Headspace: A Guided-Meditation Companion – TidBITS

Cultures across the globe have practiced meditation in various forms for centuries. But despite its prevalence, meditation feels daunting to many. Headspace brings powerful, easy-to-follow, guided meditation to the masses through its iOS, Android, and Web apps.

In recent years, scientists have associated meditation with a wide variety of benefits ranging from improvements in memory, digestion, and circulation to reductions in stress, loneliness, and cognitive decline. Headspace has a team of scientific researchers that has published 16 studies in peer-reviewed journals about the benefits of guided meditation for focus, kindness, happiness, stress relief, and more.

I have found meditation to be profoundly beneficial for regaining focus when my mind wants to wander, falling asleep when my thoughts won’t stop, and alleviating stress and anxiety when life gets difficult.

At its core, Headspace is a content subscription service. The iOS app (which I use), Android app, and Web app are important for the quality of experience you receive, but the real value is in the company’s content—audio recordings of guided meditations.

Getting Started with Headspace

The Headspace Basics course is a good place to start for anyone who hasn’t spent much time meditating. It provides ten guided meditations. When starting each installment, you can select a 3-, 5-, or 10-minute version and pick between a male or female guide. Each installment begins with a short lesson about meditation concepts and then transitions into the guided meditation.

Once you’ve completed the Basics course, or if you’re already comfortable with the foundational concepts of mindfulness meditation, try out Headspace’s everyday meditations. These are good for users who want to create a consistent meditation practice.

If you find the idea of meditating with other people appealing, Headspace provides an option called Everybody Headspace, which offers are guided meditations that begin regular times throughout the day and night. You can either wait with others for the next session or join an ongoing session.

Left: Headspace main screen, Middle: Basics course, Right: Live meditation

Exploring Headspace Content

The Explore tab organizes Headspace’s content by type, so it’s great when you want a meditation for a specific situation. For reference, the English catalog on iOS is organized into the following sections:

  • Featured
  • Meditation basics and timers
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Falling asleep and waking up
  • Performance mindset
  • Personal growth
  • Work and productivity
  • Kids and parenting
  • Life challenges
  • Sports
  • Physical health
  • Day to day exercises
  • Students
  • Helpful tips and support

Headspace content is available in three languages: English, Dutch, and French. I don’t speak Dutch or French, but I did switch the app to those languages and look through the content. The libraries in those languages appear to be a bit smaller than the English library but are still substantial. There also appear to be differences in content between the mobile apps and the Web app, the latter of which feels like an afterthought in this regard.

Left: Explore list, Middle: Kids and parenting subsection, Right: Work and productivity subsection

Using Headspace to Improve Sleep

The Sleep tab of Headspace offers more than just guided meditations. It has five types of sleep-themed content:

  • Sleepcasts: 45-minute stories told with ambient sounds playing behind them. I found the stories themselves a bit distracting, but I like that once you begin playing a sleepcast, Headspace provides a slider to make the voice or the background sounds more prominent.
  • Sleep Music: Tracks of soothing music to help you fall asleep
  • Nighttime SOS: Guided meditations to help you get back to sleep when you’ve woken up in the middle of the night
  • Wind downs: Meditations and breathing exercises to help you get ready to sleep
  • Soundscapes: Soothing recordings of real-world sounds like a lakeside campfire, a tropical night, or a laundromat

Headspace includes a Play Random button at the bottom of the sleep page for those times when you’re too tired to choose.

Left: Nighttime SOS content, Middle: Bottom of sleep page with ‘Play Random’ option, Right: Sleepcast playing with ambiance/voice slider

Using Headspace in iOS

Headspace is a good iOS citizen. It’s updated regularly (26 times in the last 5 months) and includes support for a bunch of iOS-specific features.

For example, Headspace integrates with Apple’s Health app. With that feature turned on in Headspace settings, any meditation you complete in the app will be saved as Mindful Minutes in the Health app. That’s the same metric that the Breathe app on the Apple Watch uses.

Headspace also supports Shortcuts to some extent. I’d like to see this feature expanded in the future, but it currently lets you create shortcuts to start your daily meditation and to help you fall asleep with that night’s meditation.

Headspace for iOS app also offers four different types of notifications:

  • Mindfulness moments: Enable this option to receive between one and five different messages throughout the day to remind you to be mindful.
  • Recommendations: If you don’t have a habit of meditating, turn these on to get Headspace to recommend when to meditate and which meditation to do.
  • Meditation reminders: Set a reminder to meditate at a specific time every day, on weekends, or on weekdays. You can also have Headspace block out that time on your default calendar.
  • Bedtime reminders: These reminders are set separately. The wind-down reminder alerts you to do a wind-down meditation before bed, and the bedtime reminder lets you know when it’s time for bed.

Left: Settings page, Middle: Siri shortcut setup, Right: Meditation reminders notification setting

Subscribing to Headspace

You can access a small set of Headspace’s content for free on iOS, Android, or the Web. I recommend you give that a try if you’re new to meditation and unsure how much you’ll use Headspace.

If you find Headspace helpful, after you’ve outgrown the free library, you can subscribe to Headspace for $12.99 per month when paid monthly or $7.99 per month when paid yearly ($95.98). Headspace also offers a family plan that allows up to six accounts for $19.99 per month. And if you’re a student, you can get Headspace for the steep discount of $9.99 per year. Headspace is also available for businesses, some of which (like my employer) offer Headspace for free as a health perk.

Headspace is priced based on its potential to improve your life. If you’re not making a habit out of using Headspace for meditation or not finding it impactful, stick with Headspace’s free content or try a free alternative like Oak (which is great but doesn’t have nearly as much content). But if, like me, you do find Headspace’s particular mix of guided meditation content and app design useful and impactful, it’s worth the cost.

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