Meditation is having a Hollywood moment.
In recent years, the practice of silent introspection has seemingly become every star's go-to way to zen out…or, at the very least, the makings of a likeable Instagram post. Apparently, celebs—including Gisele Bündchen, Kate Hudson and Oprah Winfrey—need some quiet time, too—and meditation helps keep their minds present in a state of calm. Like all-natural Xanax.
Now if you're like me (an anal-retentive workaholic), you're apprehensive. Who has time to be "present" when there's a laundry list of things to do?
"The draw at the very least is that it's relaxing. Even if it's just for 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes, you have a moment to yourself," said Tal Rabinowitz, founder of The Den Meditation and a former media executive. "The more you keep doing it, you really get connected to yourself. And there are some incredible health benefits: It really decreases anxiety…it helps regulate sleep, it helps boost the immune system. For some people, it helps with weight control. If you talk to people who study mindfulness, they'll say it's neuroplasticity—it's actually changing the way your brain works."
With an open mind, I paid a visit to The Den Meditation, Hollywood's hot spot for celebs who just need a moment. Amanda Seyfried, Anna Kendrick and Kate Walsh have all been spotted here. Interestingly, the SoulCycle of guided meditation classes does offer private sessions, but according to Tal, celeb clients usually prefer taking group classes—the most popular being Reiki, Break the Norms and Happiness.
Why do celebrities need to take a class on happiness? This I had to experience.
In a dimly lit room, cushions, blankets and retractable seats with backrests were scattered across the floor, all facing the center-front of a modern, temple-like interior. Some just sat squarely on the ground, with a straight back—to create a better conduit for energy. However, whatever position was comfortable was recommended, so you don't move or fidget throughout the class, which could distract others.
In the first 15 minutes, our instructor, Heather Prete, explained her background: She studied with Buddhist monks for eight years, is a UCLA certified mindfulness facilitator and looks 10 years younger than her actual age (a possible testament to the stress-relieving perks of meditation).
Heather then began explaining how mindfulness can help us experience joy and happiness more in our own lives. Please note: There is a difference between the two. She put it this way: When you're stranded in a desert, and the second you see a body of water—that's joy. When you're drinking said water—and suffering has ended—that's happiness. "There are causes and conditions to happiness," she explained. Feeling joy, positivity or contentment may come by just recognizing those causes and conditions, even though you're not actually experiencing anything at all.
She used relatable language and supported practical metaphors with academic and ancient theories. For instance, "the next time someone steals your parking spot, instead of saying, ‘F*ck you!' Say, "I feel joy that you found a parking spot, and I will feel happiness, too, when I find one," she recommended. That's called equanimity, mental calmness even in difficult situations. When neighborhood kids are being rowdy, instead of being annoyed and wondering where their parents are, think about how genuinely happy and unbothered these kids are in this particular moment.
OK, it may sound hard to do and more altruistic than some are capable of. But this wasn't some abstract lesson around a burning fire—it was Ted Talks-esque, and I found it fascinating.
The next and final 30 minutes of class were dedicated to the actual practice of meditation…which proved to be way more difficult for me. You're supposed to stay present, but your mind will wander. And that's perfectly OK, Tal told me before class.
You're about to follow a skeptic's train of thought through her first-ever meditation practice. Beware: Things may get messy.
Heather: Close your eyes. Concentrate on the sounds in this room…the sound of the waterfall…
Head: What is it about running water that sounds so peaceful? OK, that's nice. I'm into it.
Heather: Breathe. Notice your inhale and exhale…
Head: [Gently breathing for a minute.] I should try taking deeper breaths at work. Ugh. I have a 9 a.m. meeting in the morning. I should get in early and prep...but that commute though. I should take Laurel Canyon Rd…
Head: OK, shush. Just focus on breathing [long breaths in and out]. What time is it?
Heather: Focus on a loved one, like a baby or a pet animal. Think about how happy they are. What caused that happiness? Maybe it's the care they receive from their parents, the warmth, food…
Head: Baby Leo (my 1-year-old nephew) is so cute. He's such a chubby, happy kid. [Picturing him smile.] Is this joy?
Girl Next to Me: [Shuffling around.]
Girl Next to Me: [Still readjusting and still a distraction.]
Head: I feel joy that once you've settled back in, you'll be comfortable. Then I'll be comfortable.
Girl Next to Me: [Still.]
Head: Is this happiness?
Like Tal said, I wasn't going to get meditation in my first class. It takes practice and will not always garner the results you want. Even experienced runners can't find their stride sometimes, right? Am I life-long meditator now? Not quite. I will say I was calmer after, I had a good sleep that night and I didn't let LA traffic bother me the next day (I took the 405 to the 101 freeway, in case you were wondering). I can see why celebrities—with all the chaos that surrounds them—or anyone, really, take value in meditation. At the very least, it's, indeed, relaxing.
I feel joy for their quiet time.