Peace Amidst the Chaos: Meditative Sanctuaries in Major City Centers

Combat elevated cortisol levels associated with city-dwelling by escaping to one of these tranquil spaces.

There’s something sort of magical—almost Lion, Witch and Wardrobian—about stepping out of a noisy metropolis and into a quiet, calm space. It’s not a fairytale, though; meditative sanctuaries do exist in the center of bustling cities.

NYC has M N D F L, a quiet reprieve tucked into the towering skyline; Phoenix, Arizona has the Japanese Friendship Garden, which allows you to step away from the desert and into another world; and Tokyo’s Shibuya district has the Meiji Jingu shrine, a forested hideaway steps away from the noisy hubbub of Harajuku.

Making a pitstop at one of these spaces—which all offer some form of natural oasis—can work wonders on your mental health. A study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that people who lived in the areas with the most amount of green space had lower levels of cortisol, and reported feeling less stress than those who spent more time in urban settings.

But what if you’re living in an apartment building in New York City where your definition of green space is the potted plant on the windowsill across the street? Can visiting one of these meditative spaces be enough to give your mental health a boost?

Stanford scientists say yes. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences they examined whether a nature walk could reduce rumination in 38 mentally healthy people. They plucked these mentally stable people from cities, predicting that they would have “a somewhat elevated level of rumination resulting from the ongoing and chronic stressors associated with the urban experience.” (Which we say is spot on, after spending our morning commute body-checking other straphangers). The results? The nature walkers—who walked for 90 minutes through a grassland with oak trees, shrubs and distant views of the San Francisco Bay—showed decreases in rumination and in activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortices.

So if you’re looking for a little peace and quiet and find yourself in a bustling urban city, use one of these sanctuaries as an escape from daily stressors:

Japanese Friendship Garden; Wendy Rose Gould

Phoenix, Arizona: Japanese Friendship Garden

This small, four-acre garden is located in downtown Phoenix in one of the city’s historic districts. It’s called the Friendship Garden, or Ro Ho Ren, because Phoenix is sister cities with Himeji, Japan, and the garden acknowledges their relationship. It truly feels like a transformative experience to walk into the wet, green garden and away from the dry desert. Ro Ho Ren features a giant pond filled with 300 Koi fish, a 12-foot waterfall, sculptures, a tea house and winding streams.

Toronto, Canada: Allan Gardens Conservatory

Walking around in Toronto, one of Canada’s largest cities, it may seem an impossible mission to find a tranquil reprieve. Allan Gardens Conservatory offers just that, though, and it’s considered a must-visit for tourists and locals, alike. The conservatory features a pond, as well as impressive plant life, which some have even described as “strange” or other-wordly. If you need a break from the Toronto noise and yearn to walk among the flowers, this is an excellent option.

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Los Angeles, California: Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens

Hollywood signs, flashing lights, stars and honking cars: the everyday sights and sounds of this busy California city. Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens allow you to forget about all that and enjoy not only history, but nature. For starters, the six-million item book collection contains some of the most notable books in the entire world, including the earliest known edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as an original Gutenberg Bible. Wait until you start navigating the 120 acres of gardens, though. This destination arguable has one of the most diverse series of gardens in one location, offering everything from desert landscapes to rows of roses to a Shakespeare-themed garden.

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New York City, New York: M N D F L

If there’s one city in the world that needs a reprieve more than others, one may argue that NYC is it. That’s where M N D F L comes in, a true meditation center that offers classes held by meditation instructors. You don’t have to participate in a class to take advantage of this serene space, though. The meditation room is open to the public (and complete with a live fern and moss wall) allowing you to step away from the taxis and the tourists and into a world where your breathing matters most.

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Tokyo, Japan: Meiji Jingo

Harajuku is one of Tokyo’s busiest destinations, loaded with vendors peddling their goods, colorful, kawaii-clad, fashion-forward passers-by, and tons of food options. Though it’s a fascinating culture to explore and observe, it can become overwhelming. Fortunately, the tranquil, wooded Meiji Jingo shrine is located steps away from the bustle of it all, allowing you to calm your senses and re-ground yourself.

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Paris, France: Rodin Museum

A museum may seem a strange suggestion if you’re looking to get away from it all, but Paris’s tiny Musee Rodin will surprise you. Rodin’s sculptures are featured inside of an old house with an interior that’s almost exclusively white–sculptures included. The clean palette and softly creaking wooden floors calm the mind and allow you to focus on the art as you walk through each room. The museum also opens up into a manicured garden, full of fluffy, fragrant roses, trimmed trees and some of Rodin’s most famous sculptures, including Le Penseur (The Thinker).