When it comes to your fitness, there’s Leg Day and Back Day, but what about Brain Day? Likely you’re not scheduling in time to work on your most important asset, but you should be.
The good news? If you live in Toronto, NYC, or LA, there’s no shortage of studios to help you get your brain pump on. In Toronto alone, by the end of 2018, we will have no fewer than three dedicated meditation studios.
We caught up with Sean Finnell, co-founder of Toronto’s newest cognitive fitness studio, MINDSET Brain Gym, to find out why group meditation is trending in Toronto, how learning to quiet your mind is comparable to training for a marathon, and the positive role of technology in your meditation practice.
What inspired you to open a meditation studio in Toronto?
A couple of years ago I felt like my attention was constantly being pulled in a thousand different directions, and when searching for a way to strengthen my own concentration and focus, I discovered the power of a regular mindfulness meditation practice. I witnessed firsthand such amazing results from my own early practice, and it seemed crazy to me that everyone wasn’t already adopting meditation the way we’ve done for cardio or nutrition, for example.
I firmly believe meditation is the single best exercise you can use to improve your mental performance and overall well-being, and I wanted to create a space that made the practice accessible, attractive, and convenient for everyone. With simple, intention-oriented classes and a curated multi-sensory experience, we wanted to provide the optimal meditation environment that will attract first-time and regular meditators alike.
Canada is a bit behind the U.S. in having group meditation spaces. Why do you think that is and why do you think our city is ready for it now?
There’s definitely a large and growing demand for drop-in, everyday meditation that integrates into your own holistic fitness and wellness lifestyle. We’re living in this increasingly stressed out and over-stimulated society where everything is competing for a piece of your attention, and people are more conscious than ever about their own mental well-being and health.
By offering commitment-free classes, different instructors, varied meditation exercises, and unlimited monthly memberships, individuals now have the opportunity to craft their optimal experience and integrate meditation into their life in a way that works best for them.
Off the top of our heads, we know of three meditation studios open or opening in Toronto (MINDSET Brain Gym, The Quiet Company, and Habitas). Why do you think we went from zero to saturation so suddenly?
Well three studios is still minuscule if you compare that figure to the sheer number of boutique fitness studios in Toronto, and there is no question that meditation is clearly the next frontier in health and wellness – especially with the growing body of scientific research demonstrating a host of tangible benefits from the practice.
Mental fitness is increasingly being acknowledged as an integral part of a holistic fitness regimen. A secular, fitness-oriented meditation studio like ours is an accessible way for busy urban-dwellers to disconnect from the stress of modern life, recharge, and train their brains.
Each studio is approaching meditation in a vastly different way that will appeal to different individuals, but the importance of focusing on your mental well-being and health is becoming more and more commonplace and we’re going to see a lot more of it in the years to come.
Meditation has come a long way from being an out-there new age practice, even incorporating technology into the practice now. What made you decide to bring tech into MINDSET Brain Gym with Muse?
Our close partnership with Muse has been amazing in layering on a level of tangibility to the practice. Our reports precisely visualize when and how often your mind wanders and recovers, how much you fidgeted during a session, and even your respiration and heart rates.
These in-depth reports – which are exclusive to MINDSET Brain Gym– allow you to track a variety of different progress markers over time and really see yourself tangibly improving. That level of tangibility is something that’s integral to most other elements of fitness, and something we wanted to make sure we integrated if meditation is truly to be seen as an essential component of a holistic fitness routine.
You offer the ability to opt out of using the Muse and instead to simply meditate to the instructor’s voice and direction. What made you decide to offer meditators both options?
We would never force someone to use something they didn’t want to use, so of course wearing the Muse headband and receiving that post-class report is optional for every class at MINDSET Brain Gym. It’s by no means integral to our experience – we merely provide a layer of tangibility for those that find value in it.
What do you make of the resistance people often have to the practice, feeling as though they aren’t “good” at meditation?
This is something that our fitness positioning really helps clarify – just as you wouldn’t be very “good” at bench pressing 200lbs or running a half-marathon without regular exercise and practice, nobody can naturally quiet their minds right away.
What’s crucial is the number of “recoveries” that you make (a metric you can track in our post-class reports) from a wandering, distracted mind back to a calm and focused one. That ability to quickly sense when your mind has wandered is really the foundation of a meditation practice. A beginner whose mind may have wandered off dozens of times, but who caught themselves each time, actually had a very “good” session.
What does your own meditation practice look like?
It depends on my intention. For improving my focus and cognitive performance, I’ll practice simple focused attention to the breath. For strengthening my resilience, a body scan is great to strengthen my interoception, recognize where I’m holding stress-related tension in the body, and release that on demand. And for cultivating my creativity and ability to think divergently, I’ll go with an open-monitoring meditation.
We know that meditation can actually rewire our brains, improving concentration, slowing the aging process, and improving cardiovascular health among other amazing things. How many times a week do you think people need to meditate to reap the benefits long term?
Well like any exercise, you get out what you put in. The studies clearly show the most immediate benefits are with a daily practice, with physical changes to the brain’s structure seen in just 6-8 weeks. This is why we promote our unlimited trials and memberships so you can come in for classes as often as you can for one flat rate.
But if you can’t come in every day, supplementing our group classes with an at-home mindfulness practice of even just five minutes a day is enormously beneficial – hence the daily reminder in our MINDSET Brain Gym Journal to meditate.
Is there such a thing as doing it “wrong”? Is there such a thing as doing it “right”?
Even just sitting down with the genuine intention to quiet their mind – no matter how scattered your thoughts are – is never “wrong.” Everyone needs to start somewhere, and nobody starts with a perfectly calm mind on demand. However, introducing a live teacher to guide the meditation experience helps enormously in keeping people on track, accountable, and aware of where their mind goes during the class. With our exclusive post-class reports, the emphasis is on seeing your own progress over time, rather than comparing your results to others or assessing if you’re “good” or “bad” at meditating.
What do you envision for the future of MINDSET Brain Gym?
Our inaugural Yorkville location is just the beginning of what we envision will become the world’s largest mental fitness community. We have plans to quickly expand within Toronto, as well as some major U.S. cities within the next year. We’ll also continue to grow our mental fitness offerings beyond meditation and journaling – we’ll be launching our own fresh take on the “book club” in the next few weeks, as well as beginning to host a variety of different workshops.
Well TO Do readers get an exclusive discount to MINDSET: Use the code WELLTODO for $10 off a 3-class introductory package. To learn more about MINDSET Brain Gym, visit their website here.
Lead image: Keegan Houser via Unsplash