At its heart, the spa is intended to be a place of restoration and healing. Like a meditation, a spa stay is a time to refocus, regroup, clear the mental cobwebs and engage in a bit of emotional and spiritual housekeeping. Spa directors know that, which is perhaps why meditation is such a consistent piece of the program. In essence, a spa stay could be looked at as an extended meditation, with a wide range of offerings to suit everyone. When you go for a morning hike in the mountains, it’s a meditation on nature. Take a yoga class and focus inward, on self.
One thing spa teaches you, is that meditation can happen anywhere at any time: in the mountains, in a quiet room, in the pool. And for me, even on the subway. You can meditate for five hours or five minutes. You can chant or be silent. The point is, if the stress of the day is overwhelming you, a brief meditation always helps. You don’t need to be an expert or achieve a state of “yoga nidra” (yogic sleep) to find something to gain. If you’re intimidated, don’t even call it meditation. Just take a pause. Close your eyes. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth, two or five or 10 times. Loosen your jaw. Try to focus on one thing: stillness. Through the rhythm of your breath, you will start to relax, and achieve mental clarity and calm.
I didn’t always know that. And for me, that wasn’t always the case. I have tried meditation at many spas, but always gravitated toward what I call “meditation in motion”—for example, yoga, hiking, knitting, or other repetitive activities that don’t demand utter stillness, but do quiet the “monkey mind.” Buddha himself reportedly used to refer to the human mind as filled with “drunken monkeys,” chattering endlessly, jumping up and down, and clamoring for attention. As the story goes, he taught his students meditation to quiet the “monkey mind,” and we’ve been doing it ever since.
But it never clicked with me until I took a meditation class with Deepti Bhandari, a yoga and meditation teacher at the life-altering Ananda Spa in the Himalayas in northern India. The setting is not only breath-taking, it is up the mountain from the world-renowned city of Rishikesh, which many say is the birthplace of yoga and ayurveda. Set along the Ganges River, Rishikesh is a mecca for yogis and spiritually minded trekkers. Bhandari, a Rishikesh native, taught us “Soham,” a mantra to control breathing and gain concentration. “Soooo” is the inhalation, “ham” is the sound of the exhalation, and the word “Soham,” roughly translated means “It is I” or “That is me,” referring to your pure consciousness. “Mantras are sound vibrations that have sound energies,” says Bhandari. “When you chant them it helps you harmonize your inner energy with the positive energy of the mantra.”
I liked the sound of that, since the idea of harmony always appeals to me. Soon enough, the meditation clicked. I was fortunate to visit India and to have this experience. But like I said, the amazing thing about meditation is how portable it is: you really can take it anywhere.