We often think of meditation as a practice reserved to only a few. For those who feel like meditation is not for them, here’s the news: you CAN meditate, and meditating is not just about clearing the mind. In fact, you have probably been meditating for years, but calling it by another name. When we take time out of our days to close our eyes and breathe, it only makes sense that our brains start to process those thoughts which we couldn’t get to while living our lives. Meditation takes many forms and is accessible to anyone trying to create space for themselves: whether you do it through movement, music, silence, prayer, or in groups there is a form of meditation out there for you. All you need is the wish and dedication to finding space for yourself every day.
I only started meditating in the traditional sense (i.e. sitting in a comfortable position, closing my eyes, and focusing on my breath…) about 5 years ago, but, looking back on my life I can tell it was always a tool I used, both consciously and not so much.
As a young girl and into my teens I prayed at night in my bed, I reveled in being on stage connecting with emotions and people and threw myself into challenging workouts to sweat out my frustrations. I now realize that all of this was and is a form a meditation.
In more recent years I have developed a strong home-meditation practice. Sometimes I commit to a mantra practice during which I repeat a phrase 108 times using a mala as guidance. Sometimes I tune into certain soundscapes (of a thunderstorm in the ocean, for example) or use a meditation app, like Headspace, on my phone. Sometimes I just sit in silence, my phone set on a timer of 5-10 minutes. I have also meditated under someone else’s guidance, whether during yoga classes or in one-on-one workshops. I’ve loved and tried many forms of meditation, but the one thing I had never done was visit a dedicated meditation studio. Last month I got to go to, not one, but two meditation studios in NYC.
Booking a 45-minute Emotions meditation class at MNDFL on a Monday morning made me very excited, but I was overwhelmed with all the questions that kept popping up in my head. What does an “emotions meditation” even mean? Will I be doing it wrong if I don’t feel anything? Will I be sitting in the same position the entire time?
Worrying I wouldn’t quite fit in, I walked into the MNDFL studio on 8th Avenue, a beautiful space that exudes serenity at every corner. I was the first person to arrive and was greeted by a friendly front desk attendant. The abundance of green plants made me feel more in tune with nature, offering a nice respite from the bustling city life outside. They have a beautiful kitchen setup where you can help yourself to water or a delightful Rishi tea (I tried the peppermint and sage tea and have since ordered two boxes of it to have it at home). I found all I needed in the meditation space to make for a comfortable practice: cushions of different shapes and sizes, blankets, floor chairs, and chairs.
In my mid-day class, I found myself amidst a very eclectic group of people. There was a seasoned businessman, a casually dressed woman in jeans and long sleeve shirt, a young hipster-ish man who was also in his first time at the studio, another young man who is a regular practitioner that chatted me up in the lobby, and myself. When instructor Scott Tusa came in, I was, again, a little nervous, wondering what on earth we would be doing together in the following 45 minutes. At this point, I took another sip of my delicious tea hoping to be ready and open for the experience.
What if there was a space where we could just let our thoughts and emotions exist without resistance? What if we weren’t always reacting or taking action but simply allowed our emotions to be?
The Emotions Meditation does just that. The session began with the instructor explaining what the next 45 minutes would look like, letting us know that we had the freedom to move at any point and would have a stretch break in the middle of the session. This really helped calm my nerves as it was clear that there was nothing expected of me to get “right.” Once the meditation started, we were guided to be more aware of our breath and bodies. Once we had some time to relax into being more mindful we were encouraged to be open to any emotions that might come up. Scott then calmly spoke through many different kinds of emotions that may or may not surface. For example, one might feel anxious from simply trying to sit with feelings, or maybe you find anger, or perhaps you feel nothing at all. How do you sit with these emotions safely and continue to explore them? Scott went through each of these, and more, without judgment and truly made space for the class to let go of fears of connecting more directly to our emotional states. We were encouraged to let those emotions be without trying to judge, change, or fix them.
Personally, I didn’t find anything until the very end, but what I did eventually discover shocked me.
When you are a perfectionist, like me, even your self-care practices can put a lot of pressure on you to be the best… to be the best at being calm, happy, smart, and more in touch with your true self.
I haven’t given these emotions or thoughts ANY space at all… ever. It was almost like a magic trick. I was sitting there tasting the magical Rishi Tea on my tongue and bam… these very clear thoughts and feelings materialized… The need to be better.
I was at this studio because I NEEDED to be better at meditation. Against my instincts, I took a breath and just let those feelings marinate. It was uncomfortable but I didn’t run from them. At the end of the meditation, I felt like there was no way that 45 minutes had gone by and was blown away at how easy it had been, in this amazing space, with this wonderful teacher, to embrace potentially scary feelings.
After the meditation, Scott gave us all some space to ask questions and share our experiences. I took a deep breath and decided to open up about my discovery. I was nervous but once we started talking I realized that, though these feelings felt consuming and unnerving, they didn’t have to be something I reacted to.
We all have emotions and thoughts that we don’t think we should have, but, if we can find a safe space with a good teacher, we can shine a kind light on those things that we may even be hiding from ourselves.
I’m telling you: it works like magic! Even though the Emotions Meditation is one of the longer sessions offered at MNDFL, I highly recommend it; you will still want more.
A few days later I got to visit yet another popular meditation studio in NYC. INSCAPE is gorgeous with state-of-the-art meditation rooms that look otherworldly. The studio offers deep meditative experiences with the aid of different kinds of layered soundscapes. While I was unsure of what exactly to expect, I was quite stoked to dive into a 70-minute Deep Sound Meditation.
It was a rainy Saturday, which meant a terrible train commute that almost put it all at a loss. It was a struggle to get to INSCAPE on time so when I walked into the door just in time for the session, I was disappointed to find that the front desk staff was a bit distracted and did not offer the calm, welcoming energy I had hoped for. It may have been my jaded attitude from the trip, but the staff seemed a little insincere and, in some ways, rehearsed. I wasn’t shown around the space with the kindness and care one would expect from such a big meditation studio. I was shown to the locker area by a distracted staff member who left me quickly to go deal with another client issue. As I headed into the meditation space, an employee offered me essential oil. Typically, I would totally drink the ethereal kool-aid, but nothing at this point felt genuine.
I went into the meditation room trying to shake off my disappointment.
I lay down on the cozy mats and placed a warm, comforting blanket around me. I was looking up at a woven dreamcatcher of sorts with crystals hanging down. The dimly lit room brought me a sigh of relief and made me feel transported to another world. I closed my eyes and the meditation began. My curiosity about what a soundscape meditation is was quickly satiated.
A pre-recorded audio track consisting mostly of what sounded like a combination of Tibetan singing bowls, nature sounds, and other bells set the mood while a very calm female Australian voice guided us from inside the sound system.
It felt like the Disney World ride for meditation.
The experience was beautiful, but it felt a bit too packaged, making it difficult to drop into myself. Even though going in I knew the session was a recording, something about the disingenuous greeting from the staff made the “deep meditation” feel a little disconnected. The sound quality was amazing, the space beautiful, and the cushions cozy but, as far as meditation goes, I wasn’t really able to drop in. On top of that, because the group was lying down there were, amongst us, sleepers and snorers (and who can blame them?).
Luckily there was a facilitator in the room who would walk around gently nudging anyone who began to snore. Even though I appreciated this, hearing the snores and the shuffling of feet every few minutes was a bit distracting. Did I just snore myself?
Despite all my frustration, I was able to relax every now and then when there was more stillness in the room.
When the session ended I was able to take my time leaving the space and explored the entrance area a bit more. They have a lovely collection of things for purchase including sage, candles, tarot cards, juices, and books. I left INSCAPE wondering, if I came back for one of the in-person guided meditations would I have a completely different experience? Or, if the soundscape had been played live, would I have minded the occasional snore? My discovery is while I can meditate at home to pre-recorded sessions I expect to feel connected on a different level when in a dedicated meditation space.
I started this little meditation adventure with excitement but was sure that I would go to these studios one time only and that would be that. I have found that not only was I challenged on many levels but that I have grown because of each experience. If you are open, every experience has something positive to give you. With INSCAPE I learned that even though I thought I was someone who would love every kind of meditation, I am not. I prefer an experience that allows me to engage on a more personal level whether it is in my home or in a studio. I also learned to continue to be curious about the power of perspective and have practiced observing how I respond emotionally to stressful situations. That is also tied to my experience at MNDFL. There I learned a lot about myself and have since continued to meditate, write, and explore how I care for myself. I have also begun to practice giving myself more space to let my emotions settle for a few breaths before reacting to them.
If you are unfamiliar with meditation or if you, like me, have been meditating for a while, but want to try a new approach, going to a dedicated studio like MNDFL or INSCAPE will give you direct access to teachers who can help you find a type of meditation that works for you.
Remember, there is no “right” way to meditate. It’s a practice of giving yourself time to be present with yourself.
The best project you will ever work on is you, so why not dedicate time, energy, and, yes, money to it? You may not find your perfect meditation technique right away but being curious and trying things out will teach you priceless lessons about yourself and ultimately guide you to find something that serves you and your lifestyle. So get out there and meditate!