From Buddhist monk to mindfulness entrepreneur - we caught up with Andy Puddicombe to hear the story behind his meditation journey
You were introduced to meditation by your mother - did you learn to meditate as a child?
I was introduced to meditation in early life and practiced a fair bit throughout my teens. However, it wasn’t until I was at university that it really ‘clicked’. At the time I was going out with a girl who read a lot of books about Buddhism. I wasn’t listening too intently but some of it must have gone in, because one day I just turned around and said, “You know what? That stuff you’ve been talking about? That’s a brilliant idea. I’m going to go away and be a monk”.
Do you think that it was this early exposure to meditation that drew you to make that decision, or were there other influences?
I think it was a culmination of factors. I was studying sports science and about halfway through my degree I got to a point where I wanted to better understand how to stop the endless chatter inside my mind. I felt I wasn’t getting that through my normal education.
Why did you decide to leave the monastery and what did you do next?
I really wanted to share the knowledge I’d built up during my time as a monk so that others could benefit from meditation too. I wanted to demystify meditation, to make it accessible, relevant and beneficial for as many people as possible. After leaving the monastery I had a brief stint in circus school where I got a degree in circus arts, and then I moved back to London and set up a meditation consultancy.
How did you begin on your mission to bring meditation to all? How did you convince people to try it at first?
It was whilst working as a meditation consultant that Headspace came about. I met Rich Pierson (the co-founder of Headspace) one day when he came to the surgery. He was working in advertising and we decided to do a skills swap. Things progressed from there, really. We both thought, how could we present meditation in a way that our friends would genuinely want to give it a try? Rich had all these creative skills and I had the experience as a monk. I think that was the light bulb moment with Headspace, the coming together of those two backgrounds.
We launched Headspace in 2010, initially as an events company, but soon realised that by making the techniques available online we could reach far more people.
Your Headspace app, books and events have attracted millions of fans worldwide - what do you think is the main reason that people engage with Headspace?
I think what has made Headspace so popular is its accessibility. The Take 10 programme breaks meditation down into bite-size chunks making it much easier to fit into busy lives, be it in-between meetings or on the bus during the commute home.
The scientific research on meditation has also exploded in recent years. There are over 2,000 scientific studies that have found mindfulness training to have significant benefits – covering everything from reducing stress, anxiety and depression, to improving sleep and levels of empathy.
I imagine that some people who were more sceptical to begin with are beginning to really take note of the benefits that meditation can provide.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love that we are able to help people make a positive change in their lives. It’s hugely rewarding to know that the app has over a million users and that they are really benefiting from practising meditation.
When is your favourite time and what is your favourite place to meditate?
I try to practice meditation and also surf every morning. The location varies, however I do have a quiet spot in my house that I like to use. I think after training in meditation for a long period of time, there is always a bit more stability to the mind, but I still value that time out very much. And needless to say, I am still learning. The journey of meditation is one of a lifetime.
Is it important to meditate every day? Does it matter if you skip a few sessions?
As much as possible it is important to stick to a routine; think same time, same place. It should become as much a part of your day-to-day life as brushing your teeth. Of course, it is not the end of the world if you miss a session, just carry on when you can.
We know that meditation has a positive impact on our mental health, but how can it benefit our bodies? Can it help us to achieve our fitness and nutritional goals?
Yes! Meditation impacts all areas of your life, from mental health to physical wellbeing. We like to call Headspace ‘a gym membership for the mind’ and in fact, a great way to incorporate meditation into your life is through walking meditations. Beginners often find this approach easier as it lends itself more naturally to the spacious element so people find it a lot more comfortable and easier to do whilst on the move.
Are there any aspects of your job that you find tough?
As with anything in life there are stresses that come with it. I often find it hard to manage my time as I feel a bit like I am being pulled in lots of different directions at once, but my morning meditation always helps to keep my mind stable and focus.
Besides meditating, how do you like to unwind?
As I said earlier I love to surf - it helps to keep me grounded and get me prepared for the day ahead.
Who are your top people in health, fitness and wellbeing?
My wife Lucinda is a brilliant exercise physiologist and nutritionist! She’s a vital part of the Headspace team.
Finally, what’s next for Headspace? Are there any new places or ideas you’d like to explore?
We are launching our new app and website later this month, which is very exciting - watch this space!
Find out more at www.headspace.com