The capital is chaotic. People sleep, badly, but they never stop — indeed there’s barely even time to pause, unless you enforce it. Plus, being busy is a status symbol — why breathe deeply when you could be panting as you sprint through Bank on a Tuesday morning?
But at some point, something’s got to give. Londoners are taking control of their time (and sidelining the cynicism) to attend mass meditation classes. “I wanted to create an experience where everyone could come and sit with us,” explains Michael James Wong, founder of Just Breathe, which organises mass meditation gatherings across the capital. Since it launched last autumn, Wong’s community has exploded to attract artists, poets, musicians and speakers from across the world, as well as ordinary Londoners. He is expecting more than 1,000 people at the next Grand Gathering in October.
“The aim of Just Breathe is to show you how modern meditation can support you in the real world,” Wong explains. He expected 40 or 50 people at the first event last September — in the end more than 200 showed up to the Truman Brewery. “We weren’t ready, but they were! It was epic.”
And in September Just Breathe will also launch a series of small weekly gatherings on Monday evenings, so “breathers” across London can come together and access group meditation quickly and easily, “just like they would a gym class,” says Wong. This regularity is important, he explains. While London offers plenty of regular exercise options, there are fewer that focus on the mind. “Our aim is to infiltrate the fabric of London, to turn the volume down,” he says. “We’ve started this new conversation, and it’s only getting quieter.”
There are other ways for Londoners to achieve a state of zen. Tribeca Studios in Ealing Broadway offers a 45-minute lunchtime meditation class, Virgin Active has a 30-minute Harmony and Headspace meditation class, and Frame regularly hosts mass meditation classes. Next month, the world’s first “mindful triathlon” is taking place in Victoria Park: competitors will run 5km, then do 90 minutes of yoga, followed by guided meditation. Wong will be there.
Meditation, he adds, is proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and boost well-being. Despite these many benefits, “the biggest value I find is the sense of calm through the chaos that is London,” he says. “It’ll create ease in your everyday life, and who wouldn’t want that?”
New book The London Wellness Guide also details a number of classes across the capital, including creative and practical meditation courses at Inner Space in Covent Garden and courses at The Mindfulness Project in Fitzrovia.