While everyone is flocking to boutique fitness joints to grow their muscles, tone their bodies, and reshape their trouble areas, the same thing is possible for your mind through meditation. There is plenty of medical research about UCLA study of long-time meditators found the practice keeps their minds from aging, a 2011 study at Harvard showed that regular meditation can actually change the shape of the brain, and a 2013 study showed that just a few weeks of meditation can improve test taking ability and limit mind wandering. We’re all trying to etch our abs for those #fitlife selfies, why not try a fitness studio that does the same with the neural pathways in your grey matter?for you. A
Inscape founder Khajak Keledjian, who is also an investor in Flywheel (located right next door), thinks that the comparison between his meditation joint and fitness joints is a bit unfair. “I think the only similarity is that there are locker rooms in the back and scheduled classes,” Keledjian says, draped over one of the Linge Roset beanbag chairs in front of a large butterfly-themed mural in the center’s community space. “I personally go to a lot of these places and it’s chaotic. Here you have tranquility. I like clarity and minimum touches.”
He’s not wrong. The vibe inside Inscape is as quiet as a golf match and the employees seem contractually obligated not to speak at anything above a whisper or make a hand gesture that is in any way dramatic. It’s absolutely civilized compared to SoulCycle or Barry’s Bootcamp with their bottleneck of the drenched and red-faced trying to leave as those strapping on the appropriate footwear are getting ready to enter the fitness gauntlet.
There is no changing or necessary footwear at Inscape, and certainly no showers. If you break a sweat during one of the meditation center’s 22 to 88 minute classes, then you’re doing it wrong. Those ready to get their “ohm” on are asked to tuck their shoes away in a cubby and leave their cell phones in a locker, which has a USB port in the back, so your soul isn’t the only thing that can get recharged. Classes are similiarly easy to book as they are at SoulCycle, and visitors can just click on a spot in one of the classes available throughout the day, usually between eight to 10 with most clustered in the afternoon and after-work hours. The cost? $18 for 22 minutes and $29 for 66 and 88 minute classes. Packages or a monthly unlimited membership of $168 are also available.
Keledjian is responsible for the content of those classes. He says that he’s spent the past 10 years exploring different meditation techniques around the globe and designed the flow of each meditation class — which have names like Mindfulness, Focus, and Mantra — himself with the help of his team. In 2012, when he was CEO of the retail chain Intermix, Keledjian came up with the idea for Inscape after a chain of events that included an 11-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat and a visit to Burning Man. When he sold Intermix for $130 million to Gap Inc in 2013 his pursuit of creating Inscape began in earnest. It opened its doors (slowly and very quietly, I’m sure) this November.
“I wanted to give people somewhere to go that’s secular, modern, and relevant to today’s lifestyle,” he says. “From experience to architecture to bringing different techniques under one platform so that someone doesn’t have to be out there trying to figure out what to do, where to go. It’s curated from the door handle in the front to the soap in the bathroom.” Keledjian loves to curate.
There are two meditation studios, both designed by architect Winka Dubbledam: The Dome, for seated meditations, and The Alcove, for relaxation practices like sound baths where participants are lying prone. I took on two of Inscape’s meditation classes recently. Both were held in The Dome, which looks like the inside of a giant ostrich egg festooned with color changing LED lights or maybe like a space ship built out of sustainable materials by a bunch of futurists living in a commune upstate.
Upon entering the room, there are several dozen meditation stations either along a bench ringing the room’s outer edge, ones on the floor against the bench for more back support, and some floating like lily pads in the center of the bamboo flooring so it’s possible to get an ab workout while trying to open your third eye. Each station has various and sundried pads to make sitting as comfortable as possible and a cozy blanket in a gender-neutral plaid.
I opt for sitting on the floor with my back on the bench, because my posture has been wrecked by years of working in the journalism mines. The lights are at a calm blue-green glow and the speakers are playing the sort of whooshing white noise that is probably on a CD entitled Womb Whispers. A facilitator roams the room and gets all the participants — about a dozen female Lululemon adherents and the odd long haired gentleman (but, again, this was a weekday afternoon) — as comfortable as she can before setting in the middle of the room.
The meditations are lead by a recorded track with a lightly accented and uninflected female voice that sounds like an artificial intelligence system that will one day lead the robots in a revolt against their human masters. It is incredibly calming, like Cate Blanchett reading Goodnight Moon. She starts, naturally, by telling the class to close their eyes and have them rub their palms together. There is some mumbo jumbo about finding happiness or alleviating stress that I only half pay attention to and I feel it takes root more firmly that way, like a post hypnotic suggestion,
The flow that he’s curated for each class starts with an introduction and “intentions,” where the disembodied AI voice tells us about what sort of spiritual dragon we should be chasing during this session, followed by movement and breathing techniques. The movements include hugging yourself and slowly shrugging your shoulders up and down or placing your arms out in front of you and then twisting back and forth. The breathing is much more simple, as the voice instructs to inhale slowly, hold for seven counts and then exhale just as slowly. It’s a similar technique for those who experience anxiety attacks, but one of those is nearly impossible when you’re nestled under an alpaca blanket and swaddled by the dulcet tones of lullaby Cate Blanchett.
Unlike working out, where counting your reps leave physicality at the forefront of your consciousness, these movements have the opposite effect. By linking the intentional breathing and movement, it links everything together, turning your mind and body into one intentionally functioning machine. Focusing on your body helps your mind free itself up and your mind moving your lungs and your limbs makes even your automatic physical functions seem dreadfully vital.
Then things get really interesting. During my Focus meditation, we were instructed to think only about the feeling of our breath as it went in and out of our nostrils and stay attuned to that. The resultant sensation is like in grammar school when you would hold a pencil a millimeter away from your nose and make it tingle in anticipation.
The point seems to be making the mind think about the same thing for an extended period empties your consciousness of stray thoughts so that later, when trying to direct your attention at a task, the mind will remember that laser precision. It’s like Adderall without finding a prescription or a grad student looking to make some scratch off his stash. During the Mindfullness meditation, we’re guided through letting your thoughts pass like clouds and emptying the mind, which is a lot easier than you think it might be on a Monday afternoon in a weird glowing egg room in the middle of Manhattan.
Next I was physically startled when the lights snapped off and the room went silent. We all then sat there with our whispered missions as we tried to focus or be mindfull or find that inner calm nirvana that always seems so elusive. Mostly I thought that I must be doing it wrong, that I wasn’t able to find enlightenment or fully banish thoughts from my brain. Afterwards, when I ask about my performance anxiety, Keledjian jokes that if I had no thoughts at all I would be dead. Maybe I’m more of a B+ student than I thought.
When the lights come back on and the wind chimes in a luxury hotel spa music return, I am extraordinarily relaxed. It’s like when you get up from a great massage, your mind is slow but your senses and your body is sharp. I will say that my first two experiences with meditation were rewarding, at least in the short term. Finding a bit of calm in the hectic work week of nose to the grindstone and thumb to the iPhone was much more beneficial than I thought, and the short session’s impact on my mood for the day was drastic and for the better.
As I was putting my shoes back on through a rose-tinted post-meditation fog I thought about when I would be able to come back. I’ve paid a lot more than $30 to feel not much better than this, so the relaxation alone is worth the price of admission. While there is an Inscape app for those who want to approximate the experience at home, I don’t know that I would bother outside of the space, just like making an appointment with a trainer forces you to stick with a fitness regime. I’m not really a new-agey, holistic medicince, organic kale and granola smoothie kind of guy, but if becoming a low key meditation devotee was going to improve my life for only a bit of money isn’t the $150 a month just as good as my gym membership? And the beauty of Inscape, as Keledjian, is that you don’t have to do any of the research for your soul searching. You just show up, charge your phone, and let the friendly voices do the rest.
When leaving SoulCycle I usually just want a shower and to eat everything that’s in front of me. When leaving Inscape I wanted to sit down and get my work done for the day with a renewed attention and vigor. Also when leaving a boutique fitness space, one is confronted with slogans about being a legend or stomping out life like a warrior in big block letters that are perfect for emblazoning the back of T-Shirts. When leaving Inscape there is just a small bit of lettering on the floor that, once again, is more of a suggestion creeping into the back of your mind and doing its work rather than assaulting your frontal cortex. It says, “Travel Gently.” It’s the first such slogan I actually think about heeding.