think about what your goals are, as well as where you are in your meditation practice.

You may want to choose Headspace if you:

  • are new to meditation
  • want more structure to your meditation practice
  • are short on time, or want access to quick meditations you can easily fit into your day
  • like moving around when you meditate

Choose Calm if you:

  • have some meditation experience under your belt
  • want access to lengthy sleep stories and music
  • like calm nature sounds
  • want less structure in your meditation practice

Which is better, Headspace or Calm?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to whether Headspace or Calm is better. It depends on what you’re looking for.

Headspace may be a better choice for beginners and people looking for an app that offers plenty of quick meditations for folks who are short on time.

Although it costs more, Calm may be a better fit for those with some meditation experience or advanced meditators, as it has less structure.

Do meditation apps really work?

Yes, meditation apps really work, but you get what you put in. Meditation apps give you access to tools, like guided meditations and sleep stories, that can help you reach your wellness goals. However, you have to commit to regular practice to reap the benefits.

What are the benefits of meditation?

There are many science-backed benefits of meditation. The practice has been shown to reduce stress, help manage anxiety, and promote emotional wellness.

Meditation can also have cognitive benefits, like increasing attention span and fighting off age-related memory loss. The practice has also been connected with better sleep. People report falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer after regularly practicing meditation.

Learning simple techniques to calm your body and mind has many benefits, and the right app makes it easy to build a daily meditation practice.

Calm and Headspace are two great apps with different paths to the same goal.