Andy Puddicombe is the voice of Headspace. At the age of 22, Andy Puddicombe left England to follow his interest in meditation. This brought Andy all over the world which culminated in him being fully ordained as a monk at a Tibetan monastery in the Himalayas. Ten years later, Andy Puddicombe returned to the UK with a mission to demystify meditation and bring it to the masses.
Children are often told that they’re not concentrating hard enough or trying hard enough – it’s all about the exertion of effort and it can start to feel a bit tense. Meditation teaches a kind of gentle focus which is more sustainable. Even young children can be encouraged to enjoy simple visualisation exercises. And maybe through them they can get a better sense of what it means to be relaxed and yet receptive in school.’
“Children are every bit as susceptible to pressure as adults are, sometimes even more so. Meditation offers a a gentle and friendly way to discover a relaxed yet attentive form of learning. Studies have shown that when children practice short meditation exercises, such as mindfulness or visualisation, they are more focused, more creative and experience improved memory. Some studies have even shown improved exam results. But perhaps the most important thing of all, at least to most parents, is that meditation has been shown to increase levels of happiness and enjoyment in young children. After all, that’s what it’s all about right, and the better grades are simply a bonus. So try doing a short, simple exercise before they go to school each day and look out for Headspace for Kids – coming to a smartphone near you very soon. Or, if they’re old enough, they can get start with Take10 right now.
Is Headspace for everyone? Males, females, young and old and is there a minimum age? How can Headspace help pregnant women in particular?
If you have a mind, you will benefit from more Headspace… it really is as simple as that. Our data base is about 50/50 men and women with a really broad age range. Whilst it’s possible to start meditating at a very young age, our current range of programmes are best suited to 12 years upwards, with no upper age limit. The only exception is on the Headspace Channel on-board Virgin Atlantic, where you will find a few children specific techniques.
Meditation can have an enormous impact before, during and after pregnancy. It has been scientifically proven to increase the likelihood of conception, to reduce stress, improve immunity, promote good heart health, to reduce anxiety and depression, and even to increase empathy. I’ve also seen several people at the clinic who have used it for a drug-free birth, similar to how self-hypnosis is sometimes used.
Most important of all though is to create the calmest and happiest environment possible for the baby to grow and develop inside the womb.
How should a parent encourage their child to get into a healthy mindset from a young age? Do the same practices apply?
There a few schools who are starting to use meditation techniques before and after lessons, but on the whole it is down to the parents to teach these skills. The beauty of these techniques is that they are entirely secular, so they can easily be applied to any framework. It doesn’t matter what the culture, race, faith or philosophy is of the family, these techniques work equally well for all.
The general rule of thumb is that the same ideas apply for adults and children alike, but the techniques need to be adapted to suit younger children. This can be as simple as shortening the time, or might involve a little more creativity in making it feel like a game. I am always amazed at how easily children take to meditation.
Can 10 minutes of meditating a day really bring about big changes and what’s the best environment for practicing Headspace? I know it’s based around the information you provide online, but does being in front of a computer really enable one to get the most out of one of your sessions?
Science has shown that even taking just 10 minutes a day to meditate can have a profound affect on the health or the mind. The big changes that most people experience are a greater sense of perspective, calm and clarity; less anxiety, anger and depression; improved emotional stability; better quality sleep and improved relationships.
It is by no means a miracle cure and obviously stuff still happens in life, but when it does happen, that increased perspective allows you to cope with it that much more easily, to be a little less reactive, and a little more responsive instead.
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter where you get your headspace. Sure, you can get it online, but we’ve also made it available in an app for your mobile too. The most important thing at first is to find a quiet(ish) place where you will be undisturbed for 10 minutes. Once you’re used to it though, you’ll be able to do it anywhere – even on the bus or whilst sitting in a busy waiting room.
How important is breathing technique?
The best way is to simply follow the guided meditation online or on the app. It’s free to use and once you’ve learnt it, it will be yours to use forever. This particular type of meditation does not use lots of different breathing techniques. In fact, other than a few deep breaths at the beginning of the exercise, it encourages a very natural rhythm, in and out of the nose. Not that you need to think about it too much though… the body is pretty good at regulating the breath on it’s own.
Being a parent is hard work. Is Headspace useful for those struggling with stress, or even post natal depression?
In short, yes. I have yet to meet a parent who has not benefitted from a greater sense of headspace. But it’s about so much more than just reducing stress or a tendency towards depression (both of which meditation have scientifically been shown to do). It is also about learning to be present, in the here and now. We spend so much time thinking about things that have already happened or things which might happen in the future, that we spend very little time in the present moment.
This means we miss out on time with our children. So we might be with them physically, but thinking about something else, or wishing we could get on and do something different. So meditation allows us to let go of that stuff, to accept that this is what is happening right now, to engage with it, to embrace it and to fully experience each and every precious moment.
Are there ever times when you feel like you need to reassess the way you meditate, or are you completely relaxed, calm and in control 24/7, 365 days a year?
My own understanding and experience of meditation is that there is always something more to learn. To be present 24/7 is a very big ask. What I would say is, that through training the mind over the years I now have a much greater sense of stability or familiarity with that quality of awareness and that, as a result, life is fundamentally different in a very, very positive way.
What would be your one top tip, if you had only one piece of advice to part with?
Everything changes, nothing stays the same. It is just one moment after the next. Because of this, we are free. To witness this, to see it for ourselves in meditation, is to have true peace of mind in our life.