Although the practice of meditation dates to ancient times, sleek, boutique for-profit mindfulness centers — outfitted with Instagram-worthy interiors, complimentary tea stations and soothing Spotify playlists — have spread like Starbucks in Los Angeles and New York.
So, when three new meditation centers popped up in Washington, D.C., in a four-month span, I became intrigued: Is the District the next hub of enlightenment?
In a city flush with SoulCycle evangelists, Solidcore soldiers and CrossFit converts, fitness-minded Washingtonians are apparently now turning inward and flexing not just their muscles but their minds.
It’s not surprising that the District, filled as it is with overworked, sleep-deprived, stressed-out Type A personalities, is seeking out meditation as a form of self-care.
Researchers have found that mindfulness-based programming not only helps individuals manage stress, depression and anxiety but also enhances productivity, creativity and concentration. Meditation-reported physical benefits include lowered blood pressure, improved sleep and chronic pain management.
Last year alone, meditation-related businesses in the United States generated $984 million in revenue, according to the research company IBISWorld. Mindfulness apps and websites, such as Headspace, a guided meditation app that has been downloaded more than 11 million times, have also seen a boom in recent years. Fortune 500 companies, elementary schools and sports teams are also following the trend, offering free guided sessions in an effort to boost efficiency and quality of output; basketball star Kobe Bryant, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and Oprah Winfrey are outspoken practitioners.
Mindfulness has become not only mainstream but trendy. Former Vogue and Glamour editor Suze Yalof Schwartz opened Unplug Meditation in April 2014, hoping it would catch on as “the Drybar of meditation.” Thousands of people now flock to the center’s $20 sessions, and there are sometimes waitlists for evening sessions.
The meditation buzz in Washington began with Just Meditate in Bethesda, which opened in November, and in December was quickly followed by recharj, a meditation and power-nap center within a block of the White House.
Take Five, which opened its doors in Dupont Circle on Feb. 24, prides itself on being the city’s first meditation-only studio and offers 30- to 45-minute guided sessions weekdays between 7: 30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., with some afternoon weekend hours.
I recently took in a 12:30 p.m. $10 introductory meditation class at Take Five (the cost is typically $20 for a 30-minute class and $30 for a 45-minute class). Afternoon contemplation and decompression is atypical of my daily grind, as I’m usually tethered to my computer or email at lunch. Needing some midday mindfulness, I was able to pay and reserve my spot — or, rather, my bright-blue beanbag cushion — in advance and find a class that worked best with my routine.
Twenty-four hours later, I arrived at Recess for Your Mind, a 30-minute guided class designed by instructor Jen Young for busy professionals to catch their breath, replenish their energy and reset their focus.
A first-time meditator, I brought a change of clothes, a water bottle and a hair tie. This, I quickly learned, was overkill, as most of my fellow enlightenment seekers were just fine with work pants, T-shirts and dress shoes. Kicking off my sneakers, I realized I had put far too much energy into locating matching socks and coordinated athleisure wear (whoops).
Sitting parallel to the bright, floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the bustling Dupont streets, I plopped down on my cushion and set my “personal intention.”
I fidgeted for a minute before settling on a comfy, cross-legged position. Then, I raced to calm my, well, racing mind.
For the first few minutes, this proved not only daunting, but impossible.
Bogged down by looming deadlines, I felt my forehead start to wrinkle as I attempted to wrangle my thoughts from wandering elsewhere. The clock was ticking and, at about 30 cents a minute, time was literally money. I had only a precious half-hour to unplug and unwind, and I wanted to make the most of it.
Luckily, with the help of Jen’s soothing voice and the blissful escape from technology, I was eventually able to tune out the noise, unclutter my thoughts and focus on — and connect with — my mind and body.
When the class was over, I felt like I had received a deep-tissue massage. Built-up toxins and stress had been kneaded out, and I left feeling lighter. After a few sips of complimentary tea (Take Five’s custom Teaism blend) in the studio’s comfy lounge area, I was ready to return to work refreshed, relaxed and re-energized.
Exiting the studio, I glanced down at my smartphone: three missed texts and five unread emails. Before I allowed the stress to return, I glanced back at the studio’s large windows, remembered Jen’s advice and closed my eyes.
Taking a deep breath, I tucked my iPhone in my purse, hailed a cab and prepared to tackle the rest of the day.