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“When was the last time you did nothing? And by nothing, I really mean nothing,” asks Andy Puddicombe in episode one of “Headspace Guide to Meditation,” a new Netflix series that premiered in January. The Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk presents an experiential journey through the benefits of meditation and the science behind it, to show viewers that this ancient 3,000-year-old practice can be made easy and accessible to anyone.
The first episode is a 101 on how to get started, defining meditation as a skill; a way to train the mind to cultivate a greater sense of ease in both mind and body. Puddicombe educates viewers that by taking time to pause and focus on the breath, the mind becomes more present and less distracted, which leads to more enjoyment in everyday life and more meaningful connections.
Each of the eight episodes in the series is just over 20 minutes long, about half of which is devoted to a lecture narrated by Puddicombe on a topic such as letting go or gratitude, and an explanation on how specific meditation techniques can be used in different situations. The remainder of the episode features a meditation guided by Puddicombe to put the learned technique into practice.
So in case you’re wondering whether meditation can still be effective when offered in a streamable form of entertainment, the answer is a resounding yes.
The Story Behind the Netflix Show
“When [co-founder] Rich and I started out [with Headspace], the most exciting thing was thinking about how to put meditation in places where you wouldn’t expect to find it, how to reach people who might never have even considered trying it before,” Puddicombe said in a press release. “Ten years later, the idea of being able to access those tools with Netflix on your TV, no matter where you are in the world, is a huge leap forward in this regard.”
Morgan Selzer, the head of content at Headspace Studios, said it was this very sentiment that led to the show’s creation. “We think about how we can meet people where they are to educate them on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. I think this is a real opportunity for those who already have a meditation practice to learn more about it, but I think it’s also a really good primer and a great way to whet your appetite in the world of meditation if you’ve never tried it before.”
Produced by Vox Media Studios and Headspace Studios, the series is an entry point for beginners of all ages but is also effective for those with an established practice. In addition to detailing the science-backed benefits like reduced stress, frustration, and pain, and increased happiness, acceptance, and compassion, Puddicombe demystifies the practice by inviting the viewer to listen to their mind and be curious. There’s a quick tutorial on the detrimental effects of the “monkey mind” for the uninitiated with an explanation of how we often try to “think” our way out of our problems; the guide to letting go features a visualization technique. Puddicombe elucidates the concept of neuroplasticity by equating meditation to mental fitness—that it’s no different than working out at the gym to get stronger.
Puddicombe employs the same principles and teachings that have made Headspace one of the most recognized and downloaded meditation apps in the world, with over 65 million users across 190 countries. Similar to the app, as the narrator of the series Puddicombe’s reliable, omniscient presence effectively guides the viewer through the process of meditation. The soothing yet engaging original animation—a mix of watercolor art, sketches, and stock photography—is central to the Headspace brand of storytelling.
Can You Meditate While Watching TV?
The meditations can be practiced with eyes open or closed; but the accompanying animations are worth watching for those who might benefit from having an element of focused attention, especially if they’re new to meditation. For example, allowing a soft gaze to follow an orange squiggly line across the screen as it loops over and over, eventually becoming a sphere, or watching an animated blue sky as billowy clouds drift by and imagining that the same effect is taking place inside the mind.
As a former Buddhist monk, Puddicombe studied meditation while living in a monastery in the Himalayas before starting Headspace in 2010. Each episode is rooted in one of the eight mindfulness teachings Puddicombe learned during his time at the monastery. “We talk about the way someone might feel and how meditation can help, then we incorporate a personal story from Andy’s past that makes it really relatable for people to understand, and then we parlay it back to the science and the research,” Selzer explained.
The Connection between Mindfulness and Mental Health
The creators of the show also wanted to help soften the cultural stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging a conversation around it. Headspace is currently hard at work in clinical research settings to enhance the rigor of scientific studies. The company aims to hold the health- and brain-boosting benefits of mindfulness to the same standards as medical interventions. According to the company, Headspace conducted its first clinical study eight years ago and now has 25 peer reviewed, published studies under its belt with another 50 in the works. “They’re all with major universities including Harvard and Oxford and we’re really proud with not only the rigor of it, but also the results.” Puddicombe said. “We can speak with confidence about how Headspace specifically is helping to decrease stress or anxiety, or increase focus.”
Puddicombe added that a key driver of the series for both Netflix and Headspace is that meditation transcends geographical boundaries and language barriers to bring people together in connection and community.
“For me, it always comes back to it being timeless and universal. I’ve sat in rooms with people from all different countries, genders and ages. In the moment that they let go of thinking and instead focus on the breath, we’re all connected on a very basic human level and in that silence, we’re united in some ways,” he said. “It allows us to step out of our own thinking world for long enough so that we can move closer and better understand the worlds of other people.”
“Headspace Guide to Meditation” is available for streaming to Netflix members in 190 countries.