Headspace brings a new meaning to Netflix and Chill
Having received enthusiastic mainstream support for years from scientists and popular voices like Oprah, meditation’s potential to make us healthier, happier, and generally better people is now ubiquitous in American culture. Meditation is free, natural, and straightforward, with significant evidence supporting its benefits; so why do so few of us meditate? The answer may be distilled down to three core beliefs about meditation, with many of us holding at least one; it’s difficult, it’s boring, or our brains just aren’t built to meditate. Netflix’s Headspace Guide to Meditation attempts to present the ancient practice in a fresh new light, and in doing so to thoroughly dispel each of these beliefs.
“Meditation is boring”
Meditation is a solitary practice that lacks the kinds of tangible and measurable rewards that most other skill-building pursuits offer. An aspiring soccer player can take inspiration from thousands of professional players’ highlight reels on YouTube; yet, an aspiring meditator has far fewer such resources from which to draw motivation or information. It is simply difficult to make compelling content about an activity that involves sitting with one’s eyes closed.
This series uses beautiful presentation to teach and motivate, tackling the challenge of making captivating content about meditation head-on. Headspace’s wager is that introducing meditation in an appealing way will positively shape the way that people experience their meditations going forward. Created by a team of talented animators and writers, each of the series’ eight 25-minute episodes concisely presents guided meditations, summaries of research, and anecdotes, all seamlessly woven together by an animated visual narrative that feels a bit like sinking into a hot bathtub.
“Meditation is difficult”
For most Americans, meditation conjures up vague images of floating monks, psychedelic mandalas, or the pursuit of spiritual transcendence. These images feel inaccessible and other-worldly to many, not to mention incongruent with the realities of the sometimes tedious and uneventful nature of our early meditation attempts. This can make us feel like meditation is beyond our abilities, a disheartening notion.
Through setting expectations, Headspace Guide to Meditation makes an explicit attempt to reset our understanding of meditation and what we can expect from it. The guide lays out a clear and convincing argument for how meditation can improve our daily lives, striking a fine balance between presenting meditation as accessible and practical on one hand, yet profoundly rewarding and beautiful on the other.
“My brain just isn’t built to meditate”
The process of learning how to meditate can often feel frustrating as many of us get fixated on whether or not we are “meditating correctly”. For most beginners, many of our meditation sessions feel like time wasted failing to wrangle our minds. As a result, many beginners conclude that their minds are simply not meant for meditation.
Headspace Guide to Meditation’s central thesis is that meditation really is for everyone – all we need is the right guide to show us the ropes. The guide’s narrator, Andy Puddicombe, the British ex-monk who founded Headspace in 2010, provides viewers a credible and likable role model. By sharing stories of the foibles and doubts on his own meditation journey, Andy effectively reassures viewers that their experiences are normal and even critical to improvement.
A new frontier in digital wellness?
Though few things during the COVID-19 pandemic could be called fortuitous, the timing of the series’ release during a time of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders may present a more captive audience than may have otherwise existed for this show. Amidst more time at home (and in front of the TV), a rise in mental health challenges, and a “digital revolution” of novel wellness tools, the time may be ripe for a new frontier in digital wellness: streaming shows. (Longtime Headspace competitor Calm also launched A World of Calm on HBO Max in October 2020, and Headspace’s series is just the first of a three-series deal with Netflix.)
In thinking about the unique opportunities for wellness are presented by this new medium, questions abound. Will we see a new group of first-time meditators emerge due to a lower entry barrier? After all, it is easier to commit to a short, 25-minute show while browsing Netflix than to make a more concerted effort to download a meditation app, set up an account, and commit to a practice. What opportunities are presented for meditation to be a social activity? Watching TV with others is already commonplace. People may be more likely to invite a partner, roommate, or family member to watch a meditation episode with them than inviting the same person to engage with an audio track. Are TV shows a way forward for further popularizing wellness? With the proliferation of interest in mental and emotional wellness, it is exciting to think about how this space will evolve. Perhaps the future will bring curated streaming services with evidence-based mental health content, available for a subscription, and supported by engaging and beautiful visuals. We’re watching this space for a whole new meaning to Netflix and chill.