Meditation seems to take place everywhere in New York, whether it’s taking place front row at a fashion show or over a two hour sound bath at a yoga studio. And now, meditation has made its way to MoMA, as part of their popular Quiet Mornings series, which has attracted hundreds of wellness seekers.
The often sold-out event is devoted to unplugging, by offering a pre-workday digital detox on the first Wednesday of the month, and the chance to look at art, without a crush of tourists. At 7:30 a.m. last Wednesday, meditators ventured to the Museum of Modern Art for a 30 minute session, led by Latham Thomas.
Thomas’ celebrity following is unsurprising, as she has the type of intense energy necessary to make a morning meditation meaningful, and a no-nonsense approach to kickstarting your own practice. Instead of advocating for confusing apps or hour-long sessions with a guru, she thinks people should start slowly. While her approach to meditation gives people a chance to calm down, it’s not all about escapism; during her recent MoMA session, she called out the recent shooting in Las Vegas and the hurricane in Puerto Rico.
After the event, we chatted with Thomas about her current tour, beditation and how to escape the 24-hour news cycle
What are you working on right now?
I’m on a really amazing tour called Together Live with Glennon Doyle, Abby Wambach, Luvvie Ajayi and Jennifer Rudolph-Walsh, this amazing book agent who works with Oprah. We’re traveling to 10 cities across the country and reaching 3,000 women in each city; we’re halfway through. They just did Austin last night, then they have Nashville, and I’m going to join back up in Washington D.C.
So you needed a little bit of meditation.
I needed this grounding. The main thing is having mindfulness as a backdrop of your life or as an undercurrent. It’s really easy for you to do all these things that require you to move faster if you take the time to slow down.
How did you get into meditation?
I started when I was in college at Columbia University. I got into meditation because a bunch of kids that I went to school with started and we would go together. We were trying to manage the academics, and none of the teachers seemed to realize all of us had stuff due the same day. I fell into it because of school and just wanting to manage stress.
What’s your advice for getting a daily practice started, especially when there’s so much happening in the world?
Meditation as a word is such a barrier for a lot of people because they think, ‘I can’t sit still,’ or ‘I can’t quiet my mind.’ I don’t really think it’s about that. It’s about acknowledging that these things are coming up and letting them surface rather than saying, ‘I don’t wanna think about that’ or ‘I don’t want to feel that.’ We do a really good job of compartmentalizing our emotions and what’s happening. Instead, we need to figure out how to allow those things to come up, feel them and let them go.
Do people need to go to a meditation studio at first?
There are barriers to going to a meditation studio, like thinking you don’t know how to sit the right way or time commitment.
What should they do instead?
One thing I ask people to do, which is a really good way to start, is beditation. It’s just lying on your back flat on the bed, floor, couch or whatever’s comfortable—it could be in your office. Lie flat with your palms face up. Then, allow yourself to slowly relax every part of your body, from the tips of your toes all the way to your head, contract then release and breathe into all of those little areas of your body.
It’s called a body scan, and as you do that you start to notice that you’re relaxed. That takes at least five minutes. You’ll notice that you reset your nervous system. Instead of having all these stress hormones running through your bloodstream, it’s happy hormones and you feel more relaxed and at ease. As you breathe, you’ll notice that you might have been breathing in your chest shallowly for the entire day, instead of deep belly breathing.
What are the results?
You’ll find that you have clarity of thinking, as a natural result of taking that time to breathe. It’s a really good stress management tool, but it also helps with conflict.
What we’re experiencing in the world right now brings up natural emotions like anger, frustration, fear, doubt or just a lack of understanding, like the rug is being pulled from beneath you. It’s a way to ground yourself in this moment and remember everything is okay, in this moment all is well, in this moment everyone is fine. I’m fine, my family is fine, even when things aren’t fine. The biggest impediment to our peace of mind is projecting and letting all that take over.
What are some other tools you recommend?
Another tool is shutting off electronic devices, not checking social media, not doing anything that keeps you connected with the world. I didn’t find out about Las Vegas until the next morning. I had gone to sleep at 9 o’clock. I took a bath, slept and got on a plane to come back to New York. I found out watching CNN on somebody’s computer sitting next to me. I heard whispers, but I hadn’t put together that something really horrible happened because I didn’t look at the news, I didn’t look at anything.
Sometimes you need to do that, especially with our news cycle, especially with what’s happening in politics. You can’t allow yourself to be completely drawn into that, because that will be your only reality.
You have to look at it like this is our reality. The sun is out, there’s birds chirping, people are kissing, there’s a world that exists that’s really beautiful.