In 2019, being overwhelmed seems like the accepted baseline. Maybe our phones have taken away the space where moments of quiet reflection used to live. Maybe we’re too busy performing our lives online to just sit with our thoughts. Maybe the noise of the nonstop news cycle has become so loud that it’s hard to hear ourselves think. Is there a way to cultivate a sense of inner calm and balance amid the chaos?
We spoke with Jen Stavitsky, a Reiki Master and expert in the world of mindfulness, about our quest for inner balance. Jen is so committed to the cause of consciousness that, along with her husband Simon, she founded Cultivate, a meditation and wellness center on the Eastside of Los Angeles. The center’s lovely pink exterior quickly caught our eye as a welcome new addition to Atwater Village, and it was no surprise to discover that Jen was just as warm and inviting.
What initially brought you into the world of meditation?
Jen: My first entry to holistic practices was in high school. I had chronic sinus infections, to the point of having two per month. The antibiotics I was given had side-effects, and they didn’t provide a preventative solution, so it was a vicious cycle of sinus infection, feeling crummy from the medicine, and then another sinus infection would come in. I found Reiki and Polarity Therapy (another energy-healing modality) just from searching around on the internet, and decided to give it a shot. To my pleasant surprise, at the end of my first session I sat up on the table and realized that a chronic pain on one side of my face had lifted. The crazy thing is that I didn’t realize the pain was there until that moment when I sat up and it was gone. I had just become so used to it being there. That was my first taste at the power of holistic practices, and I had to learn more.
Meditation came a bit later. I was always an over-thinker, and in many ways I thought this was a good thing: always planning and considering every possible outcome made me feel a sense of being prepared and in control. Over time, I realized I couldn’t turn this over-thinking off. I went through a break-up, and I couldn’t stop my mind from pouring over every detail at all hours. It was like my mind was haunting me. I got to a point where I just needed a break from my own thoughts. Enter mindfulness. I started attending meditation classes and they provided me with moments of peace while I was in them. Those moments of peace started lasting longer the more I practiced, and over time I learned that mindfulness provided me with way more than peace on the cushion, it also provided me with tools to work with hyperactive thoughts and intense emotions at any point in the day. Mindfulness is a really powerful resource for over-thinkers and over-feelers (and I consider myself to be both).
What types of classes do you offer at Cultivate?
Jen: I personally facilitate the Mindfulness and Reiki offerings, but we host a variety of meditation and wellness practices at the studio: Yoga Nidra (aka yogic sleep), sound baths, kundalini meditation, breathwork, and more. Most of the classes have the same benefits of relaxation, release, and stress reduction, but certain techniques work better for some while others work better for others. With that in mind, we wanted to offer an array for people to sample so they can see which practices work best for them and what they’re looking to get out of it.
What’s the benefit to practicing meditation within a community instead of just on your own?
Jen: Practicing with a teacher or community allows students to commit in a way that they often can’t at home alone or with an app. You don’t have the same distractions- that nagging feeling compelling you to clean the dishes before you sit, the hope that you won’t be disturbed by a family member or flatmate walking in, etc. At minimum, you have the commitment to others in the room to keep going with your practice, the same way the group motivates you to continue in a yoga or spin class. The collective also has the power to shift the energy in the room. Something really beautiful can be experienced when a few people dedicate time to going inward in the same room.
Cultivate is a beautiful word. How does it embody the goals and mission for your studio?
Jen: Thank you! When talking about personal practice and self-care, the idea of cultivation is so beautiful because it reminds you that the things you seek are intrinsically already there. As humans, we all have the ability to tap into deeper states of relaxation, more profound feelings of joy, and wellness. The potential for those feelings is already inside, even if we feel we’ve forgotten how to access them or maybe some of us feel like we’ve never learned how to access them in the first place. These techniques offer very practical tools to foster those feelings so that we can access them more regularly and more fully. Our culture is finally starting to value self-care, and now more than ever we’re realizing the importance of maintaining balance and taking care of our mental and emotional hygiene.
The concept of cultivation also allows us to look at ourselves from a place of wholeness, taking the emphasis off the idea of constantly having to fix ourselves. The seeds for what we want are already within us, so let’s foster them and let those qualities grow. We can actually practice relaxing or experiencing joy. They’re like muscles that can be developed.
You mentioned that Reiki is a really useful tool in helping your clients find the balance within. Can you tell us more about Reiki and the benefits you’ve seen from the practice?
Jen: Reiki is a Japanese healing modality that translates to “Life Force Energy,” and it is typically shared by laying the hands on or above the recipient’s body. We all have access to this energy, even those who haven’t been trained. Consider when you injure yourself, what’s your first instinctual move? You place your hand on the injury, and it provides some relief and a sense of soothing. Those that are attuned to the Reiki energy learn to tap into and focus this energy. Once you receive the attunement in training, you can heal yourself and others. I definitely consider practicing Reiki to be a Spiritual Art.
Reiki can be a nice gateway to meditation for those that think they can’t meditate, because receiving a Reiki session is almost like assisted-meditation. Receiving a treatment is like receiving a spiritual bath. Every session and every person’s experience is different, but it’s not uncommon to tune into the movement of the subtle energy that interplays with our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. The most common result is deep relaxation, but it’s not uncommon to experience relief from physical pain, emotional release, or clarity.
Mindfulness is a specific meditation technique practiced at Cultivate. How can we integrate a mindful approach off the mat and out into the crazy world?
Jen; Mindfulness is definitely a buzz word these days, but the technique of Mindfulness is the practice of present moment awareness. This is performed by unhooking from the thought, and instead tuning our awareness to sensations in the body. Thought often exists in the past or future: we’re either replaying our memories, or we’re anticipating some possibilities of the future. Our sensory experiences only exist in the here and now. We can’t hold on to a sound or to the exact sensations of the body moving in any given moment, so if we turn our attention here we can tune into the present moment.
Mindfulness is really about embodiment. It’s about getting out of the head, and tuning into the rest of our human experiences…most of which exists in the body. This is where our emotions and our instincts live. This reconnection with the body is one of the gifts of mindfulness, as it is really a reconnection with our instincts. Consider all the times your mind talked you out of a gut reaction. Don’t you usually wish you went with your gut? We experience the world in so many more ways than we know, the body is always picking up on language we don’t logically perceive. Mindfulness not only validates the wisdom of the body, but it has the ability to reconnect you with gut instinct.
I really could go on and on here, but the last thing I’ll share about Mindfulness is that it can be practiced anywhere and anytime. Mindfulness provides practical tools to work with challenging moments and emotion, and it also can teach us to expand our capacity for positive emotions! Practicing mindfulness in the real world can help us better identify our thoughts and emotions as they arise so that we can make better choices, as opposed to living a life of reactivity.
Are there any preconceived notions you’d like to set straight about meditation?
Jen: If there is one takeaway answer about the misconceptions of meditation, it is this: so long as you have the intention to meditate, you are meditating! There’s a very common misconception that meditation means clearing your mind, and that if you have thoughts then you must not be meditating. There is no goal in meditation to stop thinking, there is simply often an intention to shift your focus from thoughts and to direct it elsewhere. As humans, we do this all the time! When we exercise or play sports, we are often engaged with another state of being beyond thought. When performers perform and artists create, there is often disengagement from thought. Meditation gives us the opportunity to do the same, and what’s lovely is that we learn we can do this anytime, anywhere.
What do you personally need to feel balanced and strong in today’s chaotic world?
Jen: It’s taken a minute, but I’ve learned that I have to honor some very basic human needs to feel balanced: adequate sleep, human connection and love (the kind shared between friends and chosen family), cuddles with my dog, time spent in nature, 90s trip hop, horror movies, and time for stillness, just being.
About Jen Stavitsky:
Jen is a certified Reiki master, polarity practitioner, and mindfulness facilitator. She first discovered energy work as a teen, after finding it relieved chronic physical ailments where western medicine fell short. Her healing sessions involve deep listening and holding space, facilitating the right environment for clients to heal themselves. Looking to detach from an overactive thinking mind and anxiety, mindfulness became an invaluable part of Jen’s daily life. As gifts of this practice, she is most grateful for her ability to work with challenging emotions and the ability to cultivate positive ones. Helping others find ways to integrate the rewards of these practices into their own lives is the cornerstone of her passion. Animals, art, time in nature, and horror films round out her personal alchemy for wellness.
About the Cultivate Meditation and Wellness:
CULTIVATE is a family-run meditation and wellness studio situated in Los Angeles’ vibrant heart of Atwater Village, nestled conveniently between Silver Lake and Glendale. The studio offers a wide variety of meditation techniques in easy to follow, guided classes. Begin a mindfulness practice, experience healing in a resonant sound bath, or access a state of deep rest with yoga nidra (aka yogic sleep). All classes are suited for beginner and experienced meditators alike.