The prospect of finding the right headspace to deal with your problems is an enticing one.
Especially if it can be attained through an app on your phone.
Cofounded by Andy Puddicombe and Richard Pierson in 2010, Headspace originally started out as an events company before the app of the same name launched in 2012. Since then, it has become one of the most popular meditation apps on the market with over 1 million subscribed users worldwide.
Puddicombe, who serves as your guide within the app, is a former Buddhist Monk and has penned several books on the topic of meditation. Headspace also claims to have clinically validated research behind their product that sets them apart from other meditation apps.
So Puddicombe is clearly a meditation expert and the app is well-marketed. But is it worth paying a substantial annual subscription for?
As someone who is new to meditation but could definitely use a dose of mental serenity, I decided to find out.
Headspace App Overview
The free version of the app is extremely limited, with only access to the “Meditation Basics” practice which consists of ten 3-10 minute lessons. In order to really get a feel for what Headspace is about and unlock its core features, you need to pay a fee.
Like many subscriptions, there is a monthly plan available for those who would rather not commit to an annual payment. But if you have any intention of using the app for the long term, you will save more by going with the annual plan.
Once subscribed, you get full access to everything Headspace has to offer, which is quite a lot.
The paid app includes:
- Short “mini” meditations
- “Themed” meditation courses tailored to a specific focus
- Mindfulness practices for daily occurrences like walking, commuting, eating, etc.
- “Everyday Headspace” which are daily meditations sent to your phone
- Sleep meditations and “Sleepcasts”
- A selection of informational animations
- Mindfulness messages sent to your phone
The app has a clean, polished style and a user-friendly interface. There are so many lessons and features that it was a little overwhelming at first. I spent about twenty minutes just exploring the menus.
There’s a profile section with two tabs called “My Stats” and “My Journey” One tallies up how much time you’ve spent meditating with the app, and the other lists the lessons completed and milestones reached.
Although vaguely perturbed by the avatar that portrayed me as a sock puppet with lumpy green hair, I got started with my first lesson.
The app recommends you start with the “Basics” course of meditation, and encourages you to schedule a time every day for the app to ping you as a reminder to meditate.
Each lesson comes with three different session lengths ranging between 3-10 minutes. With such short sessions, the app provides no excuses to miss a session.
The lessons put special emphasis on building the habit of meditation rather than focusing too much on “getting it right”.
The Basics course was great for beginners like me, as it helped me understand the concepts behind meditation. For example, it’s not about stopping thoughts from happening, but about being aware of them and gaining a new perspective of them.
Puddicombe has a great voice for guided meditation. His directions are simple, clear and soothing to listen to. He explains techniques using helpful visualizations and analogies that make the concepts easier to understand.
For example, when noticing you’re distracted by thoughts, he suggests bringing your attention back to the breath gently “like a feather on glass” instead of beating them back like a Whack-a-Mole.
Three minutes of being alone with my thoughts seemed like a long time at first but I was surprised by how quickly it went. The ten-minute meditations ended up feeling a tad too long, and the five-minute sessions became my go-to.
Many of the lessons are preceded by cartoon videos which starring more sock-puppet looking people that illustrate various concepts in ways that make them easy to understand.
The Basics course is followed by two companion courses “Basics 2” and “Basics 3”. But by the end of lesson 10, I was ready to dig into some of the other app’s features.
I was impressed by how many meditation courses the app offers. There are courses for anxiety, grief, productivity, relationships, self-esteem, sleep, compassion, personal growth, and much more.
As someone who has a lot on the go and only so much time to do it in, I went straight to the productivity course. These sessions tended to be longer, between 10-20 minutes. (I noticed that none of the lessons from any course seemed to exceed 20 minutes, which might be seen as a drawback for some.)
The course focuses on the “noting technique” which is about being aware of and identifying distractions, then letting them go. Over time, this helps you realize when you’re being distracted and in turn helps you be more productive.
Each lesson generally starts with Puddicombe talking about what to expect in the session and a reminder not to get discouraged if your mind wanders.
Did the course help my productivity? It’s hard to say for sure. I still experience far too many instances when I suddenly realize I’ve been watching Bat Dad on YouTube for twenty minutes instead of working on a project.
But I can tell you that I did feel calmer and more focused whenever I finished a productivity meditation.
I expect it’s a practice I would need to continue in order to really reap the benefits from it. (Like so many other skills, right?)
Soundscapes are one of my favorite parts of the app and will be greatly appreciated by those who have a hard time turning their brain off at bedtime. These are different than the sleep courses which are guided meditations.
Soundscapes are more like white noise and visualization exercises.
There is a wide selection of locales to choose from, each featuring their own soothing sounds. There’s an old antique shop on a rainy day, a sunny beach, a cat-filled marina, and more.
You can use the soundscapes to serve as white noise by turning down the narration, or you can listen to the voice that soothingly describes your journey through the imaginary landscape.
The first one I tried was called “Compass Gardens” which promised to slow a racing mind. Sure enough, I did find myself drifting off to sleep after about twenty minutes.
For some reason, the Sleepcasts don’t show how long they are but appear to last between 45 minutes to an hour.
In addition to Sleepcasts, there is an assortment of “Sleep Sounds”. These are less white noise than ambient music, with soothing long-tones that help you drift off to sleep over the course of ten minutes to an hour.
Day-to-Day Exercises for Mindfulness
As someone who is big on exercise, I was excited to try the walking meditations. Of course, it’s currently -20 degrees outside where I live. Luckily there’s an exercise specifically for this circumstance called “Walking at Home.”
The exercise consisted of walking 10-20 steps in one direction and then turning around to walk back, slowing down a little each time until going at a snail’s pace.
I may not have made my step count goals that day, but it was an enjoyable way to practice mindfulness while stretching my legs.
The cooking exercise is another example of bringing mindfulness to everyday activity. This session prompted me to present with the act of cooking, making it more enjoyable and less of a chore.
The Verdict on Headspace
They don’t have meditations for everything you could use some fresh perspective on. I could definitely use a meditation lesson to prepare me for doing my taxes or when it’s time to bathe my cat.
But they seem to have just about everything else covered.
I’m still very much a novice at meditation, but I have a different view of meditation now and more clearly understand it’s concepts. I think this app is perfect for those who want to learn how to meditate but aren’t sure how to start or even what meditation is.
For beginners who are serious about starting a meditation practice, you can’t go too far wrong with Headspace.
- There’s a finely-tuned meditation practice for almost any specific focus you may have
- Meditation concepts are well explained through cartoons, analogies, and visualizations
- Being able to select shorter sessions make it easier to build a habit
- The free version is very limited
- No session seems to exceed 20 minutes, with the exception of the “Meditation Timers” section. This could be seen as a setback for those who are at a more advanced level.
Also, don’t forget to check out our review of the Calm meditation app!