The Beginner’s Guide to Meditation in NYC

The original version of this post appeared on Out Of Office. Check it out here

Living in the city that never sleeps, it seems like us New Yorkers are constantly on the move! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in work, maintaining a social life, keeping up blogs and social media, finding time to workout, and trying all of the fun food and sweets this city has to offer. But what ever happened to a little bit of ‘me’ time? Wouldn’t we all benefit from some time to ourselves where we can sit back and reflect a little sans iPhone and big city distractions? Well, those are things I’ve been asking myself A LOT lately and so, the idea for this mindful adventure was born! I decided to visit some of NYC’s best meditation studio’s and try a guided meditation at each. I’ve listened to podcasts and apps before (suggestions below!), but trust me: I’m no professional. I’m just a big city gal looking for some zen in her life! So, if you’re ready to take a step back from the hustle and bustle and turn your attention inward, keep reading! Maybe you’ve dabbled in meditation before, or maybe you don’t even know what the heck the word “meditation” even means. No problem! These studio’s are great for experienced meditators and newbies alike. Let’s get mindful, NYC.

New York Insight Flatiron


In the spirit of being a meditation rookie, I figured that the beginner’s orientation at New York Insight Meditation Center was a great place to start! New York Insight is a no frills, yet comfortable and open space that’s great for beginners and experienced meditators alike. I loved every second of the 1-hour Integrated Orientation for Beginners. Basically, we sat in the small studio with an instructor who broke down what it means to meditate, what the goals are, and how it helps you in your everyday life. Meditation practices at New York Insight are “mindful” meditations (aka Insight Meditation), meaning they’re all about being (you guessed it), mindful, present and objective when you face whatever life has in store.

After an explanation of what we should strive for, he gently guided us through a 10 minute sit, where we focused on our breath and how our bodies physically felt in the present moment. This was not an easy task. I found my mind starting to wander: Is there a Trader Joe’s near here? Does the White Walker Dragon in Game of Thrones spew ice, or nothing at all? Do all of the Pressed Juiceries in NYC have the new soft serve? All of which, it turns out, are okay! In the question and answer session after the 10 minutes was up, someone asked: what do I do when I’m trying to follow my breath, but I have thoughts? Simple answer: let that shit GO. Acknowledge it, then go back to the breath. Don’t entertain it and let it web into a string of thoughts and associations. That’s just an example. There were a ton of awesome questions, with even better answers, all of which were super helpful. Then we did another 10 minute sit with some guidance (he insisted that too much guidance defeats the purpose, since you should strive to hold yourself accountable when you find yourself on cloud 9!), followed by some more Q&A (Can I meditate during the morning madness on the subway? Do I need to focus on the breath? Sitting like a damn pretzel hurts, can I move?, etc.) This is an awesome first class for beginners looking to explore meditation in a small group setting! And after the intro class, you can sit for a longer Dharma talk, where people discuss all of their meditation questions and concerns in relation to a specific theme. #community.

New York Insight meditation classes don’t technically have a set price, but the center offers them on a suggested donation basis. If the suggested amount is too much, you can give whatever fits into your budget! No reservations are necessary. Check out their schedule, show up and get ready to get mindful!

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MNDFLGreenwich Village, UES, Williamsburg


Starting out my meditation journey, MNDFL was everything I could have hoped for and more. First of all, the space is gorgeous. The waiting area is light and spacious, with light wooden floors and stunning cream colored brick walls. The are lots of plants and tons of space to relax before your class. The best part? A portion of the waiting area is cell phone FREE. So put that phone away, and enjoy every second of it. Hit your clique up later. The meditation studios themselves are phenomenal. We didn’t sit in their signature (super Insta friendly) Greenwich Village studio, but hey, it’s not about the exterior space, right?

I decided to try the Mantra class out of my own curiosity. One of my oldest childhood friends, Michelle, practices Transcendental Meditation, which is primarily mantra focused, so I’ve always been really interested in mantras. Basically, you’re given a word or phrase (and they sound like legit jibberish. Ours were Sa Ta Na Ma and Satnam Wahegru…uh, wahe-what?!) and you repeat the phrase to yourself while you focus on your breath, before chanting them out loud as a group. The mantras, which actually have specific meanings, help you stay super focused and in the moment. It sounds weird, and I’m not going to lie, the chanting was exhausting and strange, but trust me. Embrace it. Everyone in the class is doing it. It works. You’ll feel physically lighter, your mind will feel clearer and best of all, you’ll leave stress FREE. The extent of relaxation at which I found myself during the personal repetition was unlike anything I experienced before! Seriously, I forgot my work phone even existed. SCORE! I thought the instructor was great, too. He gave us enough guidance without being intrusive or distracting.

If the Mantra class sounds too intense for you, fear not. They offer 12 (yes, 12!) different types of meditation classes to fit all of your needs and goals. The good news? Your first class is only $10! You can also try their promo code ‘practice’, to make it free. They also offer various talks and workshops. Check their schedules and book your cushion here. Your heart, mind, and Insta will be happy.

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Three Jewels East Village


How I would describe my meditation at Three Jewels: inhale the good shit, exhale the bullshit. What a way to live. Was that the verbiage the instructor used? Um, no. Yet that was my personal take away from my visit, and I think that’s what counts. I went to Three Jewels thanks to a personal recommendation from one of my best friends, and tried the The Mind like a Cloud  Friday night meditation. Let me tell you: it was such an awesome way to end a very, very long week.

The instructor started off by guiding us through a step-by-step process of what he described as “taking ownership” of our bodies. So starting from the foot and moving upwards, we focused on how that specific body part felt in the present moment while also monitoring our breaths. Totally. Relaxing. Then we sat and reflected on how we felt as a whole, all while trying to main mental stillness. I really liked how he told us to visualize our breath as beams of light filling us up each time we took a deep breath in. What I liked even more was his explanation (and this is a total paraphrasing of how I interpreted it) of how we can use meditation to change our thought patterns, causing us to be more positive and peaceful in all aspects of our life. So, with each breath, we focused on bringing more positivity in (whether that’s in the form of patience, kindness, etc), and driving out the opposite. So, inhaling the good sh*t, exhaling the bullsh*t. Sign me up for some of that. There was a second portion of the class that was more rooted in Buddhism, and which I found really interesting.

Classes are offered on a donation basis, so give what you can! They won’t turn you away or make you feel awk.  You can check their schedule and sign up online here. Oh, and their yoga classes are offered on Classpass!

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Inscape Flatiron

 


Escape the hustle and bustle of NYC with Inscape. Sounds great, right? The relaxation and presence I felt were REAL, but let me be totally straight up about my experience at Inscape. I honestly didn’t realize one *minor* detail about this meditation studio. The meditations aren’t instructed by people, but are facilitated by a recorded audio guide. At first, I was disappointed, but before you judge like I did, let me tell you exactly what they told me when I kindly inquired about the point of sitting for an audio guided meditation (because… let’s be real, we did all pay to be there.) For example, they said that using guided audio tracks for the practice keeps everything non-denominational, which I appreciated. You can notice a difference between the objectiveness of Inscape versus, say, the Buddhist meditation at Three Jewels. They also said that the audio tracks remind people that they can find what they’re looking for simply within themselves, and that the ability to be present and come back to oneself doesn’t need to come from any special instructor. I get it. There were some other explanations, too, but I don’t want to give too much away! The good news is that the tracks are all slightly different, so you don’t sit for the same meditation each time you go. At the end of the day, it was a new, interesting, and an UBER relaxing experience. Not to mention the studio is GORGEOUS and has tons of space to decompress pre and post meditation.

Anyway, more about the class itself. I did the 33 minute deep focus meditation, which was held in the most beautiful space called the “dome”. A gentle, Australian sounding woman guided us through physical relaxation exercises (which, after a morning spent at Exhale Spa, wasn’t the easiest), and of course, breathing exercises. She eventually told us to “focus” on the breath, including the point where you can feel the breath hitting your nose when you inhale. We also utilized counting. The counting part really reminded me of the mantra meditation I tried at MNDFL and helped keep me grounded in the moment. Then we sat on our own in silence, counting and monitoring our breaths. It was SUPER relaxing, yet not too much unlike meditation podcasts I’ve listening to at home. That part makes total sense, considering they also have an app you can subscribe to so you can practice with the same guided meditations at home on your own time.

There are also other types of meditation classes offered at Inscape, including a mindfulness class and a mantra class. If you prefer being led by a person and the feeling of community that kind of class creates, this may not be the best type of meditation for you, but it doesn’t hurt to explore something new. Especially when the space is as stunning, peaceful and luxurious as Inscape is. Book your cushion here, starting at $22 a session.

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And there you have it! I hit these four studios within a two week period, and I’m looking forward to trying some other meditation studios that the Big Apple has to offer (ahem, talking about you, The Path.) Of course, if you’re interested in trying meditation, but going to a studio intimidates you, you can try various apps and podcasts to help you get into the groove. I really like Tara Brach’s podcasts and the Insight Timer app, both of which were recommended to me (thanks, again, Michelle and Megan! My two most mindful friends!!) . Enjoy your new found peace, NYC gals!

 

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