On a recent weekday evening, the meditation leader at Maha Rose was slowly closing the giant beige curtains that separate its cavernous central room from the rest of the space. Six men sat in a circle and watched him, perched on small cushions and flanked by massive houseplants that had improbably snaked their way the 20 feet or so to the ceiling. A nervous silence hung in the room.
“If you guys need to take a leak or anything, you can do that now,” he said, turning around.
This mildly crass, definitely un-zen quip broke the ice a little bit and perfectly set the tone for the class, Briefcase & Vibes, a mediation workshop designed for stressed-out professional men. Plus, some guys actually did get up and take a leak.
“As dudes, we are often taught to ‘silently suffer’ and ‘be strong,’” read the description on the Greenpoint studio’s website. “This workshop presents an opportunity to go beyond our gender roles and contact a more expressive part of ourselves.” It further promised to help attendees find a better work-life balance and learn about ways to manage their stress.
The class was led by Elliot Aronow, a journalist and former music executive in his late 30s, whom you can find on YouTube palling around with people like musician Ariel Pink and chef-author Eddie Huang.
Aronow used to be stressed, too, he told us, and unable to balance the different parts of his life. Now he’s found some refuge in a meditation practice and wanted to share what he’d learned. He led the class wearing a T-shirt of his own design, with the word “power” printed on it over and over.
With roots in Buddhism and celebrity adherents like Hugh Jackman, mindfulness meditation aims to help practitioners be aware of their body and center themselves in the present. It has swept corporate America in recent years, with a host of books extolling its benefits and apps enabling its practice; just one of those, Headspace, now has more than one million monthly subscribers.
Briefcase & Vibes included a ritual shutting off of our phones, which I may or may not have precipitated by looking at mine too much.
It promises to help a class of white-collar workers expected always to be on to switch off for a bit and focus on their breath and bodies rather than their emails. Indeed, Briefcase & Vibes included a ritual shutting off of our phones, which I may or may not have precipitated by looking at mine too much.
I’d never been to a meditation class before or used an app. But it had begun to feel less like I’d sidestepped a fad and more like I’d missed some crucial social evolution. Was I the old man having fast food three times a day and laughing at people for eating fresh vegetables? For a while, I’d been feeling like I wanted to give it a try. This class, with its focus on the problems of professional men (exactly what I happen to be), seemed perfect.
In the days leading up to the class, I would sometimes imagine it as a massive group of people in a high school classroom with Aronow perched on the teacher’s desk in a blazer, his lapels rakishly popped. Other times, I’d think of some 1990s-style meninists sitting around a campfire and passing the talking stick back and forth and sobbing. Could I stay in the back, unnoticed? Would I be forced to talk about myself or could I somehow avoid it? Would we have beers? I had no idea what was to be.
As it turned out, it was more yoga class than EST meeting. Everyone else was quite sensibly wearing loose-fitting workout clothes, which made them look comfortable and honest. I’d come in what I’d worn to work, a green button-up and some creatively patterned pants. Though I’d felt confident and stylishly dressed at the office—a bit of a rogue, maybe?—it made me look more like a tight-assed corporate stooge during our guided meditations (or at least like someone whose least casual article of clothing is a branded polo shirt).
Not that anyone said anything to make me feel anything other than totally accepted. During the two-hour class, Aronow led us through meditations and breathing exercises and gave relaxation tips. But he also went beyond meditation, encouraging us to talk to one another honestly about our hopes, fears, and the challenges of our life.
This itself was both a challenge for me and a huge source of fear. I’ve been meaning to go to therapy for about five years, but I’ve never made it because I’m afraid to tell someone else so much about myself (what if they made fun of you?!). To date, my primary wellness practice has been to ignore things that make me stressed out or depressed and never, ever think about them. I realize this is not healthy!
I’m as afraid of sincerity as anyone else who grew up in the ’90s, so I was glad that Aronow kept the tone from getting too serious.
I was beyond hesitant to say anything to a roomful of random people. But then I did, and nothing happened. Or really, something good happened: They were extremely supportive and kind. And I was supportive and kind back to them. It was a pleasant surprise.
I’m as afraid of sincerity as anyone else who grew up in the ’90s, so I was glad that Aronow kept the tone from getting too serious. In addition to asking us if we needed to take a leak, he often made fun of himself and even gently poked fun at the entire concept of what we were doing. I found this very helpful and relaxing, like we could do something silly and it was OK.
I did find the class genuinely helpful. More than the traditional meditation, I found it worthwhile just to take some time to myself and talk honestly about my life. Next time, I’ll wear shorts.