by Jamison Stoike

Meditation and Mindfulness are more popular than ever. But what’s driving the change, and what can your spa do to make the most of it?

Earlier this year, an interesting press release found its way onto my desk, courtesy of toy manufacturer Mattel. It announced the launch of the Barbie Wellness Collection, featuring Barbies that teach “three key themes: meditation, physical well-being, and self-care.”

Peruse Mattel’s website and you’ll discover that “Breathe With Me Barbie” features five guided meditations because, of course, “one of [Barbie’s] favorite ways to recharge” is “mindfulness
meditation.” The doll also features “inspirational loungewear,” a variety of “cloud emojis” and accompanying sound effects. As part of the Wellness Collection, you can also purchase a bath-bomb-loving “Barbie Fizzy Bath Doll” and “Barbie Face Mask Spa Day Playset,” should you choose to do so.

It’s easy to be cynical and view this as a “jump the shark” moment for meditation and mindfulness. Yet, while the commercialization of meditation is troubling on some level, the newest on-trend Barbie just serves as proof positive that meditation—once viewed by Western mainstream culture as the province of 1960s Hare Krishna hippies—has firmly planted itself in the mainstream as the spiritually and emotionally necessary practice it is.

Spa has been central to the rise of meditation over the past several decades; now, with more and more consumers clamoring for meditation and mindfulness practices, it is imperative
that spa directors think seriously about the how, why and what of including meditation as part of a spa’s services. Doing so will help your spa step into the 2020s as a trendsetting leader for your community of spa-goers, boost your spa’s image and add dollars to your bottom line.

Tapping into History

It’s worth noting that while meditation has only become a fixture in Western mainstream culture over the last decade, it has long been an important aspect of Western spa culture and a number of Eastern cultures. Many religions around the world have long-established associations with meditation—while Hinduism and Buddhism are perhaps the first that come to mind, the Abrahamic religions all engage in meditation to varying degrees. (For example, compare the mind-clearing mantras of Transcendental Meditation with the repetition of the Christian Rosary.)

According to the ISPA Academy, meditation in its modern form first appeared at western spas beginning in the 1950s. By the 1970s, researchers were studying the possible health benefits of meditation and designing purpose-built meditation programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which was developed by the University of Massachusetts to treat chronic pain, according to the New York Times.

This is all to say: the role of meditation in mental wellbeing is nothing new. Meditation has been used for millennia as a way to “emerge into an ever-increasing clear awareness of reality” through “a state of focused attention,” according to the ISPA Academy. Its mental and physical benefits—decreased stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and increased focus, attention span and mental clarity—are well-documented.

The critical question, then, is “why now?” Why has meditation finally entered into Western mainstream culture, and why are spa-goers clamoring for it?

“Stress levels are rising and the pace of the American lifestyle are increasing exponentially,” says Barbara Stirewalt, general manager of Mohonk Mountain House. Stirewalt has led Mohonk’s spa since its inception in 2005, and has herself witnessed the increasing popularity of meditation and mindfulness among the spa-going population. Jessica Candy, spa director at Four Seasons Resort Lanai, agrees with Stirewalt: “Our daily lives are so busy…meditation allows us to look inward and connect to something greater and deeper than the individual self.” The ever-increasing interconnectedness of society also demands that we spend more time exploring the self-reflection and self-care offered by meditative practice. The World Health Organization reported that the percentage of the global population living in urban areas in 2014 was 54 percent; in 1960, it was 34 percent. It’s no surprise, then, that as more people live increasingly urban and technologic lives, services such as shinrin yoku (forest bathing) have become more popular at Mohonk Mountain House and at spas around the world.

Candy and Stirewalt both noted that meditation has become increasingly popular at their spas. At Mohonk Mountain House, guided meditation sessions are the spa’s most popular classes. Even at a spa that has offered meditation for decades—such as Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort Lenox— meditation has become more popular over the last several years. Says Spa Director Samantha Cooper, “the majority of our guests take part in some form of meditative practice while with us.” When Canyon Ranch first offered meditation 40 years ago, Cooper says that such sessions were often “pushing the envelope” and beyond the comfort zone of the typical attendee. Now, it’s more unusual for a spa-goer not to be interested in meditation services. Cooper also noted that younger guests, in particular, are interested in meditation and mindfulness.

Accessibility is another driver of meditation’s increasing popularity. There’s no equipment that is necessary to meditate, nor is there a particular kind of product, space or duration of service. Meditations as short as 10 minutes can be beneficial and can take place in an empty room. Unlike other mind-body practices—such as yoga— nothing is physically required of the
spa-goer, either. Says Stirewalt, “Meditative offerings do not require any specific physical requirements, so there are no specific barriers to entry other than an open mind and time.” This makes meditation easy for any spa-goer to practice—and just as easy for any spa to offer.

Meditation in Your Spa

If your spa doesn’t already offer guided meditation as a service, it might be a menu addition worth considering— and you don’t have to be a resort or destination spa to do it.

When fleshing out your spa’s meditation offerings, you’ll first need someone to lead the sessions. Both Mohonk Mountain House and Four Seasons Resort Lanai have yoga instructors lead meditations rather than utilizing dedicated meditation-only experts. Jessica Candy’s staff utilizes Yomassage techniques, and she recommends Yomassage as “a nice training program to introduce your current staff”—including massage therapists—”to guided meditation.” Stirewalt offers this piece of advice to spa operators: “Recognize the gifts of your team and offer the opportunity to develop a program from within. You may very well have talent to do this already in your midst.”

The easiest way to add elements of meditation to your spa is to begin or end other services with ‘meditative moments.’ Cooper at Canyon Ranch notes that “offering a few moments of guided meditation or breathwork at the beginning of a treatment can dramatically enhance the experience and lead the guest down a path that they may want to explore further.” Candy suggests adding a 10-minute meditation to the beginning or end of existing yoga classes.

Once you have staff who are interested and trained in meditation, it’s time to begin offering dedicated meditation services. Candy recommends leveraging yoga’s popularity to increase interest in meditation: “launch a thirty minute class after your most popular yoga class and invite that class’s participants to attend complimentary at first.” Another key element is variety, both in type and duration. “Start with classes that meet the guest where they are,” says Stirewalt. “Make it accessible and invite guests in.”

Another option is to create a quiet, soothing meditation space where guests can relax and utilize a meditation app, such as Calm or Headspace (see this story’s sidebar for more information), to participate in a guided meditation without needing a member of your spa’s staff.

The key ingredients, then, are basic: pair a passionate instructor with an accessible offering. In 2020, when more and more spa-goers are keen to make meditation and mindfulness part of their wellness experience, that’s all your spa may need to make meditation a successful, effective and vibrant part of its offerings.


Did meditation apps make the practice more popular, or did meditation’s increasing popularity lead to the creation of the apps? While this chicken/egg relationship is impossible to sort out, there’s one thing we do know: millions of people are meditating every day using their phones.

As a spa leader, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the most popular offerings; as a meditation practitioner, you may be interested in trying one or two out for yourself.

Headspace is one of the two biggest meditation and mindfulness apps on the market, with nearly 40 million downloads as of the end of 2018. It features a wide variety of content and structured courses designed to get meditation novices more comfortable before branching out into more advanced courses. Headspace was founded by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk who has become a prominent global advocate for mindfulness.

Calm—downloaded more than 40 million times— is the other giant player in the meditation app market. In addition to offering guided meditations, Calm offers sleep guidance and a larger variety of flexible meditations than Headspace.

While Headspace and Calm are paid apps, Insight Timer is free to use. Insight Timer is less structured and not as well-organized as those apps; however, it still features a large number of guided meditations and breathing exercises, as well as ambient meditation music and more.

If you find yourself pressed for time, Simple Habit may be a good fit for you. It prioritizes shorter sessions that can be completed on-the-go and in almost any location. The New York Time’s Wirecutter compliments its “clean, functional” design.