The last thing any of my friends expected me to get into is meditation. I’m renowned for having an attention span of a mosquito and can hardly ever sit still – but this year, the idea and concept of mindfulness has been playing on my mind a lot. It was just two months ago that I travelled to Gili Air (an island off Bali) for a yoga and meditation retreat – this is where I got to hear about Headspace. This is also where I picked up meditation and have since incorporated it into my daily regime back here in Singapore.
I bet many people are wondering why the need for a meditation app when one can just meditate anytime, anywhere if they already know the basics. Well, unfortunately for me (and this I believe applies to many of you too), I don’t live on a remote island with the luxury of waking up to beautiful sunrises that are the perfect backdrop for meditations. Neither do I knock off work right on time to get a good meditation session in in the comforts of my own home. Truth is, we all lead hectic lifestyles and are smacked right in the middle of chaos and distractions #truestory. And this is why I love Headspace so much – it’s a guided workout for the mind, and all it takes is just 10 minutes a day to get into the habit of meditating. Simply put, Headspace is a gym membership for the mind.
There are many benefits of meditation and to be honest, it works for everyone in any situation as long as you let it. I find that with meditation I am calmer (God knows I need to be working in a high-stress environment) and therefore better at making sound decisions. With meditation, I’m also much more in tuned with myself and my emotions – I take stock of how I feel and don’t deny myself the negative feelings, but neither do I harp on them. That is the beauty of mindfulness – to be kinder to yourself and the rest of the world.
So back to Headspace – this app is co founded by Andy Puddicombe and Rich Pierson – both of which I had the honour of meeting early last week. The focus of this app is the health of the mind and the techniques are simple and clear, all you need is to put aside 10 minutes a day and before you know it, meditation might become your thing too.
Aside from adopting Headspace as my latest AFF (App Friend Forever), I was curious to find out more about Andy and as recommended by a fellow retreat-goer, started listening to his TED talks – which I find very inspiring. Here’s a 10-minute interview with Andy, I hope you too will find meaning with Headspace. After all, what’s there to lose?
“Headspace is a gym membership for the mind.”
– Andy Puddicombe
Team Wanderland: Can you talk us through the app and the idea behind it?
Andy Puddicombe: The idea came about really through the meeting of myself and Rich. I trained as a Buddhist monk and Rich used to work in marketing, advertising. He was really burnt out from his work and he came along to learn meditation and it had a really big impact on him. And he said that it was such a shame that I was seeing people only one at a time and what it would look like if we put it online and try to make it more available. So that was about six years ago, and we started looking at how do we do this. We started with events in London, and then slowly built digital content and eventually put it together in the form on an app and released it about three years ago.
TW: Why do you think the format of an app works?
AP: Well it was a surprise for me. As a former monk, I didn’t think that it would work. In fact, I didn’t even really know what the Internet was when I came out of the monastery. I was a little skeptical, but it does work and the feedback we get is that everybody lives their lives on their phone now. There’s no point in trying to get people to live their life somewhere else. This is where they are, they are on their phone. So we try to meet people where they are. And I think the nature of apps – everything is bite-sized, it’s very flexible and accessible. You don’t have to go out and find a temple somewhere to sit at; you don’t even have to find an hour to go home and sit down in your quiet room where you’re not going to be disturbed. You can do it on the subway on the way to work, you can do at the back of the taxi, you can do it in the office during your lunch break – I think it provides a degree of flexibility which people didn’t have before.
TW: Headspace is very different from the conventional idea of meditation…
AP: Completely different. What I love is the paradox – on the one hand, the phone is what causes us most of our stress now where we are taking our personal lives to work and taking home workloads home with us. And yet at the same time, the phone is not inherently a bad thing. The phone is just a piece of metal, you can’t say it’s good or it’s bad, and it’s the relationship we have with it – how we choose to use it. So what excites me is that it has the potential for an almost kind of good and I hope that Headspace is a demonstration of how the mobile phone can be used for good and doesn’t have to be a source of stress for us.
TW: So you wouldn’t say that combining digital with meditation is not changing the idea of what meditation is about?
AP: It’s not. I think all it changes is the delivery mechanism. The phone is simply a way of conveying the same message. For example, if people come along and do an event with Headspace, it’s still the same message – it’s just the phone allows people to have a great personal and much more flexible relationship with headspace.
TW: Can you explain more about the Headspace journey, which reminds us a bit of the Nike+ Training app.
AP: Yes! When Rich and I first got together, that was the initial brief of how do we create a Nike+ of meditation. Nike took something like running, which was quite a solidarity pursuit, where it was also sort of boring for people, and incentivised it for people, made it inspiring and brought people together as a community so it became a richer experience. That was a big influence on us, and we started to think can Headspace become a gym membership for the mind? Could it start to feel like a personal trainer in your pocket who can help you with your mind to feel less stressed or to sleep better. The journey has changed and evolved over time. When we launched it three years ago, it was based very much on my training. And the way I was trained was that you start here and then you do this, and do that and this. So we built it up over a year, and there’s 365 days, and the problem with that is that once you’re on the train it’s only going in one direction and you either come on that journey with us or you get off it. We then listened to user feedback and started to think about how we can personalise journey for people – so we still have that journey, but people are able to pull in packs that are specific to what’s going on in their lives right now. So everybody starts with a foundation – because without foundation it’s really difficult to get the most out of the packs – and then you can continue with what’s relevant to you and modern day living.
TW: How are the packs designed to cope with certain aspects of your life?
AP: Everyone comes in at what’s called Take 10, which is level one of the foundation pack and that’s just 10 minutes a day for 10 days. It’s free and you can use it for as long as you like. Once you’ve gone through the foundation series, you come to the packs and they are between 10 and 30 days in length. And you can choose the 10-, 15, or 20-minute versions. Everyday works the same, meaning that every single day there’s a different recording but the format is the same where I’ll talk you through for a couple of minutes to set up the day, the idea of the day, and lead you through the technique of guided meditation. And at the end of it, it’s kind of the disintegration bit. Like how do you take what you’ve just learnt and apply it to everyday life. For me, that’s the exciting bit about meditation. It’s so often represented as an isolated exercise and that’s about it, and unless we take this newfound awareness, calm and clarity and actually apply it to the rest of our life, then it’s much more useful. It’s nice to feel calm, but we see real change in our lives when we take that understanding and apply it to our lives.
TW: So coming from a Buddhist background, what about the people who have reservations about meditation?
AP: It’s a good point. But I really want to say this isn’t a Buddhist app and is entirely secular. So you can listen to it and unless you knew that I was a Buddhist monk, you’ll have no idea that I was a Buddhist monk. But what my background does is it lends it a degree of authenticity – I mean, this isn’t something I read about in meditation books and decided to do recordings. This actually comes from many years of training in meditation. For me, I see meditation as nothing to do with religion – it really doesn’t. Meditation in a lot itself is the practice, the training of awareness and compassion. And nobody owns that. The starting point for me with meditation is you get to define it by how you choose to use it.
TW: Do you find the whole communal element of Headspace helpful and what does it do?
AP: Well, the feedback is really interesting and wasn’t quite what we expected. The feedback was that right now, because meditation is still emerging, it wasn’t necessarily something that people wanted to share across all their social platforms. What we did with the second version of the app is we introduced something called the Buddy feature where you can invite just a few of your friends to share this stuff with to help each other – it’s like having a gym buddy – and you track their progress and they track yours, they can say “well done” when you’ve just done 10 days in a row, or when you see they haven’t done anything for a month you can give them a little nudge. The community at the moment is just the beginning of how we can start to build something out and I think will evolve and change the more normal meditation becomes.
TW: So why is that you compare meditation to a fitness workout?
AP: Yeah. For me, it’s more than meditation – it’s about having a healthy mind. And I would encourage people to find their healthy mind in any way that they can. I think it’s important to have tools for that, and meditation is a tool which enables us to achieve a healthy mind. There’s always been that idea that we should look out for our health and body, but never really any emphasis on why its important to look after the health of the mind especially when it defines our entire experience of life – like everything we touch in our life, our mind perceives it in a certain way. You could go out one day and you’re feeling angry or sad and the world doesn’t look so nice, and you go out the next day and you feel happy or excited, the world looks amazing. Clearly, it’s not the world, it’s our perception. So if we can find a way of having a stable mind, which is not only aware, clear or calm, but also compassionate, kind and empathetic, that’s when we start to make a change not only in our own lives but also in the lives of the people around you as well.
TW: Can you say personally how meditation has transformed your experience with the world?
AP: It’s difficult to put into words… On the one hand, it hasn’t changed anything but on the other hand it has changed everything. I think the biggest thing is I went into meditation thinking what could I get out of it for myself, but I came out of the monastery realising that it wasn’t actually about me – that it actually was more about others and how my perceptions affected them. In that realisation of letting go of my own stuff, gave me the ability to be there for others was the single most valuable lesson I would take from those 10 years or so.
You can download Headspace on your iPhone or Android via iTunes or Google Play, or visit www.headspace.com to sign up.