Headspace: An Attempt at Meditation
A few years ago, the mention of meditation evoked images of sequestered monks in Nepal and Southern California yoga instructors, but today the practice has become more mainstream. I'm not saying the average college student or young professional wakes up every morning for a 20-minute mind-clearing session, but meditation is rapidly loosing its yogic connotations and ebbing its way into the routine of the average American.
I count myself among those recently introduced to the benefits of meditation--from the qualitative, like better sleep patterns, to the quantitative, like measurably lowers cortisol levels. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately, without a clear action plan--"Wake up at 7 every morning and meditate to classical music for 15 minutes"--I failed almost before I started--until Michael introduced me to Headspace.
"It's a pretty cool app," he had said, tapping the cheery orange icon. "And it's free for the first ten days."
With a free 10-day trial, I had nothing to lose, expect maybe a megabyte of storage on my already bloated iPhone. I downloaded the app and was off to the races--or rather, off to the quiet, calming, and slow stroll that is meditation. Sorry. Bad metaphor.
The app has what I'd call "approachable" design; it's juvenile enough to avoid intimidating neophytes, but sufficiently minimalist, with its flat UI design, to appeal to an adult audience. When you begin your 10-day trial, you are greeted with a gamified visual: a stylized ladder structure, tracking your daily progress. These UX designers certainly knew about user retention: make us feel like we're winning and we'll be throwing money at you before you can say "bitcoin." Unfortunately, I think I broke their machine. Maybe I'm just not competitive enough.
On my first day with Headspace, I stuck my earbuds in, turned off the lights, and settled into a sufficiently uncomfortable position on the hallway floor to prevent sleep from thwarting my earnest attempt. The narrator had an English accent, so I was immediately inclined to believe whatever he said. His advice was specific and, therefore, easy to follow. Part-way through my 10-minute session, he encouraged me to "scan" my body, noticing how various organs and extremities felt. I'll be honest. I hadn't given this much attention to the soles of my feet since Mike and I went hiking back in March. I had afforded my breathing patterns--the next subject of our session--equal attention in the last few months. It was an interesting practice for the first few seconds, but the novelty of mindful inhalation soon wore off; I was bored and wondering whether the spinach I bought last week was rotting in the fridge.
I won't deny that when I finished my first session--which seemed a heck of a lot longer than ten minutes--I was more agitated than I had been before I began. I don't like being bad at things--I don't think anyone does--and meditation is not something you can master immediately.
Mind you, I didn't give up. I may as well had paid for the ten-day trial, judging by my commitment to the program. I saw it through to the end, though I may have missed a few sessions--on days when my subconscious convinced me that watching an episode of Orange is the New Black would be better for my mental well-being than meditating.
Now that I'm on the other side of those ten days, I can say with resigned despair that I have no better mastered meditation than I had when I first slumped against the hallway wall ten (twelve?) days ago. It might be partly personal. As a stereotypical "Type A," I find it easier to think about the laundry I have to fold or the logo I have to design than I do to count my breaths for two minutes. For me, meditation feels like an untethered opportunity to augment my anxieties, rather than bridle them.
That said, Headspace brings a lot to the table. I am a small sample size, and what didn't work for me could work well for someone else. The short animations that precede some of the sessions are fantastic--not only visually, but also thematically. My favorite was the "traffic" metaphor, in which our erudite narrator urges us to view thoughts with the same calm remove that we might regard cars cruising down a street in front of us.
I do have a few recommendations for those interested in giving it a try:
1.) Do your meditation session first thing in the morning, while you're still a little drowsy and not yet inundated with the day's obligations. I also found that my sessions were more effective if I did them after workouts when I was physically tired.
2.) Try your best to maintain consistency. Being erratic makes you more likely to skip a day (as does Netflix...)
3.) Watch all of the animations. I found myself employing the techniques discussed in the animations even when I wasn't meditating--and, in fact, to greater effect.
All in all, Headspace is a well-designed and potentially effective tool. I think my inability to master the art of meditation is more a consequence of my personality than it is an iOS developer's failure to provide a good app experience. I recommend giving it a shot.
Sign up here!
*I am in no way affiliated with the makers of Headspace ;)