Is Headspace worth the hype?

Meditation app Headspace Used by over 30 million people worldwide since 2010. Many people are embracing guided meditations and exercises designed to promote relaxation and mindfulness. It is also one of the top-ranked health and fitness apps on iTunes and Google Play stores. But is it really worth all the hype?

Obviously, the app is interesting enough to get millions of downloads, but I wanted to test how useful it actually is. I'm someone who loves to meditate but never gets around to it. I've tried meditation in the past and found that I get distracted easily.

As health expert Dr. Suzanne Huang, co-founder of Double Wave Wellness Center, told me, it's common to feel this way while meditating. A lot of people get frustrated, can't focus, or simply don't know where to start, which is why it's especially good that Headspace addresses this issue from the beginning. Log into the app and you'll immediately see a basic 10-part lesson that repeats again and again how great it is to let your mind wander during meditation. "It's not about getting rid of ideas," one stylish graphic assured me. "It's about learning how to be comfortable with them."

While there are other meditation apps, such as Calm and Breethe, Wong recommends Headspace, especially for those new to meditation. “For me, it really helps with my own practice and allows me to be more relaxed,” she said. "There are other apps available, but for me Headspace is the easiest and most user-friendly. It almost doesn't feel like you're meditating."

Benefits of guided meditation


Learning to notice your thoughts when they come up and being willing to let them go is one of the main principles of Headspace. The app is designed to help you reduce stress, improve concentration, and even sleep better.

While there are many ways to meditate, guided meditation in particular walks you through the process so your chatty, easily distracted brain doesn't run amok. "What it does is focus your attention on one thing, whether it's breathing, visualizing, or calming your emotions," she explains. That's why meditation has the potential to relieve anxiety and help you cope with difficult emotions.

If you’re like me and feel like you “can’t meditate,” guided meditation might be worth a try.

Getting Started with Headspace

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I downloaded Headspace and tried the 7-day free trial, which gives you access to all the features the app has to offer. One of the first things I tried was the 10-day Basics series, where a teacher walks you through a Meditation 101 style course. (Due to the 7-day time limit, I took several courses each day). You can go with mindfulness teacher Eve Lewis Prieto; Dora Kamau, meditation teacher; Kessonga Giscombe, meditation teacher; or Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk and co-creator of the app people. I chose Andy, the OG.

My first basic session was a relaxed, four-minute introduction to meditation. Andy instructed me to lean back in the chair, catch my breath, and appreciate how good it felt to take a moment to relax. My inner voice immediately sounded. “Yeah, yeah, that all sounds great,” it told me, “but what about that thing you have to do in the future, or that crazy thing that happened ten years ago? Remember that ? It’s like He knew it, and Andy's voice suddenly sounded, reminding me to return my attention to my breathing.

That concludes this 10-part series. Even though the class was only a few minutes long and super easy, I felt like I learned a lot. The example Andy gives in the third section is particularly helpful. He described thoughts as cars passing by on the highway. "Instead of trying to stop these ideas, we're going to let them come and go," he said. Sometimes there are many cars, sometimes there are not many cars. Once you find yourself distracted by this mental highway, it's time to "refocus your attention on your breath." In short, it’s meditation.

What it’s like to practice headspace meditation

With my newfound knowledge of the basics, I dived into the Meditation tab, where I found options like daily meditation, guided breathing, challenge period meditation, and even a live group meditation. I clicked on "Lessons and Singles" and played Kessonga's 8-minute audio titled "Managing Anxious Moments."

All meditations begin the same way. You should sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, take a few deep breaths, place your hands on your legs or knees, and allow your eyes to stare gently at anything or close them completely. After taking the basic course, I felt like I was stuck in this dilemma. Just by sitting down, my brain knew it was time to wind down—even for just a few minutes—and it quickly became my go-to way to start or end the day.

One particularly stressful night, I tuned into Managing Anxious Moments to hear Kesonga talk about stress and anxiety, and then started meditating to focus on the tension in my body. He instructed me to start with my feet, then my legs, lower back, upper back, arms, throat, and face, imagining the stress disappearing from each area. Kesonga then wished me a good rest today, and when I opened my eyes, I realized that I was indeed feeling better.

What else does Headspace offer?


In addition to guided meditations, Headspace offers monthly check-ins where you can record your feelings and write notes to yourself. There are sleep broadcasts, also known as narrative stories, designed to help you fall asleep. There are also daily mindfulness moments that you can set to pop up on your home screen. Today I said, "We don't need to change our minds, we just need to be okay with it. And when we do, we find that everything we want is already here."

There's a lot to explore on the Today and Meditation tabs, but you can also check out the Sleep tab, Move tab, or Focus tab. In Sleep, you'll find Sleepcast videos, relaxation music, sleep music, and 8-hour sleep radio. Move offers morning warm-ups, feel-good yoga, mindful aerobics videos, and off-day meditations. On Focus, you'll find quick focus resets, focus music, and soundscapes to listen to while you work or study. my favorite? A one-minute breathing exercise, with cute animations guiding you through five deep breaths.

Oh, and you can also check statistics for your total time meditating, set goals, and connect with friends. As of this writing, I have logged over 40 minutes and completed 12 sessions. Yes, I think I'm really getting the hang of it! So much so that I plan on continuing my winning streak.

So, is Headspace worth the hype?

My short answer is "yes". Headspace's guided meditations make it easy for beginners to enter the refreshing waters of mindfulness. The app is free to download, and you can try it for free for 7 or 14 days, then you'll need to pay $12.99 per month or $69.99 per year to use all its features.

If you don't want to pay, you can check out their YouTube channel or listen to Radio Headspace. But I would say that if you really want to get into meditation, it seems worth subscribing.

Research reference:

Rusch, H.L. 2018. Effects of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ann New York College of Science. doi:10.1111/nyas.13996.

Turakitwanakan, W. 2013. Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol in medical students. Thai Medical Journal. Supplement 1:S90-5. PMID: 23724462.

Wu, R. 2019. Brief mindfulness meditation can improve emotional processing. Frontiers in Neuroscience.


Wellness expert and co-founder of Twin Waves Wellness Center, Dr. Suzanna Wong