Is the meditation app worth the hype?

Headspace meditation app possesses has been around since 2010 and is used by over 30 million people worldwide. That’s a lot of people listening to guided meditations and exercises designed to boost relaxation and mindfulness. It is also one of the top ranked health and fitness apps on iTunes and Google Play Store. But is it really worth all the hype?

Obviously, the app is intriguing enough to garner millions of downloads, but I wanted to test its real usefulness. I am someone who loves idea to meditate but never takes the time. I have tried meditating in the past and found that I got easily distracted.

As Dr. Suzanna Wong, health expert and co-founder of the Twin Waves Wellness Center, tells me, it’s common to feel that way about meditation. A lot of people get frustrated, can’t focus, or just don’t know where to start, so it’s great that Headspace addresses this issue from the get-go. Log into the app and you’re instantly faced with a 10-part foundation course that repeats, over and over, just how great it is for the mind to wander during meditation. “It’s not about getting rid of thoughts,” a clean graphic assures me. “It’s about learning to be comfortable with them.”

Although there are other meditation apps, like Calm and Breethe, Wong recommends Headspace, especially to those new to meditation. “For me, it really helped in my own practice, allowing me to relax more,” she says. “There are other apps available, but for me, Headspace is the easiest and most user-friendly. You almost don’t feel like you’re meditating at all.

The benefits of guided meditation

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Learning to notice your thoughts as they arise, and also being willing to let them go, is one of the main tenets of Headspace. The app aims to help you stress less, concentrate more, and even sleep better.

While there are many ways to meditate, guided meditation in particular walks you through the process so your talkative, easily distracted brain isn’t left to fend for itself. “It works by focusing your mind on one thing, whether it’s breathing, visualizing, or calming your emotions,” she explains, which is why meditation has the potential to relieve anxiety and also help you cope with difficult emotions.

If you’re like me and feel like you “can’t meditate,” a guided meditation might be worth a try.

Get started with Headspace

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I downloaded Headspace and tried the 7-day free trial, which gives you access to everything the app has to offer. One of the first things I tried was the 10-day Basics series, where a teacher walks you through a kind of Meditation 101-style class. (I did a few classes a day, due to the time constraint of 7 days). You can go with Eve Lewis Prieto, a mindfulness teacher; Dora Kamau, meditation teacher; Kessonga Giscombe, meditation teacher; or Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk and co-founder of the app. I chose Andy, the OG.

My first Basics session was an airy four-minute introduction to meditation. Andy asked me to relax in a chair, listen to my breathing and appreciate how nice it is to take a moment to relax. Immediately, my inner voice began to ring out. “Yeah yeah, that all sounds good,” he said to me, “but what about that thing you have to do later, or that crazy thing that happened ago 10 years old? thatAs if he knew, Andy’s voice chimed in, reminding me to focus on my breathing.

And that’s how the 10-part series went. Even though the classes were only a few minutes long and super simple, I felt like I learned a lot. The example Andy gave in Session 3 was particularly helpful. He described the thoughts as cars passing on a highway. “Rather than trying to stop the thoughts, we’re going to allow the thoughts to come and go,” he said. Sometimes there are a lot of cars, sometimes there aren’t that many. Once you notice yourself being distracted by this highway of thought, that’s when you “bring your focus back to the breath.” Basically, meditation in a nutshell.

What It’s Like to Do a Headspace Meditation

With my newfound knowledge, I dove into the Meditations tab where I found options like daily meditations, guided breathing, meditations for tough times, and even live group meditation. I clicked on “Courses and Singles” and went with an 8 minute audio titled “Managing Anxious Moments” by Kessonga.

The meditations all start the same way. You’re supposed to sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, take a few deep breaths, rest your hands on your lap or knees, and let your eyes gaze gently at nothing or close completely. After taking the basic courses, I felt myself falling into this groove. Just by sitting down, my mind knew it was time to unwind – if only for a few minutes – which quickly became my favorite way to start or end the day.

I listened to “Managing Anxious Moments” on a particularly stressful evening and listened to Kessonga talk about stress versus anxiety, before starting a meditation to focus on tension in the body. He asked me to start with my feet, then my legs, lower back, upper back, arms, throat and face, imagining the stress melting away from each part. Then Kessonga wished me a good end of the day and, opening my eyes, I noticed that I felt much better.

What else does Headspace offer?

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Beyond guided meditations, Headspace also offers monthly recordings where you can record how you’re feeling and write notes for yourself. There are Sleepcasts, that is, stories told to help you fall asleep. And also Daily Mindfulness Moments, which you can set to appear on your home screen. Today mine said, “We don’t need to change our minds, we just need to be comfortable with this.” When we do, we find that all the things we wanted are already there.

There’s a lot to explore in the Today and Meditation tabs, but you can also check out the Sleep tab, Move tab, or Focus tab. On Sleep you will find Sleepcast videos, relaxations, sleep music and 8 hour sleep radio. Move offers morning warm-ups, wellness yoga, mindful cardio workout videos, and meditations for rest days. On Focus, you’ll find quick focus resets, focus music, and soundscapes to listen to while you work or study. My favorite? One-minute breathing exercises that ask you to take five deep breaths with a cute animation.

Oh, you can also view your stats to see your total meditation time, set goals, and connect with friends. As of this writing, I’ve logged over 40 minutes and completed 12 sessions. And yes, I really feel like I got it! So much so that I plan to continue my streak.

So, is Headspace worth the hype?

My short answer is “yes”. Headspace’s guided meditations make it easy for beginners to slip into the fresh waters of mindfulness. The app is free to download and you get a 7 or 14 day free trial before being asked to pay $12.99 per month, or $69.99 per year, to access all of its features.

If you don’t want to pay, you can check out their YouTube channel or listen to Radio Headspace. But I would say if you really want to get into meditation, the subscription is worth it.

Referenced studies:

Rusch, HL. 2018. The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ann NY Acad Sci. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13996.

Turakitwanakan, W. 2013. Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol in medical students. J Med Assoc Thai. Supplement 1: S90-5. PMID: 23724462.

Wu, R. 2019. Brief mindfulness meditation improves emotional processing. Frontiers in neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.01074.

Expert:

Dr. Suzanna Wong, health expert and co-founder of Twin Waves Wellness Center

About Shirley A. Tamayo

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