WASHINGTON — Stress is on the rise in the U.S., up 6.25 percent from August 2016 to January 2017, according to a report from the American Psychological Association — and stress levels in the nation’s capital are in line with the national average.
“Washingtonians are doers, and they do a lot,” said Eldad Moraru, the co-founder and “chief contentment officer” at D.C.’s Take Five Meditation.
“[They’re] a breed that seem to have every minute of the day accounted for, with very little free time to just relax. So yeah, I would say this is a pretty stressed-out city.”
But Moraru and his business partner, Tara Huber, are hoping to change that, one breath at a time.
Their Dupont Circle studio is the latest in a recent wave of meditation centers to hit the D.C. area. Just Meditate opened its doors in Bethesda, Maryland, in November, followed by the downtown-based Recharj in December.
Moraru, who has lived in D.C. for more than 25 years, says the tranquil trend has been a long time coming. He compares meditation’s new moment in the mainstream to yoga’s first taste of fame.
“Both are practices that have been around forever but have not been mainstream. Eighteen years ago, if you wanted to try yoga, you had very limited options,” Moraru said.
Now, more than 37 million people practice yoga in the U.S., according to a 2016 study conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance.
“Probably in the next five to 10 years, you’ll see meditation studios everywhere just like you see yoga studios now.”
There are a number of reasons why more people are dipping their toes into meditation’s waters. The practice has been endorsed by celebrities, adopted by schools and made more accessible by apps, such as Headspace, which has more than 5 million downloads.
“But I think more importantly, a lot of scientists have done studies over the last few years that have proven scientifically the benefits of meditation, and I think that’s helped bring this to the conscience of the general public,” Moraru added.
A team of Harvard-affiliated researchers found that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation produced physiological changes in the brain’s gray matter and made measurable changes in the regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.
The mention of meditation often comes with an onslaught of stereotypes, including chanting monks and cross-legged hippies, but Huber said that’s not at all what it entails. Simply put, it’s “the ability to sit with yourself and get to understand your mind,” she said.
Similar to yoga, meditation focuses on the breath. It teaches one how to be present in the moment — a skill that sounds more simple than it is.
“Most people tend to have an overactive mind,” Moraru said. “Usually we’re either stressing about the future — the to-do list, the unanswered emails, etc. — or reliving past experiences and replaying things in our mind. What it usually means is we’re not in the present moment.”
Through guided commands, movement and even music or scent, meditation instructors help students drown out the noise of the daily grind and be present — if only for a few minutes.
“I think we’re on a lot, and I think we’re losing the skill, we’re losing the ability to know our mind and know who we are. And [meditation] gives you command over your mind,” Huber said.
The cost of meditation is comparable to yoga. Classes in the D.C. area range between $15 and $25 each, and class times range from 30 to 75 minutes. But Moraru said even five minutes of meditation can make a difference — and the good news is, you don’t have to wait for results.
“The benefits actually come very quickly. If you start meditating daily, within two weeks you will see a noticeable difference. This is not like hitting the gym … you will feel the effects pretty quickly,” he said.
Take Five Meditation is located at 1803 Connecticut Ave. NW on the second floor. Classes run between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.