Andy Puddicombe is the voice of Headspace, a former ordained Buddhist monk and a clinically registered meditation consultant in the UK. 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.
You used to be a Buddist Monk. How did this inspire you to set up Headspace, and for those readers that don’t know about you yet, could you give us the low-down on what it is you’re all about?
Yeah, I began meditating when I was pretty young, but didn’t really take it up seriously until I was in my early twenties. I became a monk simply because it provided the best possible conditions for training the mind. I figured it was best to go to the experts to learn that kind of thing.
Whilst I was there I started to see just how much people benefited from doing the meditation, what a difference it made to no longer be lost in thought the whole time or overwhelmed by difficult emotions. I started to see how people who meditated regularly, tended to be less stressed, better rested, more patient, flexible and calm. In short, they seemed to have a really different sense of perspective which allowed them to be at ease with the world.
Once this had really sunk in, there was no way I could spend the rest of my life sitting on my bum with my eyes closed. I wanted my friends and family and the wider world to benefit from it too. Not in an evangelical kind of way, but just because everyone deserves the opportunity to be happy. So I came back and set up Headspace with my good friend, Rich Pierson.
It’s all about changing the way we think about the human mind. Most people don’t think twice about training the body or eating the right foods and yet at the same time probably wouldn’t even consider taking ten minutes out to look after the health of the mind. And yet the mind defines our experience of life – everything and everyone. It impacts every single relationship.
So at Headspace we provide the tools and scientific evidence people need to get started, with some really simple and easy to learn techniques for training the mind, improving relationships, and living a more enjoyable life.
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?
Yeah, 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? Should be inhaled and exhaled through the mouth?
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.
Who are your heroes and who do you look up to?
There are a lot of people I really look up to. Sometimes they are simply amazing people I meet in everyday life and sometimes they are more well known people. From the latter category, I would have to say Kelly Slater (because he’s a surfing legend and I’m a massive fan of surfing) and David Attenborough (because he’s responsible for my love of monkeys).
From a meditation point of view, my heroes are those teachers who have devoted their entire lives to training the mind. It is difficult for most people to imagine what it would be like to meditate all day, everyday, for perhaps 10, 20 or even 30 years at a stretch. To meet these rare individuals is to experience a limitless mind and the warmth of humanity.
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.
Headspace are delighted to announce a new campaign at Selfridges, called “NO NOISE”. A celebration of the power of quiet.
On January 11th Headspace will have
- Headspace Pods around the Selfridges store in which shoppers can sit and follow a guided meditation from Andy Puddicombe. In the beauty section will be a specific meditation on beauty, and feeling beautiful, in the food hall, one on food, in the technology section – a meditation on how best to use, and not use, technology etc.
- A silence room in which shoppers can seek out a moment of peace. Designed by Alex Cochrane, this room will be sound proofed and visitors will leave shoes, mobile phones and all 21st century distractions at the door
- 2 windows full of Headspace branding in the wonderful Selfridges style
- A quiet shop – a stripped back capsule collection of symbolically de-branded products like Marmite, Creme de la Mer and Beats By Dre.
Andy Puddicombe, Co-Founder Headspace
“No incense, no religion… and you can do it over lunch” The New York Times