L.A.'s Go-Tos for Virtual Meditation, Breathwork and Sound Baths

Courtesy of 1 Hotel
Roxie Sarhangi giving a sound bath class prepandemic at the 1 Hotel West Hollywood.

The new normal has given new urgency to age-old practices that promise to relieve stress and cope with "these uncomfortable moments."

Kerry Washington routinely shares quick yoga sequences and even a breathwork meditation flow with her 5.9 million followers on Instagram. The Little Fires Everywhere actress also often gives a shoutout to her own teachers who conduct wellness classes on IG Live. Across almost every platform, from Instagram (which launched a tool called Guides in mid-May that directs users to well-being content) and Wanderlust TV to the Mind-Body app, yogis, gurus and healers are in high demand to provide virtual sessions in meditation, sound baths and breathwork, practices that date back thousands of years.

"There's more of an adoption of these practices," says filmmaker Liz Goldwyn, founder of digital platform The Sex Ed and a fan of sound baths, which are sessions in which ambient music is played to help reach a meditative state. With so many people spending so much time at home, she continues, "We need to sit in these uncomfortable moments and not push away feelings of anxiety."

Goldwyn, who is teaching herself to play Tibetan singing bowls, also sees these modalities as a way of fueling up for current challenges, including battling social injustice. "Self-care is an act of revolution. To go out and fight and see real change, it's important to have these tools in our arsenal."

Some practitioners are starting to offer in-person sessions, such as L.A.-based writer-director Sebastian Siegel (sebastiansiegel.com), whose two-hour Guided Lucid Dreaming events incorporate sound, breath practice and meditation. (Guests who've been known to attend include Mena Suvari, Mariel Hemingway and Frances Fisher, who are in Siegel's upcoming film Grace and Grit.) Attendance is by referral to these small-group meetings, held outdoors at a private home. Says Siegel, "Any time we are going on an adventure exploring internal terrain is time well spent."

Meditation 

GLOBAL TRIBE RETREATS Tom Morley — known for his Global Tribe Retreats with co-founder Nina Nazar, held in travel destinations around the world — has pivoted to virtual yoga and meditation, with more than 200 live classes conducted in the past few months. "There's an external crisis, and that usually stirs uncertainty and fear," says Morley of an increased interest he's seeing. The guided, live meditation classes are an "excuse to be and sit together" virtually, according to Morley, who is trained in Vipassana and Transcendental Meditation and whose students include an Oscar-winning actress. "Some people bring a glass of wine with them, and we all chat before and after." $29 weekly subscription; globaltriberetreats.com

METTAGROUP "In 1968, The Beatles' White Album came out and everybody was examining the idea of Transcendental Meditation," says George Haas, founder of Mettagroup, describing the awakening he believes brought meditation to the American consciousness. Haas studied meditation with renowned teacher Shinzen Young, worked as a film director and writer, and began leading his own classes in 2000. Now presented on Patreon, offerings range from hourlong sessions and daylong workshops to a six-month course to peel back layers of anxiety and trauma. The Buddhist meditation practice takes students through the tenets of Metta (loving-kindness) and Vipassana (insight) meditation once they've mastered the basics of attention training to quiet the mind. Later this year, Haas, in partnership with singer-songwriter Sia, will open the I Love You Keep Going Center in Van Nuys, with a yearlong attachment-repair program and community library. $20 suggested, per class; mettagroup.org

UNPLUG MEDITATION Suze Yalof Schwartz opened Unplug Meditation in 2014, seeking to fill a void in L.A.'s vibrant wellness market. "There were no drop-in meditation studios that were secular, modern and clean like an art gallery," says the former fashion editor. When California's lockdown went into effect this spring, Schwartz and her team quickly launched live-streamed classes. Apple recently helped redesign the Unplug Meditation app, which features one-minute to one-hour classes from a global roster of carefully vetted experts in practices including sound healing, sleep training and stress management. Among the teachers is Olivia Rosewood, who learned meditation from George Harrison and worked with mystic Eckhart Tolle. "Right now people need to feel calm, present and productive," says Schwartz. $24 per class; unplug.com

Breathwork

BREATHE WITH RAE LO A doula and reiki master, Raegan Loston, of Breathe With Rae Lo, sees breath as a tool for everyone. "It's one of the few involuntary functions that we can influence," she says. "It is a healing function that can transform our lives moment to moment." During her video classes, she guides students to embark on a rhythmic breath pattern with music and then transition to passive breath. Loston, who also teaches at Unplug Meditation, plays chimes to close the session. "It's like a wave that allows them to acknowledge where they are," she says. "You can harness your power to influence change in your life and go on with the day." $185 for private lessons; $24 per class through Unplug; breathewithraelo.com

SCOTT SCHWENK "Breath goes right into the nervous system. Do strong work with the breath, and you will have a shift," says Scott Schwenk, the creator of Ecstatic Breathwork, whose path has included becoming a reiki master before the age of 22, living in a yoga ashram, and working at Innovative Artists and CAA. His technique is a series of specific, simple breathing exercises intended to remove emotional blockages. "Scott is an extremely intuitive teacher," says actress Alyssa Diaz (Narcos: Mexico, The Rookie), who completed Schwenk's teacher certification program in October. She now shares breathwork techniques with her Instagram followers (@alydiaz) on what she calls the "Wind Down," along with her fiance, Grammy-nominated musician Gustavo Galindo, who does sound baths during the sessions. "It felt like a bolt of lightning went through my body, a shift and connection to myself that I hadn't had." Schwenk offers private Zoom sessions, as well as classes on the digital platforms Livekick ($15 per class) and Wanderlust TV ($17.99 per month). scottschwenk.com

Sound Baths

SOULSTROLOGY SOUNDBATHS "The ancient Greeks used sound as a healing tool to aid digestion, help calm the mind and assist with better sleep. Tibetan singing bowls have been used in temples by monks for centuries," explains Ambi Kavanagh, of Soulstrology Soundbaths and Alchemy With Ambi, who adds that the benefits also can include slowing down brain waves and helping calm the nervous system. A former entertainment lawyer, she began learning to play gongs and singing bowls in 2012 with Jamie Bechtold, one of the city's sound bath pioneers (whose GongPlay SoundLab in Eagle Rock is now closed because of COVID-19 regulations). Last year, she kicked off Goop's health summit in L.A. Her sessions boast a blend of astrology and sound healing. $18 monthly subscription; soulstrology.com and alchemywithambi.­com

ROXIE SARHANGI "My sound healing sessions are heart-focused and connect the mind, body and soul," says Roxie Sarhangi, resident sound healer at 1 Hotel West Hollywood. Since her certification in 2018, Sarhangi has conducted hypnotic, soothing sessions — which include a guided meditation and sound from seven crystal bowls, a symphonic gong, ocean drum, koshi chimes and Tibetan bowls — that have earned her a loyal following. She's added virtual workshops (which mix sound healing, breathwork and poetry by such revered writers as Rumi and Hafez) for well-being as people cope with the ongoing pandemic. $20 per virtual class; roxiesoundhealing.com

Restorative Movement

ALIGNED LIFE STUDIO Lauren Roxburgh’s mind-body-spirit approach has made her one of the most sought-after wellness experts in the country. Her long list of celebrity clients includes Jordana Brewster, Emmy Rossum and Sofia Bush. Early in her career, she trained star athletes such as LeBron James and Landon Donovan. The best-selling author of two books (dubbed “The Body Whisperer” by Goop) has racked up accolades and certifications in structural integration and pilates in addition to her degrees in nutrition and exercise physiology. Yet it was her explorations throughout her 20s, following the work of Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil, and studying reiki and rolfing, that created the foundation for her expertise on fascia, the casing of connective tissue that surrounds every organ and blood vessel in the body. For decades, alternative medicine practitioners have believed that fascia not only can harden and cause pain, but also store deep-rooted trauma, stress and emotional blockages. 

“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 16,” says Roxburgh. “The experience put me on this path of wanting to learn what wellbeing truly meant.” Streaming in 50 countries, Roxburgh’s Aligned Life holistic method and studio are a powerhouse program which includes her signature foam-roller workouts, live streaming classes and multiweek challenges, on- and offline coaching and support groups, nutrition, and meditation. She launched the virtual Aligned Life Studio in 2013, together with her husband, Emmy-nominated documentary producer Gus Roxburgh.

Every session begins with a body scan and check-in, neuromuscular self-assessment, and dropping into a calmer state. “The whole point is taking time to move,” says Roxburgh. “Movement becomes meditation … slow, methodical and using the breath. We close with meditation, clearing and intention imparting a new sense of calm, new sense of lightness as well as weight loss, improved posture, flexibility, and better pleasure in bed. Most people who go on this journey find ease, freedom and flow.” $29 a month/$299 a year; laurenroxburgh.com.

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Pandemic Mantras and Other Meditations 

Feeling COVID-19 fears? Sad about social injustice? Top wellness practitioners offer these recommended sayings

1. "Oh soul, you worry too much. You have seen your own strength. You have seen your own beauty. You have seen your golden wings. Of anything less, why do you worry? You are in truth the soul, of the soul, of the soul." — a quote from Persian poet Rumi favored in sessions by sound healer Roxie Sarhangi

2. "Sometimes, we look around and think, well, if everyone else is doing it, why not me? But that’s the wrong question to ask, especially if what we want is to live in a better, more just world. The stronger question is: If everyone did what I’m thinking of doing, would the world be a better place? If yes, then that’s our cue to act." — Unplug meditation teacher Light Watkins, who offers daily insights on Instagram (@lightwatkins), where he raises funds for COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter charities

3. "Feel the breath as it flows inward toward the ancestral knowing of survival and protection. Lean in and surrender into any grief and anger. Inhale all that is nurturing and exhale all that no longer serves you. Release. Let go." — Jylani Ma’at Brown, mindfulness practitioner at Unplug

A version of this story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.