It wasn't the directions one might expect when attending a women's moon circle: We were supposed to enter through a garage door, off an alley on a quiet Venice street.
No basking outdoors under the full moon's glow? No unplugged sounds of nature?
Set aside such preconceptions, and, perhaps, skepticism.
Women in and around Los Angeles are increasingly connecting, sharing and bonding on new moon and full moon evenings, tapping into ancient rituals amid modern sensibilities.
At a time when many of us are struggling with demanding jobs and harried lifestyles that can lead to loneliness, isolation and depression, attendees say these gatherings aren't just good for their health, but their spirit, too.
Paula Mallis is a mother and doula who hosts new moon and full moon women's circles in her Venice home and in a nearby, renovated garage. She and co-facilitator Danielle Beinstein were inspired by their interest in astrology and spiritual counseling to "gather girlfriends together, cook a meal and share what we've learned," Mallis said. "I really feel called to connect during the moon cycles as I work with conscious conception, birth and women in general."
The circles have evolved into a business: Attendees pay about $25 to $45 each session.
Many attending a recent circle were in their 20s through 40s, and had the sheen of the well-groomed, yet natural-vibed, yoga-going women walking along nearby Abbot Kinney Boulevard. About 50 women in all sat in a circle. There were introductions, mantras, journaling, affirmations, intention setting, meditations — and highly personal individual shares throughout the night.
One woman shared about learning to trust more, another shared about her struggles with fertility. Several voiced what a help and relief it was to finally have a community of female fellowship and friends here in Los Angeles.
Ground rules included "no cross-talk, interjecting or giving an opinion. It's really just allowing people to speak their truth and just be heard," Mallis said. (Attendees said they also make new friends — and business collaborators.) "It's so profound to see the changes in their lives. The process allows manifesting more quickly."
Jessica Rush is a mother of two young boys who drives from Corona del Mar in Orange County to attend Mallis' circles. She says they have helped with her postpartum depression.
"I tried therapy, acupuncture, cleanses, antidepressants, went gluten-free and still couldn't shift the void," says Rush. "The circle was super emotional but I left there with hope. … Speaking your mind and hearing other women's stories is very powerful."
Olga Herranz of Los Angeles, who also attends Mallis' moon circles, notes the lack of "cattiness and cliques" within the group, describing instead love, support and acceptance: "The moon circle is a sacred time for myself that I set aside."
Shel Pink, the Los Angeles-based founder of wellness and beauty brand SpaRitual, hosts her own moon circles tied to the Jewish calendar and the new moon. She often invites guest speakers on select topics.
"I'm a working mother and I sometimes feel isolated or lonely," Pink said. Her moon circle friendships "feel so good and make me feel so alive and such joy. … A lot of us in L.A. are transplants. My mom lives in Michigan and I really miss her and miss that connection. I think this really has a lot to do with women seeking that out."
Pink sees women's moon circles popping up at yoga and meditation studios, too: "They're definitely an aspect of the wellness movement growing around the world."
Women deeply connecting with other women about relationships, work, family and other matters is said to have positive health benefits, such as increasing levels of the hormone progesterone, which in turn helps boost well-being and reduce anxiety and stress.
Dr. Christiane Northrup, a women's health expert and author of the upcoming book "Making Life Easy: A Simple Guide to a Divinely Inspired Life," said, "Women gathering around the moon cycles is one of the most ancient things we could be doing. It's helpful and healthful."
"We need support," said Northrup, citing UCLA professor Shelley E. Taylor's "Tend and Befriend" research that many women respond to stressful conditions by protecting and nurturing their children, seeking support and social contact, especially with other women.
"We as women have the power and capability to really create, transform and manifest when we come together in a supporting, nonjudgmental way," Mallis said. "When a loving, nonjudgmental, sacred space is held – magic can happen."