Health & Fitness

Meditation without the bells, whistles and Buddhas in West L.A.

Alternative Medicine
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After years as a fashion makeover maven, Suze Yalof Schwartz aims to remake meditation.

"Why could there not be a Dry Bar for meditation, where you could go in and come out and feel amazing?" she asked herself as she began to delve into meditating to relieve the stress of her busy life.

In April, Schwartz opened unplug meditation, a drop-in meditation studio in West L.A. for guided meditation in a white-walled, Buddha-less room with comfy black floor chairs. It's a place where no one need feel like a failure for an inability to sit cross-legged for an hour.

Unplug hit a chord: Classes were immediately popular, some drawing as many as 70 people in the first two weeks. One recent morning, four friends drove up from San Diego to take a class — and they stayed for a second one.

One of the four, Veronica Bonomie, said the trappings of meditation can be intimidating, but "this makes it simple, accessible to anyone. Not religious, just a tool anyone can use."

Meditation is rapidly moving into the mainstream. It's used by schools, medical centers, workplaces and even the military as a way to focus attention and decrease stress. And while its roots are in Buddhism, the practice has become secularized through the work of people such as Jon-Kabat Zinn, a doctor and professor at the University of Massachusetts, where he created a mindfulness-based stress-reduction program.

"Mindfulness is a way to pay attention," said Kelly Barron, one of the teachers at unplug.

Certainly it's possible to meditate on your own, at home. But Natalie Bell, another unplug teacher, said many people like the "sense of community when they meditate in a shared space."

And it's motivating, said teacher Stefanie Goldstein. "Like in yoga. I'm not going to hold a pose as long alone as when I'm in a class and see everyone else doing it," she said.

Unplug has 32 sessions, 30 or 45 minutes long, a week in various types of meditation, including breath awareness, "loving kindness" and "body scan." People can sign up online or just show up. Teachers said they assume at least some of the people are beginners, and they always leave time for questions. People are likely to find some styles that suit them and others that don't, said teacher Lauren Eckstrom.

"Most people come to meditation because they need it," Schwartz, who calls herself a spiritual entrepreneur, said one morning before a meditation. In her case, her mother-in-law suggested she give it a try as a way to cope with her busy life as a fashion editor and mother of three.

When she began going to meditation classes, she said, they seemed expensive, and they also required weeks of commitment to classes that lasted two hours or more. Some seemed too medical, others too "hippie dippy" for her. Schwartz wanted something else, "like a 'Good Morning America' segment with takeaways."

And, as she put it, she found her new destiny: to create that place.

Schwartz sought out top teachers, people she believed could combine the science and the soul of meditation.

"I'm making the place I wanted to go," she said.

"What we're teaching is technique," Schwartz said. "When you breathe, you anchor to the present moment. When your brain starts racing, you go back. I'm teaching people a technique to incorporate into their lives."

That might mean wishing well to the crazy driver next you on the 405. Or it might mean hitting your internal pause button rather than losing it with your kids, Schwartz said. Her own children — ages 12, 10 and 7 — appreciate that.

Her fashion career, including working at Vogue and Glamour magazines, came in handy too. The sign-in desk is an Ikea kitchen island. She bought blank white canvases at Blick and applied silver letters that ring the room with words like "unplug your mind" and "stillness." The lighting, a pink-violet color made with gel filters, was inspired by artist James Turrell's recent shows at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Guggenheim in New York.

Unplug meditation, 12401 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 101, L.A., (310) 826-8899, www.unplugmeditation.com. $20 a class; discounts for multiple classes.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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