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It's hard to anticipate stressful times in life before they happen. Sometimes you have an inkling before the storm hits; other times, the storm beats against your door before you have any chance to react.
The latter happened to me a few months ago, with personal and professional situations looming over me at every turn. While I have never been clinically diagnosed with anxiety, I knew I had only experienced stress like this a couple of times in my life. My anxiety was getting the best of me and, for a period of time, had turned me into someone even I wouldn't want to hang out with.
Meditation has been touted as an effective way to manage stress, so I turned to the Headspace meditation app in an attempt to get control of my own mind. Headspace is one of the most popular mobile meditation apps available today, and, although I was skeptical about meditation in general, I decided to give it a shot. Adding meditation to my daily routine was difficult at first. But after I familiarized myself with the practice and found my own meditation groove, Headspace has since become an invaluable tool that I use each day.
In efforts to deal with my stress on my own, I thought back to the three years of yoga classes I took in college, all with the same teacher. She was bubbly but not in an annoying way. The steadiness of her walk showed she was serious about her practice, but her welcoming attitude encouraged students of all types into her classes. Arguably the most impactful moments of my classes with her were Savasana, or the few minutes of meditation at the end of each class. They were meant to be relaxing, restorative moments after an almost hour-long period of posing in physically challenging positions—sometimes she would guide the group through Savasana with soft, reassuring words. Other times, she would stay quiet to leave us with our thoughts.
I always preferred the guided sessions because I often find my own thoughts louder than the words coming out of another person's mouth. When she would speak about focusing our attention inward, minding the breath, or imagining a storybook-like situation or place, I actually listened and followed along. When I was left to my own thoughts, my mind often wandered to every place I wasn't and everything else I needed to do that day. I enjoyed having a coach who gently forced me out of my own mind by guiding me deeper into it.
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I wanted to replicate that experience since it was the only mindfulness technique I knew I enjoyed. After looking into apps and programs like this, I found Headspace. The Headspace mobile app has been available since 2012 and was founded by Andy Puddicombe, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk turned meditation teacher. Since then, it has been downloaded more than 20.5 million times and showered mostly with praise by more than 130,000 Android and iOS users (and those are just the ones who bothered to leave a review on either the Play Store or App Store).
As a journalist, I was immediately skeptical of something so highly praised. I've always been apprehensive about mindfulness techniques, writing them off as methods that busy people don't have the time or patience to do. During college I never considered Savasana a type of meditation but, rather, a calming cool-down after yoga practice. But now, I knew I was at a time in my life where I had to put skepticism aside for my own health and the well-being of my friends and family. So I downloaded the free, 10-day trial of Headspace and made a point to see it through the entire trial program before making my decision.
A slow, uncertain start
Those 10 days were tough for two reasons: first, I hadn't intentionally set aside time during my day to meditate in years and years. Second, I was very stressed during those first 10 days. But that's why I started when I did—I hoped that meditating during one of the most stressful times in recent memory would help me handle any and all situations better. Looking back, I don't think I started feeling the real-world effects of meditation until after I completed the Headspace trial period.
The 10-day trial opens up the first segment of the Basics 1 sessions pack, which teaches you the essentials of meditation. Puddicombe guides you through each session, starting with a short introduction to one of the fundamentals of meditation, which slowly leads into the actual session. I transitioned from focusing on my deep breathing ("in through the nose, out through the mouth") to closing my eyes and scanning my body ("noticing how the body feels"), to a more existential timeout where my mind was to, essentially, suspend itself in stillness.
All of that sounds simple, but it's far from it. I fidgeted in my chair, my mind wandered to frightening thoughts of the day ahead, and my heart raced during the most stressful days. More often than not during those first 10 sessions, I felt like I was crawling out of my own skin, anxious to deal with all the responsibilities I was putting on hold for those precious few minutes. But the 10-day trial forced me to stop and breathe—regardless of what went on around me or in my head. Getting used to doing that each day is the most important thing that came out of my Headspace trial.
But by the eighth or ninth session, I found a few moments of clarity. Puddicombe's voice is oddly soothing, always calm, and, while it's coming out of my iPhone's speakers, it almost feels as if he's right next to me during each session. His nonchalant yet reassuring vocal tone reminds me of my old yoga teacher, and I'm convinced it's one that most yogis, monks, and other spiritually inclined persons share.
While those moments of clarity were remarkable, I was still on the fence about continuing with Headspace. You must pay for the service after completing the trial: Headspace costs $12.99 per month, about $95.85 per year (listed as $7.99 per month, but billed once annually), or $399.99 for lifetime access. That's expensive when compared to other monthly services, like Spotify ($9.99 per month) and Netflix (also $9.99 per month), and somewhat expensive compared to other meditation apps. While most competing apps require some form of payment, either in monthly fees or fees per session pack, Headspace costs the most out of all of them.
However, I decided that the small changes I saw in the first 10 days were the start of something that I wanted to pursue further. That being said, I wish users had a few more free options in addition to the 10-day trial of the Basics 1 pack. A couple of Single or Mini sessions would be great to try out before paying for the service (more on those later, as they are an integral part of Headspace's program).
I paid for one year of Headspace, and that gave me access to the entire mobile app, which includes a lot of meditation sessions. While Headspace encourages you to complete the Basics packs before starting others, I completed just the Basics 1 pack before starting the first Anxiety pack. I hit the Basics 2 pack at the same time while also completing Single and Mini sessions when I pleased. The Headspace app shows the next session in the pack you're completing at the top of the page with Everyday Headspace, Minis, My Packs, and Recent Singles below it.