Topic / News

Meditation for Modern Living: App Review

Debbie Tilley reviews the Headspace app.

I take my flaxseed oil religiously, I stay stocked up with veggies and fresh fish, I leap outside at the smallest glimmer of sunshine, and I spurn public transport to walk whenever I can.

The difficulty of practising meditation

Sometimes I even go to the gym. But meditation has always been at the bottom of my OMS priority list. I’ve been to the odd class run by a monk at the local community centre, I’ve downloaded videos and never watched them and I’ve looked up courses on the internet to which I’ve never come close to going.

Meditation has alluded me as the thing, that as a full-time working, socialising thirty-something Londoner, I simply ‘don’t have time’ to do. So I was intrigued when I heard about Headspace. Cited as ‘meditation for modern living’, it’s founded by a couple of British guys – Andy Puddicombe and Richard Pierson.

But word is spreading and the glowing review from The New York Times that Andy ‘is doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver has done for food’ convinced me it was time to give it a go.

Headspace

Andy is the soothing voice of Headspace and a former Buddhist monk who has travelled the world. He’s returned to the UK with the aim of demystifying meditation and making it as accessible and relevant to as many people as possible. A free trial of ten minutes a day for ten days seems manageable.

I download the app to my smartphone and assess my upcoming diary commitments. A friend is visiting this weekend, I’m in charge of planning the team Christmas dinner next week and I’m waiting for confirmation that I’ll be moving house next weekend. I feel a mild panic starting to rise already just thinking about it. This should be a decent test…

Day 1: Thursday 28 November 8pm

I sit at home. Propped up on my bed. Which for starters is a bit wrong as Andy has precisely explained how to sit in a chair in order to meditate. Off to a bad start, but I figure any start is better than none. Andy asks me to close my eyes and take some deep breaths.

I can do that. But even as he asks me to scan down my body and think about how it feels, my mind wanders off to my potential new flat. Will we get it? Will we move before Christmas? Where will I go if we don’t?

Argh – stop. Andy knows this is likely to happen and asks us to gently bring our attention back to the meditation. Smart boy. After the meditation, I don’t feel particularly enlightened, I don’t feel awakened, but it was nice to just sit and have some time off from the giant ball of flat-moving neurosis in my head. Now, what do I need to do…

Day 2: Tuesday 3 December 4.50pm 

Oops. My university friend arrived on Friday afternoon, met me straight from work, left on Sunday afternoon and was promptly replaced by my boyfriend. Somehow it’s now Tuesday and I’ve done nothing but guiltily glance at my Headspace app for the last four days. Meditation and house guests do not mix.

Today, I’m in the depths of last minute prep for the team Christmas dinner and I have a meal and cinema straight after work. I decide it’s time to make this Headspace malarkey work for me.

Just before the end of my work day, I slink off to the ladies toilets in my office to get my ten minutes. In the cubicle, I immediately feel some respite from the hectic office bustle and begin my meditation. I’m even sitting upright this time.

I did, however, forget that everyone (everyone female that is) visits the toilets on their way out of work and Andy’s voice is intermittently drowned out by the blasts of the hand dryer. It was, though, nice to get away from my desk for ten minutes and I return feeling noticeably more relaxed.

Day 3: Friday 6 December 9am 

So the Christmas dinner happened: a morning of office chaos, followed by an afternoon of merriment, followed by an evening of drunkenness.

Followed by a day of recovery and confirmation that I’ll be moving flat in two days’ time. Zero meditation though. I have the day off work to pack up for the move. But right now I’m enjoying my lie-in. This feels like my first moment of peace and quiet all week.

My boyfriend is snoozing next to me and I decide to squeeze in a cheeky bit of Headspace. I scoot over to the far side of the bed, taking a generous helping of the covers with me.

The headphones are on and I’m lying down. I’ve vaguely aware of reading certain articles about not lying down to meditate and definitely not lying in bed, but I figure, as my mum would say, “owt is better than nowt” and hit play.

Andy asks me to focus on the sounds around me and right on cue, my beloved starts a peculiar heavy breathing rattle. But that’s ok.

Andy has taught me not to be disturbed by the sounds around me but to use them in my meditation. Not sure if this was what he had in mind.

My mind struggles to stay away from thoughts of packing boxes and booking removal vans but at the end, Andy says that a busy mind is still good. It’s all part of the process of unwinding. I’m reassured that I’m not a total flunkie. I feel ready to start the day.

Day 4: Friday 6 December 10am 

I’ve had an immensely productive day packing and I definitely attribute at least some of that to my morning piece of Headspace. Like a junkie in the making, I decide to try it again in the evening.

But this really will be a test as the only time I have is my commute over to my boyfriend’s flat. Armed with a bottle of rioja and feeling pretty chilled, I jump on the London underground, pop on my headphones and hit play. Fail. I need wi-fi. I had incorrectly assumed the sessions had all downloaded to my phone. Disproportionately disappointed, I put on some jazz instead. Not a bad second.

Day 4 (take 2): Saturday 7 December 10am 

Another lie-in and another chance to meditate. My boyfriend has shuffled over to his side of the bed and promised not to kick me. I get the impression he’s just grateful for ten more minutes of uninterrupted rest before I bombard him with ‘things we need to do/pack/organise today’.

Seems meditation is benefiting my relationships already. Today, Andy says it’s all about effort and finding the balance between trying too hard and simply falling asleep.

At the end, he mentions a forum to see how other meditators are doing. I look but can’t find it on the app. I do come across a stats section - 210 other people currently getting their dose of Headspace. Look at that! I also set myself up to get notifications that remind me to meditate and buzzers to remind me to ‘check in with myself’.

Day 5: Sunday 8 December (move day) 

Fail. Fail. Fail. But I did get some lovely Headspace reminders throughout the day: Meditation is about clarity. This means noticing, acknowledging, and learning about every aspect of yourself – even those aspects you may not like that much. And the move came off without a hitch.

Day 5: Monday 9 December 8.30am  

First morning in the new flat after an evening of celebration, pink prosecco and rum. Another day off and my mind is going overboard. Mail redirection, Argos, fridge delivery, unpacking. I start my meditation in bed again. I hear my boyfriend get up, hear him go to the bathroom, blow his nose, move boxes and lift bags presumably looking for a towel and shower gel. I focus on the sounds but resist the urge to help him. At the end of my meditation, I feel bright and ready to start the day. My boyfriend showers using hand wash and a tea towel.

Day 6: Tuesday 10 December 3pm 

It’s my first day back at work after the move. I try to redirect my mail online and fail. I try to arrange home insurance online and fail. I can feel myself starting to panic about the gazillions of things I need to do. And it’s Christmas in two weeks. How can it be Christmas in two weeks? At this point, I grab my phone and headphones and sprint to the ladies toilets. Andy gets me to focus on awareness of the smaller parts of the body – the nose, ears, fingers, toes. My mind still wanders, but it’s getting easier to bring myself back. I go back to my desk calmer and more centred.

In conclusion

Yes, I know I only managed to complete six sessions of the meditation sessions in thirteen days. But I’m feeling calmer and more aware of my own feelings. And when I do start to feel stressed, I know I can grab my phone and take ten minutes to get things back into perspective.

I’m converted. So much so, that I’ve just offered to cook Christmas dinner for six members of my family at my brother’s house.

But with Headspace by my side (or rather on my headphones), I’m confident it’ll be a breeze. I’d just better not forget to pack my phone charger. Of course, learning a new skill will take time; you can't be concert pianist after six practice sessions on the piano! But I'm on my way...

Go to www.getsomeheadspace.com to find out more about Andy and the Headspace team and try their TAKE10 programme for free.

meditation