Meditation Turns Ultra-Trendy With New App
Los Angeles — Andy Puddicombe, a trained Buddhist monk, wants to spread health and happiness by teaching our technology-addled minds to slow down and live in the moment.
Naturally, he’s doing it through an app.
In just a few short minutes a day, users can listen to meditation guides for topics as varied as anxiety and relationships narrated by Puddicombe in his soothing British voice.
“This exercise isn’t about getting rid of thoughts, it’s more about learning how to be at ease with them,” he says reassuringly in one of the 10-minute recordings.
Animations, videos and articles round out the experience — all in the pursuit of mindfulness, an increasingly fashionable discipline buoyed by technology that’s weaved its way through corporate America, Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
Headspace is now one of the most buzzed-about startups in where else but Los Angeles’ Venice, a neighborhood that evokes equal parts New Age hippie and Tesla-driving techie.
The company with the bite-sized path to enlightenment raised $30 million in September through the Chernin Group, a Los Angeles entertainment and media-focused investment firm.
Headspace also counts celebrities Jessica Alba, Jared Leto and Ryan Seacrest among its investors, not to mention Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma Watson and Zach Braff among its fans.
Part of the appeal is Headspace’s everyman accessibility. Puddicombe takes the chanting, incense and robes out of meditation.
He and his business partner — fellow Brit and fellow surfer, Rich Pierson — like to stress they’re just regular “blokes.”
Meditation is for anyone, they say, and subscribing to Headspace should be no different than buying a gym membership for the mind.
“We go to the gym to be more active in life in just the same way we meditate; so we can be more mindful and more present and enjoy our life a little bit more,” said Puddicombe, 43, who is bald, athletically built and wouldn’t look out of place clad in a tracksuit coaching a pro soccer club.
Downloads of the app have quadrupled in the last 12 months to 5 million, though the company declined to say how many of those include paying subscribers with full access to the program.
Puddicombe has made the TED Talks circuit and appeared on CBS’ This Morning with Charlie Rose. His company was the subject of a 5,000-word profile in the New Yorker.
Virgin Atlantic offers Headspace in its in-flight entertainment. And employees at Google and LinkedIn have access to a companywide subscription.
“They’ve said it’s pop meditation,” Pierson said. “But if people actually use the product and they get into the content, they really understand how authentic it is.”
Headspace has resonated at a time when technology has leaped onto the mind health bandwagon — bolstered by the growing, but still small, body of science showing the benefits of meditation.
In addition to Headspace, there’s meditation apps such as Buddhify, Omvana, Smiling Mind and Dharma Seed.
One app, Insight Timer, offers guided meditations and recorded bell chimes.
“It goes off every 25 minutes to remind us to change our chant,” said Guru Jagat, who heads the Ra Ma Institute for Applied Yogic Science and Technology in Venice.
The closely followed yoga teacher with celebrity students posts some of her sessions on YouTube and is developing a meditation app of her own.
“This is the future, of course,” said Jagat, 36, who has led meditations on cellphone addiction. “With these apps, you can lead a modern lifestyle and have fun and also be deeply spiritual, compassionate and calm. You don’t need to be in a cave in the Himalayas.”
Mindfulness apps like Headspace give people an edge, Jagat said, not only in their personal lives, but in hypercompetitive workplaces too.
“I definitely have Silicon Valley types around and everyone is using Headspace to meditate,” she said. “‘Mindful meditation’ is the buzzword and rage now that everyone is getting that Adderall can only get you so far. We all need more energy. We all need more focus.”