Calmtainment: The New Wellness Trend Encouraging Mindfulness

Streaming giants, video game producers and even toy manufacturers are now encouraging their audiences – young and old – to slow down, relax and practice mindfulness.

Television is usually considered a ‘mindless’ activity, one where binge-watching your way through all episodes of Succession or Maid without taking a breath is deemed perfectly acceptable. 

But now, after more than a decade of hearing the phrase “Neflix and chill”, it appears the streaming giant is trying to help us become more mindful. 

In 2021, Netflix decided its viewers really should chill – though in a more PG sense – via a new series produced in collaboration with meditation app Headspace (“your gym membership for the mind”).

Narrated by Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe, Headspace Guide to Meditation aired in January. It was swiftly followed by Headspace Guide to Sleep, released in April. A third installment, Unwind Your Mind aired in June. 

It proved to be a busy year for Headspace on the small screen with the premiere of Mindful Escapes, produced in collaboration with the BBC. Featuring footage of nature and narration intended to help “relax and rejuvenate viewers”, the production was a world first for BBC Studios, according to executive producer Alice Keens-Soper. 

“It’s perfect programming for these strange times,” she said. 

Also in 2021, in a series of animated shorts, “Cookie Monster's friend Mr. Andy from Headspace” made an appearance on Sesame Street for Headspace Monster Meditations.

“It’s almost as though meditation was designed for kids,” said Puddicombe. “They just get it.”

And, it would seem, it’s almost as though television was made for mindfulness. 

In October 2020, HBO Max partnered with Headspace’s rival mindfulness app Calm to produce the series A World of Calm, which the platform describes as “a timely antidote for our modern lives.” The 10 half-hour episodes feature relaxing stories narrated by a star-studded cast including Idris Elba and Nicole Kidman.

Over on Disney+, Zenimation has reproduced classic Disney animations, overlaying shorts from Aladdin and The Little Mermaid with wonderfully tranquil sound effects, designed to relax and soothe the viewer. 

While in the UK, recognising the impact of the pandemic on families, broadcaster Sky UK and Ireland added two series to introduce younger viewers to the topic of mental health

Clam Brain (yes, clam, not calm) gives kids aged seven to 12 tips and tricks to calm their minds and get their bodies active, while Sky commissioned a second season of relaxation and mindfulness series Dreamflight, which features footage of the natural world with calming, reassuring stories narrated by celebrities, including Dame Julie Walters and actor Russell Tovey. 

“We’re really proud to be commissioning shows that shine a spotlight on mental wellbeing and offer kids practical exercises from experts that can help them navigate this hectic world in which we live,” says Lucy Murphy, Director of Kids Content, Sky UK and Ireland.

Mindfulness With LEGO®

LEGO is no stranger to the therapeutic power of clicking bricks together. The Danish toy giant dabbled in mindfulness towards the end of 2019 with Build Yourself Happy, a book of mindful tips published in collaboration with DK and writer Abbie Headon.

LEGO has since launched a series of ‘mindful’ models, pitching its bricks as a form of therapy, not for kids, but for stressed-out adults.

With no Star Wars or Minecraft figurine in sight, the LEGO Botanical collection, made from sustainable plant-based plastic, is a far cry from the brightly coloured bricks from your childhood. With its fully adjustable stems and petals, the Flower Bouquet is a 756-piece masterpiece that could easily grace a dining room table, while Bonsai Tree equates to several hours’ worth of zen-like building.  

The third model, Bird of Paradise, is a 46-cm tall replica of the tropical plant with plume-like flowers that sway, just like a real plant, when it’s placed in a light breeze.

Impressively, LEGO has also created an accompanying Spotify playlist with soothing White Noise tracks, enabling adults to disconnect as they assemble. 

Enjoy a sense of calm as you carefully assemble LEGO's bonsai tree model, part of a collection designed especially for stressed-out adults 

Mindfulness With Minecraft

While the stressed-out adults build LEGO, the kids can play video games – but there’s no need to feel guilty. As it turns out, some video games could actually be good for your kids.

Minecraft’s game-based learning edition, Minecraft Education launched in 2016, and is lauded for its ability to transform the learning experience, helping students to learn mathematical principles and other complex topics.

When the pandemic hit, teachers around the world turned to Minecraft where specially designed lessons cover everything from science and math to history and coding. With an immersive and engaging experience paired with tutorials to support educators, it’s a win-win for teachers and students alike.

Minecraft Education is promoting themes of emotional wellbeing in classrooms around the world

Minecraft added a mindful offering in 2020, creating a series of worlds and lessons designed to promote social and emotional learning.

The Mindful Knight sees players tackle a series of trials to obtain knighthood, learning vocabulary such as ‘serenity’, ‘anxious’, ‘resilience’ and ‘embracing’ along the way.

Before delving into the game, students discuss concepts like emotional wellbeing, empathy, breathing and being present. They also complete pre-writing exercises, answering questions like “How do you manage your emotions when you get upset by your experience at school?”

All in all, it’s designed to improve focus, emotional awareness and emotional regulation, which to use the rather tired 2020 phrase “in these unprecedented times”, can only be a good thing.