I’m not a self-starter when it comes to self-care. It’s just too easy to put work (or my family, or literally anything else) first. Perhaps that’s why, when things get really busy, meditation is the first thing that falls off my to-do list — I settle for a two-second inhale of my Stress Relief essential oils and then get on with my to-do list. When a crop of meditation studios offering group classes started popping up on the coasts (MDNFUL and Inscape in New York, The Den Meditation and Wanderlust in Los Angeles), I couldn’t help but wonder if a group setting was what would get me out of my meditation rut.
Indeed, I proved my hypothesis after taking just a few classes. Not only did group meditation support my practice by holding me accountable (like a workout class, but without the cortisol-raising adrenaline surge), but it helped me connect deeply to others and myself — and, really, the universe — in a more profound way than solo meditation ever has.
The benefits of meditation classes
Although I’ve tried many different forms of meditation in groups, the type I now practice most regularly is breathwork. It’s an active meditation meant to slow the mind and ground the body (rather than detaching and floating away into the ether). “Practicing breathwork in a group can help us feel less alone, especially less alone in our emotions,” my teacher Michelle D’Avella, a breathwork meditation facilitator and the founder of Pushing Beauty, tells me. She often has participants repeat affirmations during class. “Hearing a group say something like, ‘I’m worthy of love’ out loud, in unison, destigmatizes owning our worth,” she says.
It’s true: In my first class with D’Avella, I felt a little awkward shouting “I’m worthy of love!” into the void, surrounded by strangers. But when others joined in, I was able to get out of my own head. “Hearing the sounds of people emoting around you teaches us that we can feel big emotions in community, and that we are not alone in the false beliefs we carry about ourselves and our lives,” the teacher says. The steady, oceanic inhale and exhale of the group breath helps me sink deeper into the experience, too.
At the end of D’Avella’s meditation classes, she often invites participants to share anything that came up for them while breathing. “Many people are isolated, feel alone, and feel like they are weird or different,” she explains. “Being in community settings where people are being vulnerable and expressing their true feelings is not only healing for the individual, but also for the group.”
Even if you go to a more traditional meditation class — without the affirmations or the sharing — a group dynamic could take your practice to the next level. “Ultimately, being in community healing circles is an important part of the healing journey, as we need to learn how to trust one another and feel safe enough to be ourselves in the presence of others,” says D’Avella.
Group meditation in the digital age
These days, you don’t even need to leave the house for group work. Virtual experiences make mass meditation as easy to fit into your schedule as a solo sesh (or at least, they eliminate the need for a commute). “From an energy standpoint, the container of the group is created through each individual’s energy, whether or not we are in a physical room together,” D’Avella shares, noting that she’s beginning a virtual breathwork group in 2020.
Other platforms provide similar offerings. For instance, meditation teacher Kelly Morris, whose clients include actor Michelle Williams, hosts daily online group meditation rooted in the “divine feminine.” And if you’re not ready for a daily commitment, tap into Instagram Live, where plenty of meditation teachers now host impromptu group hangs (I’m a fan of Lindsay Lekhraj from Wellevation).
Now matter how you try group meditation — a class, a virtual workshop, a phone call — I can almost guarantee you’ll leave feeling cradled in the arms of community. In fact, D’Avella is working on an in-person workshop in Los Angeles centered around just that, called HELD. Because, as she puts it, “We all have this deep desire to be held and supported by one another.”