“Hi, I’m Suze” her hand outstretched across the counter and a warm smile welcomed me to unplug, a meditation studio that just sprouted up in West Los Angeles.
What took me there were a mixture of curiosity and a desire to spruce up a meditation practice that went by the wayside a few years ago. Above all, it was my critical mind, on full alert, that pushed me out of the door by 7:30 am on one of the few days I could have slept in.
I had read about unplug in some trendy online publication and the premise of a contemporary, comfortable and hip studio seemed counterintuitive to everything I had always known and appreciated about meditating. Are you not supposed to be able to do it anywhere, anytime, given a willingness to retreat for a few minutes and focus the wandering mind on something as simple as the breath going in and out? Wasn’t there something exquisitely and diabolically LA in wanting to update and modernize meditation, making it more attractive to the “attractive crowd”?
I was planning not to like it, my snarky and judgmental mind already busy at work.
At the base of any meditation is the Zen practice of zazen – silent meditation – which, according to Zen master Dainin Katagiri – “is based predominantly on bringing your attention to the present moment (often via concentrating on your breath) and then doing your best to keep it there. The extension of that practice to life off the cushion is fairly straightforward: When you’re listening, really listen; when you’re eating, just eat. Pay attention to what you are doing.”
And about that cushion. I didn’t bring my buckwheat filled meditation cushion – I saw online that unplug provided fancy cushion/chairs that proved to be immensely comfortable: still sitting on the floor, the contraption is adjustable to every possible angle to provide support for your back. I have to admit that sitting in the typical cross-legged position on a cushion for long periods of time can prove challenging. But, at the heart of meditation, is also a detachment from the physical body, so should we use comfortable shortcuts?
unplug, the studio, is indeed a sleek and lovely space: spare, with off-white walls, orchids in the bathroom and soft lavender lights in the meditation room. A few books on mindfulness are displayed on an ultra-modern magnetic bookshelf that Suze spotted in a library in Nuremberg and had replicated. Suze, incidentally, is Suze Yalof Schwartz, a former fashion editor who relocated West, learnt to meditate and, when she couldn’t find a studio that fit her schedule or her aesthetic got busy and launched unplug (classes were free on the first week and are now priced at $20 each).
The dozen people who made up the 45 minutes class I picked (20 minutes of actual meditation and 20 minutes of pre and post-chatting) were led by Nicholas, a soft-spoken instructor who led us through a basic awareness meditation, focused on our breath. In his introductory remarks, Nicholas mentioned a study that appeared in Science magazine a few years ago, that demonstrated that even mundane activities like washing the dishes can make us happier if done mindfully.
Soft background music, a bell, Nicholas’ voice that would come in to rein our thoughts every five minutes or so, and the twenty minutes were up before I knew it. I wished for it to go on longer, to stay in the cocoon of my busy mind being restrained the best I could. But beginning meditators might find the 20 minutes limit long enough. It is a good way to dip your toes.
The skinny? There is no hippie dippy philosophy attached to the classes, the way you would find at certain yoga studios or Buddhist practices. It’s meditation for all, grounded in the scientific benefits of it. The only instructor I tried seemed competent and seasoned. The space is indeed nicer than your average studio and Suze’s efforts are no doubt more genuine than I initially gave her credit for.
I left feeling slightly spacey, like always after meditating, but also with my movements and my thoughts slowed down, certainly a bit more aware.
As much as I wanted to be critical, I found I couldn’t . And really, how to criticize someone who is doing her part to make meditation more mainstream? Or maybe I have become a quintessential Angeleno and I am a sucker for spare rooms, lavender lights and comfort. Either way, unplug has found a repeat customer. I can see myself popping in occasionally when my mind is chattering a bit too loudly, the way it has been doing lately. Isn’t the price of four cappuccinos worth some peace of mind?
C&S received no compensation for this review which was conducted anonymously.
You can read more about my meditation experiences here
Images (aside from the orchid) copyright of unplug