On a recent Sunday, football fans viewing the showdown between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Jets saw an unusual ad among the spots for pickup trucks and light beer. Against a backdrop of pastel colors and an up-tempo beat, a diverse cast of athletes testified:
“I meditate to crush it.”
“I meditate to not freak out.”
“I meditate to have the edge.”
The ad was for Headspace, a guided meditation app developed by two Britons — a former monk and an advertising executive. By targeting the vast audience of football fans, the Headspace team was making clear its belief that meditation is something with mass commercial appeal.
Their pitch has new resonance on the heels of a bitter election. In the week after Donald J. Trump’s victory in the presidential race, Headspace said it had experienced a 44 percent jump in its app’s “SOS” meditation, a sort of panic button for the frazzled. Yet even without an anxious electorate, Headspace was finding an audience.
A standout among a group of websites, apps and consulting firms that are seeking to capitalize on the current craze for all things mindful, the Headspace app has been downloaded more than 11 million times.
With its coffers full from a recent funding round befitting a Silicon Valley social media darling, Headspace is now aiming to convert millions more people with advertisements on network television and posters plastered on New York City bus stops and subway stations.
Yet even as Headspace finds its groove, questions linger about just how broad its appeal can be, and whether the app’s creators can back up their aspirational claims with real science.
“The cheerleading phase is over,” said James Gimian, publisher of Mindful magazine. “People know mindfulness can be a good thing. Now people need to do research into what the benefits are in specific applications.”
Headspace was founded by Rich Pierson and his buddy Andy Puddicombe in 2010. At the time, Mr. Pierson was a stressed-out ad executive in London, and Mr. Puddicombe — who had studied as a Buddhist monk and dabbled as a circus performer — was teaching meditation to anxious Britons.