No longer just for yogis and Zen masters, meditation is quickly infiltrating the mainstream, manifesting in studios that promise an accessible, non-spiritual approach. Classes popping up around the country give hopeful, novice and experienced meditators an alternative to Soul Cycle and a way to learn and practice meditation led by an expert, outside the home.
Unplug Meditation opened in 2014 in Los Angeles offering scheduled, led meditation classes with hip, all-white branding inspired by Pinterest, according to founder Suze Yalof Schwartz, a former Glamour fashion editor. Unplug claims to bring bliss to the masses with quickie 30-minute sessions you can do on your lunch hour. “It was strictly selfish on my part,” says Schwartz, “I wanted a studio that was clean and chic, teachers that inspired me, someplace I could escape from my own hectic life. I realized if I was searching for it, then many other people would be as well.” In addition to stressed-out moms, the Unplug crowd includes “doughnut makers, school teachers, tree huggers, open-heart surgeons, investment bankers, lawyers, editors, actors and artists that are having life altering experiences there” for $20 a pop, she says. Schwartz is focused on opening more studios in the L.A. area; Unplug also hosts corporate meditation events (she recently welcomed a group from People Magazine for a bonding session.)
In New York City, Dina Kaplan opened The Path last fall, a meditation studio that offers “meditation designed for you” according to the website and believes that the practice of relaxing the mind is just as important as physical exercise is for the body. According to co-founder Zach Bell, "We started The Path because we felt mediation wasn't seen as accessible or applicable to the modern mind.”
The question that may pop into your head: Why hasn’t this happened before? Yoga was considered alternative 30 years ago, now there’s a yoga studio in just about every neighborhood in the U.S. What’s the holdup with meditation? Perhaps it’s somehow associated with religion, which is one reason these proprietors are making it so secular. Bell says, “I wanted to share meditation in the way that works for me, a set of tools for the mind not as any specific religion or something that can only happen at an ashram in India."
Not all classes are quite as accessible. At The Veda Center, Charlie Knoles teaches Vedic meditation classes in California and New York that start at $500 for four classes. There are free introductory talks where any questions are answered, but a private session with Knoles (who will come to you anywhere in the world) can run up to $8,000 not including travel expenses. His father, Thom Knoles, a maharishi (as master meditators are known), reportedly helped bring meditation back to the west from India in the 1960s. Vedic meditation claims to be an effortless mental technique that is three to five times more effective than deep sleep and only takes 15-20 minutes twice per day. (Charlie Knoles also teaches an online meditation course for $99.)
So will we start to see as many meditation studios as there are gyms? (Equinox, the upscale chain of gyms, has added Meditation to their class schedule in almost every major market, according to Equinox PR manager Chelsea Hagler. ) “We have not even begun to see how this will explode in our country,” says Schwartz. “In the future, I believe meditation will be in every school, office, government program, pro and amateur sports and more. Meditation is about to become a way of life because we need it to unplug from our device addictions. Everyday a new study comes out talking about the incredible benefits of meditation from curing the common cold to heart disease, depression and so much more. There is no catch.”
The bigger question, Schwartz asks, is “why are there so many people not doing this?”