THERE CAN’T BE many people that can say they’ve trained as both a monk and a circus performer.
Andy Puddicombe can.
Nor is it the sort of background you expect from your average start up entrepreneur. The cliche tends to be more along the lines of a traineeship served in the glow of a computer monitor in a childhood bedroom or suburban garage (rather than on a meditation cushion in a Himalayan monastery).
That said Puddicombe’s business is a meditation app and digital platform — and an extraordinarily appealing and successful one it is too — with over a million users.
Just how appealing is evidenced by the fact that his TED talk has had over 5 million views to date. In it he shares a slick precis of his path and illustrates his points by juggling (after leaving the monastery he briefly trained at the Moscow State Circus, before returning to London to complete a Circus degree at the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama).
He then teamed up with Rich Pierson, an ad man who previously worked at the agency BBH, to create getsomeheadspace.com in 2010. Initially offering how-to videos (which it still does) it broadened to include the Headspace app a couple of years later.
Don’t be mistaken into thinking Headspace is just any old commodification of mindfulness and meditation practice to the masses, even if The Guardian‘s Ed Halliwell has said that Puddicombe “is doing for meditation what someone like Jamie Oliver has done for food” (Oliver has his “ten minute” meals and Puddicombe his ten minute meditations).
Puddicombe has successfully hit on a way to introduce meditation basics in a simple, very approachable and mainstream way, stripped of the religiosity and cultural baggage which deters some, yet grounded in some of the essential meditation methods taught by Buddhism.
It’s also proving to show some useful applications in contemporary healthcare, backed up by research.
Headspace has teamed up with a number of academic institutions, including University College London and Yale. In one study related to stress in the workplace, reports Wired magazine, “clinicians observed a significant reduction in participants’ systolic blood pressure after eight weeks of using the app”.
According to David Cox, Headspace’s chief medical officer and a lecturer at the Imperial College School of Medicine, “We have a clinical trial with St Bartholomew’s [hospital, in London] looking at chronic pelvic pain. If successful, it could lead to the app being prescribed by NHS doctors for chronic pain.”