Like many people, Chris Stockel struggles with anxiety. The weight of the past and the uncertainty of the future can lead the mind down perilous paths, which Stockel has learned to combat with high-intensity fitness and transcendental meditation, two polar practices that lead you to the same place—an enlightened sense of being. “The best way to quiet my mind from overthinking is to push my body to such an extreme limit, that my mind has no capacity for thought outside of the difficult task at hand. Meditation, conversely, and drawing attention to the breath, helps me become more appreciative of the present moment, rather than focusing my mental energy on the future or the past,” he says.
After integrating the transformational disciplines into his life, Stockel had an epiphany. Why can’t they be seamlessly woven together? Mind Body Project was born. Part HIIT (high intensity interval training), part yoga, part breathwork and meditation, the methodology coalesces elements of crowd-pleasing practices together in one symbiotic flow. Classes are taught at the brand’s new 3,300-square-foot space in New York. Designed by local firm Bright Architecture, the interior is lined in European oak, ethereal wall coverings by Brooklyn-based Wallpaper Projects, and a catamaran–style lounge area. In the studio itself, custom mats are embedded into the wooden floor, separated by strips of dimmable LED lights that control the mood throughout the class.
“One of our goals is to detach New Yorkers from the overstimulation outside of our space. Our class experience begins and ends with a meditation to create that separation from the outside noise. With that in mind, our objective for the common areas of the studio was to be consistent with that cathartic feeling,” Stockel says. “Once inside the studio, the floor lights come on and the music pops—there’s a feeling of controlled chaos aimed to challenge you both physically and mentally.”
Below, the Mind Body Project founder gives us an up-close look at the philosophy behind the brand and its holistic Manhattan studio.
Project Description: The world’s first meditation and high-intensity fitness experience.
Project Inspiration: I always struggled with anxiety as a kid, and those struggles continued well into adulthood. However, I was constantly seeking out coping mechanisms. Sports as a kid and fitness as an adult were a sanctuary for me as they allowed my mind to shut off due to physical exhaustion and a deep immersion in the task at hand. In my adult years, a friend introduced me to meditation, which I was initially skeptical of but ultimately fell in love with. It helps me calm my mind and remain present. I previously had a successful career in the digital media industry, however, I had the itch to combine mental wellness and physical fitness and eventually quit my former industry cold turkey.
Fitness and meditation are both uniquely effective in addressing mental and physical health in very different ways. When I’m anxious, it typically involves me overthinking something in the future or the past. The best way to quiet my mind from overthinking is to push my body to such an extreme limit, that my mind has no capacity for thought outside of the difficult task at hand. Meditation, conversely, and drawing attention to the breath, helps me become more appreciative of the present moment, rather than focusing my mental energy on the future or the past. This is the “why” behind Mind Body Project’s methodology. It all stems from a personal place but I believe it has the large scalability to help many people.
Project Challenges: Well for one, we delayed our launch by one year, to the day, due to COVID. We were originally scheduled to open our doors in May 2020. With that now behind us, we have plenty of other business challenges to address. The biggest business challenge we face is convincing the world that their mental health is just as important as, if not more than, their physical health. We also have a uniquely nuanced class structure that asks a lot out of the instructor in the room. We are tasked with guiding the class on a journey from zero (complete stillness) to 100 (peak physical exertion) and all the way back to zero. It hasn’t been done before, but fortunately, we have some of the most talented instructors imaginable who have refined their skill set over time to deliver a very special experience.
Project Blueprint: My priority was to create an environment that reflects our in-studio experience. We aimed for a combination of calm and cool to bring out the meditation component, and bold pops of color and texture to convey our fiery workout component. We also have several features that intentionally skew more residential than commercial. Arched corridors, an oversized hammock, curated artwork via Artstar, European oak, and ornate wallpaper are some of the more unexpected features of the space. My favorite design element is the custom mats built into the wood planks of the studio floor, separated by strips of dimmable LED lights to assist in creating various moods throughout class.
Takeaways/Uniqueness: A new client can expect a completely unique group fitness experience. Class begins with a grounding, five-minute meditation to properly arrive both mentally and physically. It helps our visitors detach from the hectic world outside of our space.
We then gradually transition into an active warmup to awaken the body and prepare ourselves for the challenging segments of class, utilizing bodyweight exercises and TRX suspension trainers to get the heart rate pumping and the sweat dripping. Expect a dark room, fun music, and lots of energy. After our finisher, we reconnect with the breath and settle into our final 5-minute meditation to leave you feeling exhausted, but with a sense of balance and inner stillness.
Meditation and high-intensity fitness have never been combined in one studio experience. The mind-body connection is often spoken of and acknowledged but never has it been seamlessly integrated in a comprehensive studio experience.
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