From apps to pop-up groups to celebrities who swear by their daily practices, it’s hard not to notice that meditation is in vogue. Credited with reducing stress and honing focus, guided meditation is sweeping the nation—and it’s more accessible than ever. As spa-goers have become increasingly aware of the benefits of meditation, spas are implementing new programming and designated zones. “I think meditation is trending because of the frequent coverage it is receiving in mainstream media, partnered with scientific studies that clearly demonstrate the physiological and mental benefits,” says Helen Brown, spa director at Spa Solage at Solage Calistoga (CA). “This is another reason why spas play such a powerful role in the promotion of new, healthy approaches toward wellbeing.”
Neuroimaging backs up the claims made by many practitioners that meditation provides cognitive and psychological benefits. A 2011 study led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital was the first to show meditation-produced changes in the brain’s grey matter, altering participants’ actual brain structures. The researchers reported that after eight weeks of participating in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program, MRI scans from 16 participants showed that grey matter density increased in the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. Grey matter density decreased in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore) combed through almost 19,000 meditation studies and ended up using results from 47 trials with 3,515 participants. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in March 2014, indicated that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. “More than ever before, spa-goers are in tune with their overall health and wellness, not just for the body, but for the mind,” says LaRae Verros, spa director at Sanctuary Spa at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain (Paradise Valley, AZ). “Meditation is a natural fit for spa-goers seeking a complete wellness experience, and they are hooked once they realize the benefits.”
Spa-goers might have viewed meditation as something esoteric in the past, but now they have enthusiastically embraced innovative meditation programming at spas. “People of all ages and backgrounds are looking for more effective ways to cope with the demands of our increasingly complex world,” says Tim Carl, Ph.D., a Calistoga-based practitioner who also coordinates and guides Mindful Awareness meditation programming at Spa Solage. “Spa-goers are seeking new tools and techniques that they can take with them as they develop and refine their own practices.” Spa Solage’s Floating Meditation sessions take place in its open-air geothermal mineral pools, where guests lie on airbeds and focus on centering with the breath, body scans, and deep meditation that includes metta (loving-kindness) techniques. The resort also offers Mindful Wine Tasting events that help clients learn to better understand and appreciate sensory awareness. In addition to a variety of classes—including Floating Meditation—Miraval Resort & Spa (Tucson, AZ) offers Digital Detox, Mindful Relationships, and Build a Better Brain, which incorporate the building blocks of meditation. “For the past 20 years mindfulness has been the foundation of Miraval’s guiding philosophy,” says meditation expert Marygrace Naughton. “Miraval incorporates mindfulness into all of our programming because we want to teach our guests to live their lives to the very fullest.”
Pioneering classes aren’t the only way spas are introducing meditation into their offerings. At Europe’s only GOCO Spa at JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, guests can partake in wellness packages and treatments that incorporate meditation. Nature’s Most Pure Facial by Amala ($150, 80 minutes) uses Vedic marma cleansing techniques, which correlate to major chakras in the body, to naturally purify the skin. The Holistic Healing Center at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (Farmington, PA) makes use of sound therapy in treatments. “We instruct guests to listen to the sounds of the singing bowls and tuning forks from beginning to end, allowing their minds to quiet and reach a meditative state,” says director of operations Stephanie Wendell.
Tok Sen (starting at $250, 90 minutes; $315, 2 hours), an Asian-inspired treatment that blends the fluidity of Thai massage with vibration therapy, is one of the highlights offered at Sanctuary Spa. A tapping technique (Tok) evens the flow of energy along the meridians (Sen), resulting in a healing experience that is both meditative and restorative. Spa-goers who seek an enlightened approach to an aspect of their lives can partake in Satori Retreats (named for the Japanese word for enlightenment), which offer four or five days of spa and fitness activities in the spa’s inspiring desert setting.
At destination spa Sunrise Springs Integrative Wellness Resort (Santa Fe, NM), meditation is incorporated into unique experiential activities including Expressive Arts, featuring explorations such as Qigong Therapeutic Movement, Mindful Noting and Observation in Nature, and Body as Brush, which integrates movement and expressive qualities with Sumi ink or watercolors. During Animal Interactions, guests can engage with Asian silkie chickens and in-training service dogs to help them gain insight into their own and others’ behaviors, roles, and communication styles, while taking time to slow down and reflect. “Whether through brief experiences or in these experiential classes, mindfulness is interwoven through the daily routines at Sunrise Springs,” says executive director David Hans, Ph.D.
Six Senses Spa (Laamu Atoll, Maldives)recently launched a three-night Mind Fitness program, which blends in-house experts with therapies and wellness activities that have been used for centuries to calm the monkey mind and instill a sense of peace. Each day starts with a wellness consultation, where the therapist becomes acquainted with the guest’s lifestyle and helps to outline concerns and areas that require attention. Following the consultation, a custom program of mindfulness meditation, pranayama (controlled breathing techniques), and Ayurveda-based treatments is prescribed. Nasyam ($85, 30 minutes), a treatment that uses medicated oils to cleanse the nasal and sinus cavities and the throat, increases oxygenation and promotes mental clarity. Guests receive complimentary Sudoku puzzles to further exercise their minds during unscheduled time. In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Le Guanahani (St. Barth) introduced a three-night Wellness Weekend in February focusing on sensory-inspired meditations. “Meditation is the practice of tuning your attention and senses into the moment at hand,” says David Romanelli, founder of the Meditate ON series, who led the Wellness Weekend sessions. “What better place to practice that skill than feeling your feet sink into the warm tropical sand and relaxing your gaze on the sun setting over Marigot Bay—it’s the perfect setting to disconnect from stress and tune into the healing qualities of nature.”
Properties are taking meditation out of the spa and into the guest rooms. “Our aim is to provide guests with an oasis of relaxation and rejuvenation amid the bustle of Manhattan,” says director of spa Gaylen Brown at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, New York. “The property brought the spa experience into each suite with its Ensuite Meditation Program, where guests are invited to enjoy a meditative moment looking out onto the city with plush DharmaCrafts meditation cushions available to use in each of the suites.” On the West Coast, Chaminade Resort & Spa (Santa Cruz, CA) is adding meditation alcoves in seven of its guest rooms as part of a $7.9 million renovation. “A lot of companies are doing it,” says general manager Kevin Herbst, citing companies like Google that feel meditation is an important part of work-life balance for employees. Spas are also stressing the importance of meditation for staff, and many offer complimentary classes. At the new Naturopathica Chelsea Healing Arts Center & Spa (New York City), staff takes advantage of the Sensory and Meditation Lounge, which features nature-inspired imagery, meditation chairs, and diffused aromatherapy to help refocus the mind, body, and spirit. “Before their day begins, our therapists and estheticians sit quietly in the Sensory and Meditation Lounge to meditate and reconnect with their higher selves and to establish intentions for the day,” says Barbara Close, founder and CEO of Naturopathica.
In addition to in-suite meditation, spas are bringing meditation outdoors, making use of vibrant scenery and tranquil surroundings. The Umstead Spa at The Umstead Hotel and Spa (Cary, NC) features a meditation courtyard, which reflects the spa’s inspiration from the region’s native flora. “The courtyard has elements that induce relaxation, such as an open sky, a fountain, and the surrounding woodland setting,” says spa director Carolyn Doe. “Our intention is for our guests to use this space to relax and quiet the mind before and after treatments, which naturally bring spa-goers into a state of meditation. Actively incorporating the practice pre, post, or during the treatment will only multiply the benefits.”
Taking advantage of southern California’s temperate weather, guests at Chuan Spa at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena (CA) can enjoy meditation in the historic Japanese garden, created by landscape architect William Hertrich. Last June, Chuan Spa partnered with Pasadena’s Tao of Wellness Acupuncture Center—one of the oldest traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) health centers in the U.S.—to bring authentic treatments to guests. “Meditation is a great complement to spa treatments and other fitness classes like Tai Chi,” says Nichole Hester, director of spa and business development. “We promote quiet spaces with dim lighting for personal meditation, as well as weekly classes and private session offerings with our TCM practitioner.”
Guests can unwind amid historic gardens and olive groves at JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. GOCO Spa offers half- and full-day wellness packages with meditation, which take advantage of the property’s stunning surroundings. In the Maldives, mindfulness-focused meditation at Six Senses Spatakes place in the yoga pavilion, which is perched above the property’s pristine beach with a view of the lagoon. Guests benefit from the positive energy of the ocean and the relaxing sound of the waves. Full moon meditation and yoga classes are held on the beach so guests can absorb the earth’s energy. “People are now realizing they have lost this connection to others and to the environment that surrounds them,” says spa manager Jitendra Varshney, who holds an M.D. in Ayurveda. “Our mission is to help people reconnect with themselves, others, and the world around them—connections that have been lost in our fast-paced electronic world. Through meditation, people can rediscover themselves and come back in touch with all their senses.”