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
he’s doing it through an app.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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."
is for anyone, they say, and subscribing to Headspace
should be no different than buying a gym membership for
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.
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
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
Atlantic offers Headspace in its in-flight
entertainment. And employees at Google and LinkedIn have
access to a companywide subscription.
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."
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
addition to Headspace, there’s meditation apps such as
Buddhify, Omvana, Smiling Mind and Dharma Seed.
app, Insight Timer, offers guided meditations and
recorded bell chimes.
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
closely followed yoga teacher with celebrity students
posts some of her sessions on YouTube and is developing
a meditation app of her own.
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."
apps like Headspace give people an edge, Jagat said, not
only in their personal lives, but in hypercompetitive
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."
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Sherman has used Headspace since August precisely to
help her on the job. All it takes is listening to a few
minutes with the earbuds on her train commute.
some ways, it’s helped me become more aware in a
stressful situation," said Sherman, 43, a user
experience architect at Pebble Tech. "It allows me
to hunker down and focus through it."
MacKay, executive director of the Shambhala Meditation
Center of Los Angeles, has been meditating for 26 years
and has never seen the practice more trendy than it is
everyone fancies his/herself a ‘meditator’ after
listening to a four minute guided meditation app where
someone talks in your ears the whole time," she
said in an email. "It seems the lineage has gone
missing, the same way it did when yoga went for-profit.
Is it still good? I think so."
reasons it’s good because nothing is more effective
reaching a wider audience than an app. She noticed it
while teaching classes at Cliffside Malibu, the drug
rehabilitation center for the well-to-do. Meditation
apps were ensconced in many young people’s devices.
more ways there are to positively affect the mind, the
better," said MacKay, 49.
longtime practitioner has even done her part for the
digital meditation age. MacKay recently recorded guided
meditations for "Your Daily Zen," a show aimed
at millennial women and moms on the digital network
toward meditation weren’t nearly as welcoming when
Puddicombe and Pierson launched Headspace in London in
thought we were completely bonkers when we first started
doing this," said Pierson, 35, who quit a career in
advertising selling products like Axe deodorant and
turned to meditation to address his severe anxiety.
then we were like pariahs at parties," he
continued. "People would just back away. I still
think there’s a bit of that weirdness going on."
had come to meditation by way of early trauma in his
life. At university, he witnessed friends die after
being run over by a car. His stepsister died shortly
afterward in a separate bicycle accident.
troubled, he decided to give up everything and train to
become a monk. He spent 10 years studying Buddhism and
meditation, partly in monasteries in India, Burma and
he returned to England, he found work at a clinic
teaching meditation to ordinary professionals, many of
whom had never considered the practice before.
started prescribing hour-long meditations but found it
was too much of a commitment. He reduced it to 30
minutes, but still patients found it too long.
we tried 10 minutes and it made a difference,"
Puddicombe said. "People’s lives are so frenetic,
even just taking a short period of time out seems to
have a really significant impact."
Pierson and Puddicombe were introduced by a mutual
friend, the pair began hosting meditation events for
hundreds in central London. Though well attended, the
work was exhausting and difficult to scale up.
some resistance, Puddicombe agreed to Pierson’s idea
of starting an app, which he envisioned as like a Nike+
fitness tracker for meditation.
a big marketing push in a British newspaper, Headspace
earned a word-of-mouth following that was helped
exponentially with each celebrity adherent. The company
later shifted its headquarters to Venice.
is entering its next big phase, which coincides with its
move 15 minutes away into a refurbished
20,000-square-foot warehouse this year.
a recent weekday, Pierson was working in a Headspace
office surrounded by whiteboard walls marked at the top
with the heading "The Most Comprehensive Guide to
Health and Happiness."
was a road map for expansion to help more than double
the company’s user base to 12 million in the next
year. Headspace will offer dozens more meditations and
expert talks on things like overeating, breakups and
fear of death. They’re also developing a category for
kids. Children as young as 4 are using Headspace.
company is also expanding its offerings of animations,
videos and shorter recordings lasting no more than a
couple minutes. Ten minutes, it turns out, was still too
long for many subscribers.
they developed the app, Puddicombe said he could never
fathom reaching 5 million people.
a chance," he said, "never mind tens of
millions we hope to reach. Without this, we simply
wouldn’t be able to do what we do.
hope that over time that we will, as a society, move
away from the idea that you have to do this thing for a
long period of time, or wear certain clothes or talk in
a certain way to benefit from this," Puddicombe
continued. "You don’t. You just have to sit down
and close your eyes."