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Paulette Graf

“Mindfulness helps us see the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves.” Stacks of postcards, showcasing this thought-provoking quote from meditation teacher and The New York Time's best-selling author Sharon Salzberg, sat on a round table in the center of a trendy lobby at Manhattan’s new Greenwich Village meditation studio, MNDFL. On a cold, winter Wednesday, Sleuth took a 45-minute mid-week break from the hustle to get centered and find calm. Once I checked in for MNDFL Breath class, I helped myself to complimentary tea in a matching MNDFL mug and settled into one of the cozy lobby chairs accessible for busy New Yorkers to disconnect from technology and commune before the meditation session begins. At exactly 4pm, one of the studio managers directed us back to the group meditation room, lined with a variety of meditation cushions including zafus (round and rectangle), zabutons (flat and square), and meditation floor chairs for those with back discomfort. The room was intimate and displayed a chic and modern design unlike any other meditation center Sleuth has frequented. I found my reserved cushion, marked by a tiny number on the floor, and settled into a comfortable cross-legged seat on a zafu. Paulette Graf, a trained MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) instructor sat on a cushion facing the group with a comforting smile and trained poise and stillness, like a Buddha statue. Paulette asked if anyone was new to meditation and kindly welcomed them. She continued to make sure everyone was comfortable by offering several posture and cushion options, then began to lead us inward. As I closed my eyes and settled into stillness, Paulette’s soft-spoken voice carried our attention through an anatomical journey of the physical body to unlock any discomfort or tension. “We first check in with our posture,” she explained, “so we have an erect spine and feel gently uplifted.” I listened to her cues as I dropped my shoulders and elbows down, relaxed the jaw and aligned my head and neck over the spine. There was plenty of quiet space to listen in, as I tuned deeper into the delicate sounds of shifting and breathing from others around me. “Use any distractions around you, or even within you, to anchor back into the breath,” Paulette whispered. She brought our awareness to the rising and falling of the belly with each cycle of breath, to practice remaining more present. “We’re not trying to change the breath,” she explained, “just become aware of it.” As I began to notice where each inhalation landed and where each exhalation escaped, I melted into a greater connection of presence in the room, feeling more embodied and less lost in thought. Paulette chimed us back into a group discussion to ask questions and share comments, before moving into our final meditation. A man in the center of the room shared how he dozes off, then wakes up from swaying, and how it often becomes distracting. Paulette grinned with compassion and said, “listen to the body.” She explained how if you’re feeling tired, maybe keep the eyes open and softly gazing down. If your mind seems busy, maybe it’s time to close them. “There is no right or wrong way,” she added, “just notice how you’re showing up today.” Paulette guided us back into silence, for a final breathing meditation session. “When a thought enters the landscape of your mind,” she shared, “simply acknowledge it without judging and gently return your attention to the breath.” As I continued to surrender into stillness, observe my mind, and anchor back into breath, I found myself floating farther away from stories and deeper into what was really happening in the moment. —Ashley Rose Howard for Yoga Sleuth Drop-in classes are $15 for 30 minutes and $25 for 45 minutes. New students can try their first session for $10. A 30-day studio challenge—30 consecutive days of meditation—will earn you one month free. Wednesday 4-4:45pm Open MNDFL 10 E. 8th St. New York, NY 10003



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