Healing Hedonism (Balance, Jun 2017)
Fifty years on from the ‘Summer of Love’, meditation, sound baths and mindful drinking are the hottest nightlife trends in London.
Now this is the kind of night out I can get behind, I think, wriggling on the floor under my blanket and peeping over my eye mask, shadowed by two large Tibetan gongs.
I’m at a Dalston pop-up, run by Secret Yoga Club, taking a gong bath on a Saturday night. Which, in case you didn’t know, is a type of sound therapy.
It’s a time when I might usually be found in the pub or in the actual bath. I’m here because I want to experience one of London’s hottest, and healthiest, alternative nightlife trends – meditation. We’ve all heard of the benefits but, much like flossing, that doesn’t mean we do it regularly. Research abounds suggesting it can lead to improved sleep, greater focus, happier moods and even a better sex life, while Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham are among the many celebrities who are hooked.
Yet I know I’m not the only commute-weary and technology-frazzled Londoner whose motivation for solo mantra chanting remains, nonetheless, at zero.
Every time I attempt five minutes of meditation, even with the help of an app such as Headspace (which has been downloaded a staggering 11 million times), I just start fretting about my never-ending to-do list. Perhaps I could do with a bit of a boost – some strength in numbers – to make the whole experience feel more focused and fun?
CLUBBING GOES MEDITATIVE
That’s exactly what new nights out involving meditation, taking place across the city, are banking on. In the US, centres such as New York’s MNDFL Meditation and LA’s Unplug Meditation are the hot equivalents of Soul Cycle or Barry’s Bootcamp for the mind, and the London counterparts are unlikely to be far behind.
Meanwhile, sell-out event Shine, a meditation-focused, booze-free ‘variety show’ that started in LA back in 2014, is set to launch in our city later this year. And Will Williams, a former music industry executive who fell for Vedic meditation in a bid to battle stress-induced insomnia, launched two popular London nights last year.
The Gathering pours meditative magic into the mix with food, music, film and talks from guests, who have included Ruby Wax, while Shavasana Disco invites music-lovers to take part in a no-experience-necessary meditation, before listening to a classic album by someone like Jimi Hendrix with newly heightened senses.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Secret Yoga Club, founded by Gabrielle Hales, sees a young crowd heading to pop-ups all over the city for a mixture of meditation, yoga and sound baths.
‘They want to experience these things in a fun, relaxed atmosphere,’ says Gabrielle. ‘With no preaching or wellness piety.’ It’s a laid-back introduction to meditation, and it’s sociable and trendy enough that I can drag my best friend along, too.
YOUR VIBE ATTRACTS YOUR TRIBE
Morning Gloryville, which celebrated its fourth birthday party with an epic morning rave at Brixton Beach Rooftop DJ’d by Fatboy Slim, add a fun, playful group meditation at the end of each of their famously kaleidoscopic, wildly positive and joyous sober raves.
And a recent east London Sleepover and Morning Rave concluded with ‘shamanic games’ and a cacao ceremony to reduce stress and anxiety.
Meanwhile, Holiday Philips and Sanchia Legister of Breathe And Stop host events including guided meditation with DJs and an after-party. Holiday is even set to host a five-day hip hop meditation residency at achingly cool Croatian wellness festival Obonjan this summer.
‘The amazing thing about meditation is that there are so many ways you can do it,’ she says. ‘It could be listening to a piece of music really intently or dancing freely. So there are parallels between what people seek from a night out to what you can attain through meditation.’
MINDFUL DRINKING MOVEMENT
If meditation is cooler than ever in the UK, it’s no coincidence that mindful drinking is, too. One in four people, and 1.5 million Londoners*, already count themselves in the moderation club and many are starting to chase their highs in ways that won’t leave them with a morning-after headache.
Club Soda successfully launched their Mindful Pub Crawl last January and are plotting their next events, while trendy sober bars such as Redemption, Permit Room and La Suite West ensure booze-free nights out are worth bragging about. And while juice crawls haven’t quite taken off here the way they have in the US, it’s surely only a matter of time.
Sober blogger Laurie McAllister (Girl And Tonic) co-runs An Alternative Saturday Night Out in east London once a month, offering yoga, guided meditation, tea and cake.
‘We are becoming more mindful,’ she says. ‘It feels like a natural progression from people’s obsession with being fit. We’re now looking inwards, with people like modern healer Jody Shield and yogi warrior Michael James Wong leading the way.’
CITRINE FULL MOON MEDITATION WITH WOLF SISTER
‘The full moon is hidden by a bright pink sunset as I head into She’s Lost Control, an east London hub fusing ‘urban style with modern mysticism’, for an evening with Tamara Driessen, aka Wolf Sister (£30, She’s Lost Control). Dreissen is a modern shaman, a healer and a founding member of Obonjan. In a cosy room with exposed brick walls and dangling single bulbs, there’s a lot of giggling among the young, female crowd, while Erykah Badu plays in the background. After an introduction to the power of citrine, we lie down for a guided meditation, which involves visualising the golden power of the crystal flowing down our bodies. While the mystical emphasis wouldn’t work for everyone, the basic principle of deep relaxation is exactly the same as in other meditations. Afterwards, we have a light-hearted session on achieving our goals, and everyone sticks around for a chat.’
This piece was published in the June 2017 edition of Balance. You can read the online version of the article here.