UT alumni’s Meditation Bar brings mindfulness practice to students

Elizabeth Hlavinka

Imagine a thin string attached to the ceiling. It enters the top of your scalp, runs taut through your body and connects the balls of your feet to the ground. Focus on your breath.
Deep in meditation, you relax your mind and body and begin attending to your inner self — something fundamental to the mission of Meditation Bar, a studio recently opened by UT alumni Cathy Bonner and Lauren Foreman. Bonner believes meditation should be a part of people’s daily life and created the studio to help people new to meditation get started.

Bonner said she has already begun seeing the benefits of meditation in her students. In addition to reducing stress, meditation can improve sleep cycles and reduce anxiety, leading to a more present, mindful life.

“Living mindfully just means living aware,” Bonner said. “You have a calmness about you that allows you to not get so excited over things that really don’t matter, so you can focus on things that do matter.”

It’s common for students to get emotional while focusing on their heart and mind — Foreman said some have broken out in tears. One student, a businessman who spends half of each week in Austin and the other half in New York, has lost 22 pounds since he started attending classes. Foreman said his meditation simply made him conscious of when he felt full and made him more aware of where his food was coming from.

“When you practice a love and gratitude meditation, you think about things all the way back to the seed,” Foreman said. “It’s been really rewarding to see what’s happening in peoples’ lives since they started coming.”

The Meditation Bar offers a “flight” of classes, including “Fundamentals,” which is recommended for beginners, “Breathe,” which focuses on the physical aspects of meditation, and “Happy Hour,” where the group takes “shots” of fruit-infused water after the practice. Bonner said there is something special about meditating in a group as opposed to an individual setting.

“There’s this energy from the group that is kind of hard to define and sounds a little woo-woo,” Bonner said. “There’s this energy from a group that can transfer [within the group].”

Bonner starting meditating when she retired from a hectic life as an entrepreneur. Foreman began in college when her roommate, dedicated to her meditations, woke her up each day at 5 a.m.  Almost all of the students at Meditation Bar have never meditated before, and most of their business comes from young adults hoping to relieve stress.

UT integrated health counselor Elana Bizer manages the MindBody Lab on campus, which provides meditations involving breathe exercises, body scans and silent techniques. Bizer said meditation increases mindfulness and can help students deal with stress, tough decisions and negative situations.  

“There are a variety of meditations students can access to begin finding out what is helpful for them,” Bizer said. “I think different people respond better to different meditations.”

UT alumnus Premkishore Shivakumar, who led the Sahaj Marg Meditation club while at UT, said there are plenty of opportunities for students to meditate. His meditations focus on a sense of calm and peace found from within, which he calls “heartfulness.” He said his happiness, calmness and focus have drastically improved with years of meditation.

“You give the mind some kind of resting place [because] if not, it’s always going in all directions,” Shivakumar said. “Being in touch with your inner self can really help bring you joy.”