Mind & Body

‘I took a Slow TV journey to mindfulness’

Offering some of the benefits of travel without leaving your home, Slow TV may not be new, but it’s growing in popularity as the pandemic keeps the world from venturing too far from home. It does mean, though, that you can still reap the meditative, stress-reducing benefits.

Last year, my husband and I bought our 10th wedding anniversary present to each other, a 2020 holiday for just the two of us (our first ever sans children) to Spain and France. Needless to say, I was excited!

But we all know how the story of 2020 goes. The inability to travel, especially as a Victorian right now, has endowed me with bucket loads of stress and anxiety. Purely by accident, however, I came across a style of television that has allowed me to travel, while also reducing stress and anxiety. I don’t even need to leave my house. It is called Slow TV.

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Slow TV isn’t a new thing, it was first developed in 2009 in Norway, although there are arguably earlier examples of the genre as early as 1964, with Andy Warhol’s film, Sleep.

These programs are documentaries (usually long documentaries) focused on seemingly mundane events or coverage of an ordinary event in its complete length.

Since its creation, Slow TV has gained immense popularity amongst Norwegians who will use the genre of documentary film to unwind and switch off, all while escaping to another part of the country or the world for a few hours, in the comfort of their own home.

The first title, Train Ride from Bergen to Oslo is literally that; the train ride from Bergen to Oslo. The train trip (which has been hailed one of the best in the world) is a seven-hour journey through the Norwegian countryside which was shown in entirety via the footage of four cameras that were placed onto the outside and inside of the train. The film was shown on a Norwegian television network (NKR) without any breaks and it was a huge success.

From this, the development of various other Slow TV programs followed and have been shown within Norway and around the world, including Australia ever since (SBS featured Slow TV on its On Demand and Viceland platforms for the month of June this year).

Sociology professor James Arvanitakis from Western Sydney University says this success can be partly attributed to the popularity of mindfulness.

“Mindfulness has been all attached to celebrity culture, but it is a way to calm the mind, understand why you are thinking the way you are thinking and feeling the way you are feeling,” he explains.

“This could be everything – from enjoying the clouds, feeling grass at your feet, sand between your toes, noticing how a breeze feels on your face. Slow TV celebrates this sense of being in the moment – this curiosity. It is truly beautiful.”

And with the plethora of challenges that 2020 has thrown at all of us and the things we are attempting to juggle, Slow TV seemed, to me at least, like a safe option to try to help me to unwind and to celebrate the moment.

Professor Arvanitakis says that I am not the only one feeling this way.

“We live in such a fast-paced world,” he says.

“Even as COVID forced us to slow down, the reality is there was so much news heading our way, so many demands personally (kids at home, no gap between home and work, the stress of the bad news, the fear of COVID) that these moments are something we want to embrace.”

The other obvious benefit of Slow TV, which I found particularly helpful as a Victorian in 2020 (with my travel dreams for the year squashed), was how Slow TV can allow you to travel without leaving your couch.

“Slow TV is also capturing our inability to travel: when we travel we look out the car window, train window, from the boat or ship, and we gaze on the world like children who have seen something for the first time,” Arvanitakis says.

And this insight couldn’t be more accurate, as I found my eyes widened and in awe while I sailed to Tobago for two and a half hours, and walked through the city of Tokyo for two (while in my flannelette PJs eating chocolate on my couch.)

Through Slow TV I could see the sights and hear the sounds of places I had never been before and as I did it, for those few hours, I switched off and could just be.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.