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Celebrities love their meditation. Oprah loves it, Kristen Bell loves it, lord knows Gwyneth Paltrow loves it. There's got to be a good reason so many celebrities endorse the mindful practice, right? In my teen/early college years, I saw meditation as some bougie thing famous people did because they had lots of time to kill. Then, the stresses of my life demanded I learn about mental health and how to improve my own. And now, meditation is a part of my daily routine. In 2013, Emma Watson tweeted about the benefits the meditation app Headspace gave her — teaching its users how to meditate being the top one. So, for the last 10 days, I tried Headspace like Emma Watson to see if it could get my busied mind quiet.
Full disclosure: I had already tried my hand at Headspace in 2016 when my stress was particularly unmanageable. Due to where I was at, mental health and maturity wise, at the time, I ended up not having an effective experience with the app and deleted it not long after downloading. So, this most recent attempt was try No. 2 at letting it teach me how to meditate. This time around, however, I'm much more versed in the practice.
My therapist started me off on meditation in 2017 by guiding me through meditations during our sessions, then I continued to do it on my own time until it became an essential part of my daily routine. It might seem a little counterintuitive to use an app that teaches users how to meditate when you already know how, but just like any skill, if you stop practicing for a while, you'll be rusty when you start back up again. I tend to fall out of practice during intense times of stress (you know, when I really should be meditating the most), so I let Headspace take the reins in helping me reinstate the habit.
And it comes Emma Watson-endorsed. "Do you guys know about @Get_Headspace?" she tweeted on July 3, 2013. "Its an app that teaches you how to meditate. It's kind of genius x."
Watson is just one of a slew of celebrities who have vouched for Headspace's effectiveness. Gwyneth Paltrow had the app's creator, Andy Puddicombe (an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk), interviewed for Goop, Zach Braff tweeted in 2016 that it's "a very good app," and Jessica Alba, Jared Leto, and Ryan Seacrest are all investors in the app, according to LA Times. It's about as celebrity-endorsed as a thing can get, but how does it measure up IRL?
Teaching users how to meditate is the main benefit Headspace provides as part of its free features. At its core, meditation is all about getting yourself into a mindful state. Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as "the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis." That is bonkers hard to learn, but it's what Headspace tries to teach its users.
Once you've downloaded the app, you get 10 free sessions. If you want to unlock its full library of meditation services, a subscription is required. Users can pay $12.99 monthly, $94.99 annually ($7.92 per month), or pay a one-time fee of $399.99 for a lifetime of unlimited use on the app. Still being the broke AF millennial I am, I opted not to pay for any of the features and just let the app teach me how to meditate (again) in the 10 free sessions.
I started with a 10-minute first session.
What I liked immediately was how bare bones the instructions were. (The animation throughout the app is also a cute bonus.) Guided meditations (my preferred way to meditate) always verbally walk you through every step of the meditation, but Headspace's instructions are just a little more specific. There's also a short animated video users can watch before each session that serves as a visual representation of what you'll be doing over the next three, five, or 10 minutes (you choose how long each session will be from those three options). It helps to be able to imagine your body/mind doing what you observed in the video. Being a visual learner, this proved to be one of the most helpful features.
This is the video users see before undertaking their first session. It breaks down everything you need to know to get started in three steps.
Step 1: Look for a time during your daily routine where you can fit in 10 minutes of private time. The app notes that it's easier to form a habit when you do something at the same time every day. It then recommends doing it in the morning. Being an early riser for work as it is (I start work at 7 a.m. — remotely, thank gawd), I figured it would be easiest to set my alarm 10 minutes earlier and get my meditation done before I even get out of bed.
Step 2: Find a peaceful place to meditate where no one will bother you. Easy! My bed is quite literally heaven on Earth (thank you, Casper), so that's settled.
Step 3: Sit comfortably. The app recommends sitting on a chair with a rolled up towel or cushion under your butt to help with posture. Having already been meditating for a while, I know I meditate most effectively when laying on my back with my arms down by my side, palms facing up. There's no wrong way to do this step, though, so try some different positions until you figure out what feels best for you.
Those are the only three things you need to do in order to prep for meditation. No matter what app you're using, or even if you're not using an app and are riding solo, those three steps are the only things you need going in.
The app's creator, Andy Puddicombe, is the voice users hear in each session. Being a fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk, he knows a thing or two about mindfulness. In each session, Puddicombe's calm voice teaches users the ins and outs of the basics of meditation, and each session has its own focus:
Session 1: How To Get More Headspace
Session 2: Seeing Meditation As A Skill
Session 3: Learning To View Your Thoughts And Feelings Objectively
Session 4: Making Meditation A Habit
Session 5: Learning To Let Go
Session 6: Unpleasant Sensations
Session 7: Seeing Your Mind Clearly
Session 8: Observing Changes
Session 9: Letting Go Of Judgement
Session 10: Just Keep Practicing
This is what the interface looks like:
And this is an example of what users will see before starting each session:
It's like an Instagram story, but ~mindful~.
By session five, I start to feel the need to meditate every day again.
Getting a new habit to be a settled part of my routine has always been difficult for me. My thoughts run a mile a minute, each one interrupting the other most of the time, so training myself to quiet those thoughts was tough the first time around. Having to retrain myself proved to be even harder, but Headspace held my metaphorical hand throughout the whole process.
The best part about it is that it basically feels like a mind-reader. It felt like every time I had a self-conscious/harsh thought about myself ("Ugh, why can't you focus on this?" "Stop getting distracted!"), Puddicombe's voice would come in with a line like, "Remember, the moment you realize your mind has wandered off, just acknowledge that and gently bring the attention back to the breath again." The sessions lead by example when it comes to being kinder to yourself. And if you dedicate yourself to being as mindful as possible through each session, you start to see quick results, in the sense that you actually start applying the objective, kind mindfulness practiced in your sessions in your everyday life.
A lot of the sessions are spent bringing attention to the natural movements of your body. Users will hear things like, "Are the breaths deep, or more shallow?" and "Pause for a moment to notice how you feel right now." Instead of trying to analyze why your body feels the way it does in that moment/why you're thinking certain things, Headspace teaches you that it's enough just to observe those thoughts and feelings and sit with them. And I learned throughout the 10 sessions that simply becoming aware of my tension — recognizing it, sitting with it — helped me begin to let go of that tension. Getting some Headspace basically means just giving yourself the space to unwind.
Outside of the sessions themselves, you can adjust your settings in the app to send you "Mindful Moments" each day. The app will send you up to five notifications per day reminding you to try and stay in a mindful state throughout the day.
You can also set meditation reminders if you're worried that sticking to the same time every day will be hard to commit to.
There's also an Obstacles section of the app that consists of a list of "disruptions" in our mindfulness. Feelings like anger and resentment, physical obstacles like stiffness and pain, and the so-called "common obstacles for beginners" like impatience, posture, and doubt, all have a recording from Puddicombe that helps guide the user through those feelings. It's less of a meditation and more of a mini podcast/therapy session, during which Puddicombe gives advice on how to work through that particular feeling.
It's no substitute for actual therapy, but it's a good resource if you need some immediate guidance and don't have the patience to meditate.
I also tried doing one of the app's "Sleepcasts" to help me fall asleep one night during this 10-day trial, and it knocked me out in minutes.
Although my own lack of discipline resulted in a failed first attempt with the app in 2016, this time around was much different. It proved to be an effective tool in helping me reimplement daily meditation into my life, and helped me avoid the shameful feelings I too often direct toward myself when I perceive any kind of failure.
Of course, you have to meet the app halfway and first be willing to make a change in the way you talk to yourself. It won't work if you expect the app to do all of the heavy lifting. The responsibility of effectively changing your habits is solely yours, but Headspace is a good tool to help you get there.