Two Helena residents are launching an interactive platform called GuideFul to provide tutorials and guided meditation with a community focus.
Justin Whitaker, one of the co-founders, was raised in Helena before moving to Missoula for college. He was studying business when he took a Buddhism class with a meditation lab. It addressed his anxiety and depression unlike prescription drugs or therapy did. Whitaker changed his major from business to philosophy and took all the Buddhism classes available at the University of Montana. He has since received a Ph.D in Buddhist Ethics and heard teachings from the Dalai Lama.
After teaching for more than a decade, Whitaker said he understood the necessity of connecting people during their meditation practice and noticed it deterred people from sticking with the practice. During a meditation class at Merlin CCC in January, Whitaker and classmate Bob Funk talked about launching a website and app for mindfulness and meditation with the ability to foster interaction.
Whitaker said most existing apps don’t provide any interaction among users, which causes them to burn out after a few weeks.
“Mindfulness can be a very lonely practice,” he said. “You need people there to support you.”
To provide that support, the app and website will include video tutorials by meditation teachers from around the world, guided and live meditation, community forums and podcasts. Users will have a chance to ask questions and guides will provide answers and feedback. The app will go through beta testing in July and launch in September. The app will be available on iPhones and Android phones for free to download, but with a $9.99 a month paywall to access full services.
Whitaker said there’s research that shows meditation can combat anxiety and depression as well as physical ailments like high blood pressure.
“Meditation can be a wonderful adjunct or add on to medicine or therapy,” he said. “But it’s not going to work for everybody.”
Whitaker said after he gives his personal story and talks about research, most people are willing to try it.
Whitaker has been teaching since 2003 and will lead the teaching effort for GuideFul. He’s leading a four week mindfulness and meditation class at Dancing Lotus and has previously taught at the University of Montana, Carroll College, Hot Yoga Helena and Merlin CCC.
Funk, his co-founder, also has a background in mental health care and is developing the platform. He started Awareness Network, a Helena nonprofit covering out-of-pockets costs for mental health treatment.
While GuideFul plans to launch this fall, Whitaker and Funk are crowdfunding on IndieGoGo to raise $5,000 for startup costs and offering 50 percent off a year long membership to anyone who donates.