Mindful Meditation with Headspace – Is It Worth the Price?

There’s an interesting TED video by Andy Puddicombe on mindful meditation. It’s related to the Headspace app. Before talking about the app, just who is this bald juggler and meditation guru?

Andy’s Bio (from Wikipedia)

He attended Wellsway Comprehensive School in Keynsham and, later, De Montfort University, Bedford, where he studied Sports Science. More recent academic studies include a Foundation Degree in Circus Arts, awarded by the University of Kent, curated by the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama at the National Centre for Circus Arts in London.

Over the course of ten years, his meditation training as a lay person and novice monk took him to Nepal, India, Burma, Thailand, Australia, and Russia; culminating in full ordination at a Tibetan monastery in the Himalayas. Having completed a one-year cloistered retreat in Scotland, he returned to Russia, as a monk, where he taught meditation.

He lived in Russia for over four years, before reaching the end of his monastic commitment. In 2004 Puddicombe returned to the UK with the simple mission of making meditation and mindfulness accessible, relevant and beneficial to as many people as possible.

Should Meditation be One of Your Habits?

Before I discuss the Headspace app, let’s review the alleged benefits of meditation, specifically stress management and creativity enhancement.

Creativity Enhancement

Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands looked at the way two types of meditation.

Focused Attention (for example, focusing on your breath)

Open Monitoring (where participants focus on the both the internal and external)

How do these two practices affect creativity, particularly convergent vs divergent problem-solving

Convergent creativity is a “process of generating one possible solution to a particular problem.” Divergent creativity is a “process allowing many new ideas to be generated where more than one solution is correct.”

In a study published in April 2012 in Frontiers in Cognition, they revealed that the participants who practiced focused-attention meditation did not show improved results in the two creativity tasks. However, those who practiced open-monitoring meditation did perform better at tasks related to coming up with new ideas.”

So, there is some evidence indicating meditation can improve some modes of creativity.

Stress Management

This is probably the most commonly claimed benefit. But, can it be measured. It’s not as if the doctor can attach a device to your stress level is 7.4 on a 10 point scale.

Most anxiety and stresses measures are subjective and self-reported. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t have validity.

If you search on a term like meditation stress reduction research you’ll get over 2 million results. Here’s an article that is a very short overview of the results of research on meditation.

Bottom line, it works.

Some people claim that meditation not only affects moods. Other research suggests it actually affects the physiology of your brain.

I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising. The brain is the locus of our thoughts, moods, stress, and anxiety. Doesn’t it make sense that a process that significantly reduces our stress would have a complimentary change reflected in our brain’s structure?

What about Headspace the App

Why do I need an app, wouldn’t it be easier to just do the meditation?  Not for me.

I’ve always heard meditation was a habit for happiness.  I’ve tried to develop a meditation habit for years and failed. Not enough self-discipline I suppose. I needed some self-discipline tips to develop self-discipline.

Maybe I didn’t stick with meditation long enough for it to become a true habit. Maybe there wasn’t enough obvious immediate benefit.  Who knows.  Would an app help?  Not worth over-analyzing, just try it.

The Headspace app has 10 free sessions, each lasting about 10 minutes.  If you desire more, there is a paid membership for 1 month ($12.95), 12 months ($95.88) or lifetime ($419.95).  I decided to go for the 1-month deal and if it still seems beneficial after the extra month, consider the annual subscription.

The 10 free sessions are intended to be used one-per-day.  There are a few well-crafted animations to illustrate meditation concepts, and each session has Andy’s voice as a guide through the 10-minute session.

My Experience

A 10-minute session was easy to work into the day.  If they were 30 minutes, I would have probably found an excuse. After the 10th, I was ready for more.  I suppose I could repeat the original 10 indefinitely, but purchasing a license for the additional sessions also held the promise of more advanced techniques (new animations) and more.  l’ll never know if I don’t subscribe.

During the 10 sessions, I discovered a few things.  First, I seem to manifest tension in my forehead.  Whenever I did a body scan, I discovered my forehead tight as a drum.

I also seemed to experience three phases of mental state.  I’ll call them A, B and C.  The first phase (A), was a calm state of mind, similar to just sitting and relaxing for a few minutes.   The second phase (B) was like a mild high, very pleasant.  The third state (C), was a much deeper high, almost intoxicating, with the temptation just to stay in that mode and not come out.  The third stage didn’t occur very often.

When I search this topic, I find references to traditions of 5 stages and 9 stages.  In some scientific studies, they have mapped the meditation states to brain wave frequencies, Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta, (4 stages).  For example, Beta is a frequency between 15 – 40HZ.

So my three stages don’t align with anything it seems.  Or, perhaps I’ve just experienced the first 3 of the 5 (or 9).   I’m not sure if the 5 stages in some traditions can be mapped to the 9 stages in others.

Further research seems counter intuitive. I want to be a practitioner not an academic. (I want to know the time of day – not how to build a watch from scratch.)

But I do know this, Headspace falls primarily in the Mindfulness camp.  The de facto expert on this technique is Jon-Kabat-Zinn, and his definition of Mindfulness is “moment to moment nonjudgmental awareness”.  If you’re wondering what the heck is that supposed to mean, check-out one of his books or videos.  Here is a short one. MBSR.

Postscript

This is an update to a post I wrote about 18 months ago. The number of competitors in this market has grown. I’ve tried a few of them in their freemium model. Some I like more than others. For me, a lot depends on my preferences in the voice of the guide.

Once you get in the habit of a particular style you like, the mere sound of the voice starting the meditation is a powerful trigger. It requires much less self-discipline.

It’s difficult to judge if I’m handling stress better after using Headspace. I think so, but who knows. More creative . . . who knows.

This might be like a multivitamin, you can’t really tell the difference as you’re taking them, but you know it’s good for you in the long run.

One thing I’m fairly certain about, I think the practice of meditation has improved my willpower. This is often touted as one of the benefits, even though I didn’t identify it originally. Many practitioners say it’s like exercise, a workout for the mind, you’re strengthening the mind like a muscle.

That must be true, because I find it much easier to make conscious decisions to do tasks I have previously avoided. My resistance can no longer resist the increased muscle strength of the mind. yes, I know it sounds a little like New Age BS.

If meditation becomes part of your daily ritual, it’s effortless. I set my sessions for 10 minutes but often extend them a little longer.

If you’re looking for a book on meditation, there are hundreds (more like thousands).  I enjoyed Search Inside Yourself.

If you’re looking for a free source of guided meditations, a search will result in lots of options. You can get a library of meditations here from my friend Patrick Buggy.

If you’re interested establishing a daily habit routine that includes meditation, you’ll find it here. Free 14-day challenge.

If you want to know more about my journey, you’ll find it here.

Is Headspace worth the price. Yes – if it doesn’t strain your budget.

It’s a professional quality app with guided meditation in a variety of topic areas.

It increases my mindfulness and willpower. It’s a daily habit no-brainer.