How I built better habits with Headspace

September 5, 2020 — by Joann Zhang

In early May, I began running. 

Don’t laugh. I had long advocated against it — after all, what’s the point of putting yourself through half an hour of agony to travel the distance a car could in the length of a Rihanna song? But my conscience insisted that I could not continue my sedentary lifestyle, so I forced myself to run a mile and half down a railroad track once a week just before sunset. However,  I dreaded my running day like a French noble dreaded the guillotine, and as a self-professed abandoner of good habits, I knew my weekly running habit was on its last legs. 

One day, as I ran, I could feel my motivation wearing paper-thin. As I puffed to the end of the trail, ribs aching and knees ablaze, I looked up and was struck by the most gorgeous pink-orange sunset stretching over the dark trees. The feeling of seeing something so beautiful was physically, actually warming inside my chest, and I stood there for several moments, in awe and appreciation of the sunset. 

After that day, I no longer dreaded running; rather, I looked forward to seeing that sunset. I even came to enjoy the act of running. Now, it wasn’t as if this sunset was any different from the sunsets I’d previously seen. Every sunset on that trail was similarly gorgeously pink and orange. I was just able to see the sunset after beginning meditation, to really appreciate and feel the beauty of it. I was able to be present and be fully aware of the sunset. That was my first memory of the benefits of meditation showing up in my life, and a few weeks after I began using Headspace.

Headspace is a meditation app created by a Buddhist monk named Andy Puddicombe. After 10 years of monastic training in remote monasteries in Asia, Puddicombe returned home to the UK in 2004 with the goal of spreading and demystifying the then-esoteric practice of meditation. Puddicombe started by opening a private meditation office, where he met marketer Rich Pierson. Together, they launched Headspace and have since changed the life of thousands.

I began using Headspace in early May, and have since been meditating almost every day for at least 10 minutes — and I’ve found a transformative new appreciation for life, and feel much better equipped to deal with life’s struggles. So far, I’ve tried the Kindness, Self-Esteem, and Grief courses, which are sets of 10-30 daily meditations that last 10-20 minutes and are focused on the course’s  topic. All of the courses helped me develop new perspectives on my emotions, each involving different meditations and techniques such as Noting.

Headspace doesn’t teach how to get rid of emotions; rather, it teaches you how to see them for what they are, which is quite a lot harder than it sounds. I’ve also tried the Anxiety, Panicking, Burned Out, and Feeling Overwhelmed single meditations — all of which were, again, helpful in not getting caught up in emotions and thoughts. 

Each meditation starts the same way; I first take in the room and space around me, before taking five, six deep, slow breaths and closing my eyes. Under his guidance, I then settle into the space with my eyes closed: feeling the weight of my body on my bed, noticing sounds, smells, sensations. 

A body scan follows, where I slowly focus on each part of my body from head to toe, observing how each part feels. Puddicombe guides me through this routine in each meditation, but different meditations teach different techniques afterwards, one of which is called Noting. Noting, which has been particularly helpful for me, involves focusing on the breath — counting, for beginners — and gently noting and letting go of any thoughts that arise. It’s not exactly mental whack-a-mole; more like consciously removing the effort needed to maintain thoughts. 

The app also offers mindful workouts, guided by Olympians Kim Glass and Leon Taylor. The Consistency Run audio, a 20-minute guided run-jog narrated by a trainer of your choice, has been especially helpful. Glass’s smooth, firm voice offers gentle encouragement between the running and jogging intervals, and keeps me so focused on my breathing that the 20 minutes always fly by.

“Consistency is just showing up and being present,” says Glass, 30 seconds into the audio. She commended me for building a good habit: a compliment that somehow felt quite genuine.

On the App Store, the Headspace preview reads, “Less stress. Greater focus. Restful sleep. Healthier body. Happier mind.” After three months of Headspace, I can confidently say that Headspace has helped me achieve all of the above; I am more relaxed, productive, healthy, and happy, and I fall asleep with ease. 

I wholeheartedly recommend Headspace.Its benefits have touched every aspect of my life, from helping me appreciate little joys to developing mindfulness about what I eat. Meditating with Headspace is a remarkably easy habit to fall into: Andy’s calm, amiable voice feels like a mentor, a friend with whom you meditate. At the end of every meditation, he guides me back into the world before offering a bit of wisdom and his customary parting words.

“Notice your posture, any sounds, any smells,” he says softly at the end of a Kindness meditation, as I slowly come out of the dreamy feeling of meditation and open my eyes, “it's really important to remember this feeling, this innate feeling, this innate quality of mind, to spend some time resting there.

“I’ll leave it there for now, though, and I look forward to seeing you back here tomorrow.” 

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow too, Andy.


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