Best Beginner Meditation App: Headspace Review

Headspace is arguably one of the most famous meditation apps, but is Headspace the best?  Who is Headspace best for?  Is Headspace worth it?  In this Headspace review we aim to find out.

Today, I review the vast content library found in Headspace and also offer my own experiences using the Headspace packs.

As an active Headspace user, I do have quite a bit of experience under my belt – albeit I have yet to experience every pack simply because it takes time, possibly over a year of daily meditation due to the considerable amount of content.

Headspace Basics

The Headspace Basics pack is a foundation level meditation program over three levels designed to introduce you to 30-days of meditation.  It’s a great way to learn the basic techniques of mindfulness-based focus work bringing attention to the breath.

It’s important to not over analyse what meditation is at this point, and come in with no expectations.  There is no right or wrong way to meditation – simply showing up and doing the work is all that is required.

  • Basics
  • Basics 2
  • Basics 3

Headspace Packs

The Headspace packs are where Headspace really shows off its vast content library.  It is best to think of the packs as kind of courseware for meditation.

Each group has a variety of topic-specific meditations each ranging from 10 days right up to 30 days.  This means there is enough content to last the general listener over a year of meditation lessons every single day.

Generally, each meditation within a topic starts with a small introduction for a specific insight for 1-3 minutes, followed by the actual meditation which is generally very similar each day.

Headspace packs
Headspace packs
Health

As to be expected, the Headspace health pack contains a range of topics specific to physical and mental health.

The managing anxiety pack and stress pack are at the forefront of the health meditation packs, typically because these are reasons one begins looking to meditation.

Brave

The Headspace Brave packs are designed to teach skills for dealing with strong or uncomfortable emotions.  With mindfulness as a foundation, there is a great deal of research showing how practising skills through meditation can help us become less reactive or caught up when these emotions show up in life.

In fact, therapies like acceptance and commitment therapy use similar techniques as the basis for helping people deal with depression and anxiety.

  • Handling Sadness
  • Grieving
  • Dealing with Regret
  • Transforming Anger
  • Navigating Change
  • Restlessness
Happiness

Where the Brave packs help teach skills for dealing with negative emotions, the Happiness packs are designed to help grow positive emotions and well-being.  While we can’t control every aspect of our lives we can control our ability to move the negative-bias our brains inherently have towards noticing the positive things that we usually take for granted.

These can be simple things like being grateful for hot water or a cup of coffee that are present in most of our lives but we have a tendency to forget about or get too comfortable with.

  • Self-esteem
  • Relationships
  • Patience
  • Happiness
  • Acceptance
  • Appreciation
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
Work & Performance

The work and performance section contains a variety of packs designed to optimise finding a balance between relaxation and balance, and performance and focus.

This is a great way to tackle the high demands of many performance based jobs these days, while still providing an emphasis on work/life balance and taking the time to cultivate a healthy mind with meditation.

Students

The Headspace students category only contains two packs.  I was a bit surprised by this as I think there’s probably more content to provide students.  Thinking about it though, many of the other packs such as the anxiety pack would be beneficial to students too.

The most beneficial pack for students would be the distractions pack however, students will possibly get some use out of all of the work packs too.

  • Leaving Home
  • Dealing with Distractions
Sport

Having never been a professional athlete, I am unable to comment from a first-hand experience on the pressures and requirements of performing at a competition level, however, I imagine the demands are much like that of work and performance.

The need to cultivate determined specific focus and motivation while also treating the mind in the same healthy respect as you do the body.

  • Motivation
  • Concentration
  • Training
  • Competition
  • Communication
  • Analysis
Headspace Pro

The Headspace Pro packs are where you are able to start cultivating your own specific meditation requirements with the inclusion of longer spaces of silence.

There is still much to learn once you begin meditating in silence though, often new challenges will come up for you to master.

  • Levels 1 – 6

Headspace Singles

Where the Headspace packs often go for 10 or 30 days, the Headspace singles are one-off meditations which you can use on any given day based on your own sense of needs.

Just as with the Headspace packs, the singles have a vast array of content and subjects to suit every need from work and stress to sleep or mindful mornings.

Headspace singles
Headspace singles
Classics

The classic Headspace singles are similar to the basics pack where you are given simple non-specific guided or unguided meditations.

  • Guided
  • Unguided
Walking

Walking is a great way for many of us to clear our heads, get some exercise or just blow off some stream.  Fortunately, Headspace has us covered with a guided meditation for all occasions.

  • Calm Your Nerves
  • Add Some Joy
  • Hit Reset
  • Connect With Your Body
  • Get Motivated
  • Walk Off Frustration
  • Walking in the City
  • Walking at Home
  • Walking in Nature
Working Out

The working out singles can be used primarily for running, although one cycling meditation can also be used here.  They aim to help you cultivate more mindfulness during your run.

  • Run Easy
  • Run Smart
  • Keep Running
  • Cycling
Travel

Just as with walking, commuting is also a daily activity that many people spent a great deal of each day doing.

That means we have another great opportunity to practice being mindful before we get lost in thought during the workday.

  • Commuting
  • Vacation
  • Business Travel
SOS

The Headspace SOS singles are the go-to meditations to use in the midst of strong emotions and crisis of sorts.

From panic attacks to feeling burned out or overwhelmed from work or family stresses there is a meditation here to suit most of the common emotional needs and help you find the place of balance and stillness that exists behind the clouds.

  • Burned Out
  • Feeling Overwhelmed
  • Flustered
  • Losing Your Temper
  • Panicking
  • In Pain
Good Morning

Some say the morning routine sets the scene for the rest of the day, so using the Headspace morning singles you can start the day cultivating a sense of peace and mindfulness.

  • Early Mornings
  • Waking Up
Goodnight

If like many people you struggle getting to sleep or falling back to sleep after waking up at 3 am you can use the sleep meditation singles as part of a healthy sleep routine.

Personally, I have no trouble falling asleep however if I wake up in the middle of the night or early morning I often have trouble falling back to sleep and have found a pair of sleep headphones combined with the falling back to sleep meditation to do the trick in time.

  • Sleeping
  • Falling Back to Sleep
Sleep Sounds

If you would rather sleep sounds than a meditation, Headspace can also be of service to you here with soothing sleep sounds.

The great thing about sleep sounds is they create a white-noise type effect without the overtone of voice or music.

  • Doze
  • Snooze
  • Dream
  • Slumber
  • Drift Off
  • Power Down
Unwind

If you just need to context switch from work to home life then the unwinding meditations Headspace provides might be just what you need.

These can be used on demand after a day of hard work, or on a Friday to bring in the weekend.

  • Alone Time
  • Reset
  • End of Day
  • For the Weekend
Rough Day

For a little bit more stress relief than the unwinding meditations, the rough day singles might be more suited.

These singles will help you reduce the milder emotions like the feelings of stress, frustration and sickness.

  • Stressed
  • Frustrated
  • Under the Weather
At Home

Household chores, gardening or creativity at home, Headspace has you covered here again too.

The at-home meditation singles can help you cultivate a sense of mindfulness to these activities.

  • Creative Writing
  • Gardening
  • Housework
At Work

While the work packs have you covered for a large range of common performance scenarios, the singles have a few extra meditations the packs don’t cover.

  • Mindful Tech
  • Presentations
  • Taking a Break
Anxious Moments

The anxious moments singles are designed for the most common anxious or stress based activities that affect a lot of us today.

  • Interviews
  • Fear of Flying
  • Difficult Conversations
  • Exams
Food

The food singles fill the final gap with daily opportunities to be mindful.  Although some of us may avoid cooking, we still have to eat so there is still at least one more activity we can practice doing mindfully.

  • Cooking
  • Eating
Sport Singles

Last but not least, to round up the adult single meditations Headspace provides a range sports related singles too.

These are sure to keep the budding athletes busy once they get through the packs.

  • Competition
  • Concentration
  • Motivation
  • Training
  • Rehab
  • Recovery
  • Analysis
  • Communication
Kids

Fortunately, Headspace just isn’t for adults and also includes a variety of singles for kids too.

I have tried a few of these with my own children, currently 7 and 9 and while I find some of the language to be a little too grown up for children, for the most part, they are pretty good.

Headspace kids meditations
Headspace kids meditations

It’s always going to be a challenge to get a 7-year-old to follow meditation instructions exactly to the letter, but at the very least they will likely absorb some of it and who knows, over time may gain more and more interest.

  • Appreciation
  • Balance
  • Happiness
  • Sleep
  • Calm
  • Kindness
  • Paying Attention
  • Waking Up

How Much Does Headspace Cost?

This is where I have mixed feelings about the cost of Headspace.  Because rather cheap or frugal, and increasingly annoyed with the growing subscription monetization method for every phone app in existence part of me says “Oh god, not another subscription”.

However, as a software engineer, I can also appreciate the vast amount of work that went and continues to go into the Headspace application, infrastructure and content.

Headspace currently costs $19.99 Australian Dollars ($12.99 USD) per month, or $149.99 Australian Dollars ($94.99 USD) per year.

Does Headspace Work?

Given Headspace is a mindfulness meditation app, there is plenty of science and research to back up the benefits of mindfulness meditation for a variety of life’s problems.

So the question “Does Headspace Work?” is a bit of an obscure question which needs to be answered with more specific contexts.

I can only personally testify to the results of mindfulness meditation in respect to anxiety and panic disorder, to which I will say yes, Headspace – or more specifically meditation and insight is a tremendous help in this regard.

There is research on mindfulness meditation in many other areas though including depression, addiction, eating disorders, stress and more, with many positive outcomes.

Science also shows other benefits to meditation such as physically changing the brains grey matter in the frontal cortex.

From another personal perspective, I can say that I “meditate” a lot more during daily life tasks too such as driving and walking.

While walking I often find myself noticing the feel of my shoes on the surface of the ground, or noticing my stomach moving in and out as I breathe.

If I get lost in thought while walking I notice quite frequently and naturally bring my attention back to focusing on the audiobook and the sensations again.

Is Headspace Worth It?

I have been a student of mindfulness and meditation for a couple of years now, so I consider myself experienced but still a beginner.

I believe just as with our physical health we don’t aim to get fit and then stop because we reached our goal.  Just as physical health is forever, so is mental health.. so I plan to keep as a core foundation of my lifestyle.

Where Headspace shines is the ability to introduce the beginner to meditation in an easy, accessible manner.  Although I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the gamification – it has both pro’s and cons, it can help a beginner build consistency.

Headspace dashboard
Headspace dashboard

The flipside of gamification is meditation is supposed to be something we take lightly without judgement, there is no right or wrong… so being encouraged to complete a streak, or being punished for breaking a streak seems counter-intuitive.

The other aspect of Headspace is it’s more than just a meditation app… with such a large library of specific content, it is nearly a therapy course in itself.  Of course, the lessons presented are not entirely unique to Headspace, the way they are presented and made accessible is a great way to focus on improving your “psychological flexibility” as ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) puts it.

And while it may seem a little expensive, when you consider the amount of content that even if meditating daily could take up the better part of a year, we also need to factor in the benefits to mental health the same way we pay for gym memberships.

In my opinion, Headspace is worth it… and as of this review, I am still an active subscriber, and daily user (among other apps and content, too).

Alternatives to Headspace

While I believe Headspace is the best meditation app to teach people the basics in a simple, but an expansive library of content there is a few other applications worth mentioning too.

I have experience with all of these applications and they all present and work really well.  Some just work for a more intermediate to advanced level.

  • Calm:  Much like Headspace,  Calm also features a library of specific topic based meditations and it too is presented in a beautiful manner.  I don’t believe it to be quite as beginner friendly or vast as Headspace, but it might be worth a try for a different voice or content if you find Headspace isn’t for you.
  • Insight Timer:  Insight Timer is unique in the way that they don’t really produce meditation content themselves.  Instead, the application is a gateway for community-based and professional based meditations.  There are literally thousands of meditations on the platform, and it can sometimes be hard finding what you are after but there are also a lot of “professional” instructors who use the platform too, such as Tara Brach and Kristin Neff.
  • Meditation Studio:  Meditation Studio is the newest app for me to learn of which has similar pack-focused meditations to Headspace, however where Headspace just has the one teacher, Meditation studio packs are delivered by a range of expert teachers.
  • Smiling Mind:  Smiling Mind is a great Australian organisation with the goal of getting meditation into every school in Australia.  I really admire their work and goal and think it’s a great way to help the younger generation and fight the rising mental health epidemic.  That said, their application is entirely focused on the general meditator and is in no way aimed entirely at young children.

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