I’ve always liked the idea of meditation. It sounds nice to take yourself away from it all for a while, and it looks pretty Zen. Plus meditating brings a sense of inner calm to your life, so when things get stressful you’ll feel the benefits like a bubble, helping you float through it. The science says that regular practice reduces reactivity in the amygdala (the “fight or flight” part of the brain) and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that regulates emotions), so you feel less anxious and more balanced. Meditation can also help lower blood pressure, boost immunity, increase creativity, improve relationships and help with sleep. Yes please to all of the above! So I gave Headspace a whirl, and kept a diary of my progress (see below). Headspace is an app of pre-recorded meditation sessions that you can listen to whenever and wherever you like. They call it “a gym for the mind”. And for newbies they offer a free 10-day trial called Take 10. All you have to do is listen to one 10-minute session every day for 10 days and it will teach you the basics of meditation.
Easy, right? Well, no. Not that easy, actually. The mind is powerful and complicated, and mostly does its own thing, so you need new skills in order to get it under control. But Andy, the voice of Headspace and your meditation personal trainer, makes it all as easy as possible. The real Andy is a British guy who learnt meditation in the Himalayas, became a Buddhist monk, founded Headspace and now lives in California spreading his meditation and wellness vibes. But there’s nothing overly spiritual, religious or wacky about Headspace Andy; he’s calm, friendly and down-to-earth – just a regular guy taking you through the mindfulness motions, helping you to breathe, relax, escape your thoughts and focus your mind. As well as Andy’s sessions there are short video animations that help you understand the techniques he is teaching you.
I can definitely recommend giving the Headspace app a go. It’s a simple and easy way to learn this new skill. But be warned: you’ll achieve that feeling of inner calm, but you might also feel some strange, scary, funny, surprising and a generally weird sensations along the way!
My Headspace Take 10 diary:
Day 1 Well that was nice. Didn’t find it difficult but I also wasn’t very good. My mind wandered a lot. Felt relaxed afterwards. Day 2 Oh dear. Started well but felt panicky halfway through, bombarded by stressful thoughts and anxiety that I was doing it wrong. Just about managed to regain a feeling of calm. Day 3 Felt like my head was making popcorn! But managed to get it under control. I’m getting better at noticing when my mind wanders and bringing it back into focus. Felt calm, but not quite Zen. Day 4 I was looking forward to today – think I’ve got this. My mind still wandered but I pulled it back pronto. Felt calm and composed by the end. Yes! Day 5 Today was hard. After a stressful day it was difficult to engage with the practice. Just felt like I was floating somewhere outside of myself. Disappointed. Day 6 So fidgety. So tired. Maybe before bed isn’t the best time to meditate? Definitely released some tension but was frowning by the end. Hmmm. Day 7 Much better today. Relaxed into it quite quickly and felt the tension melt away. My mind wandered, but no negative thoughts. Might have been a success? Day 8 After yesterday’s progress I think I tried too hard today. I struggled to focus and my breathing felt laboured – weird. Unmoved and unchanged by today’s sesh. Day 9 Ooh, tingly sensations. That’s a new one. Felt relaxed, and managed to let my thoughts come and go, “observing” them rather than fighting them, but then the tingles came and I was floating again. Day 10 Ok, so meditating before bed when you’re tired isn’t a good idea. I ended up dreaming. But at least I can now tell the difference between dreaming and meditating! After 10 sessions I’m far from being a pro, but I am definitely feeling the inner calm.
Watch Andy explain more in his TED talk:Headspace Take 10 is free. A year’s subscription, including further courses and series, costs £4.99 a month